Glen Wilkins, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, which owns Sam’s Club, told The Star last week the retailer is still interested in constructing a Sam’s at the Oxford Exchange – a project the city first announced in December 2008.
However, Wilkins could not provide a time frame for when construction would begin on the project. Wilkins could not even confirm if construction would begin a year from now.
“I would hope so, but I’m not sure that that’s an accurate time frame,” Wilkins said.
The city has taken a different stance on the issue, indicating the project was ready to go. During an Oxford City Council meeting in December, Mayor Leon Smith said, “things are fixin' to break loose” at the Sam’s Club site, adding construction would possibly begin in January and the store would likely open as early as October 2010.
As of Wednesday, there was no construction equipment or activity of any kind at the site. It should be noted, however, there has been considerable rainfall during the last two months, which may have impeded some construction efforts.
Smith declined to comment Tuesday when asked about the progress or lack thereof on the Sam’s Club project.
Wilkins attributed the apparent ambiguity in the construction time for the Sam’s Club to a delay in reports about the condition site.
“We’re waiting for all the geotech reports to come back, to make sure everything is secure and suitable to handle the structure,” Wilkins said.
The city has spent millions prepping the site for the arrival of Sam’s Club. Through its Commercial Development Authority, it awarded a $2.6 million contract for grading work at the site. The CDA paid $1.7 million of the contract using money from the sale of Oxford Exchange property to developers Abernathy and Timberlake, a company based in Georgia. The city kicked in an additional $805,788.50, according to the city’s attorney and CDA documents.
City Project Manager Fred Denney said as far as he knew, all the studies on the site were completed.
“The foundation is good,” Denney said.
He added that the contractor hired by Wal-Mart was responsible for the reports.
Denney said he not know exactly when construction would begin, but was confident it would start soon.
“Everything is well underway,” Denney said. “(Wal-Mart) should be awarding the contract to do the foundation soon.”
City Council President Chris Spurlin said he has not heard of a problem with the project.
“Everything I’ve been told has been it’s ready to build,” Spurlin said.
City Councilwoman June Reaves said she had not heard anything about the Sam’s Club since Smith made his announcement during the December city council meeting.
“I have not heard anything to substantiate one way or the other,” Reaves said. “When I heard about some of the (Sam’s Club) warehouse closings, I wondered if that might have an impact.”
In January, Sam’s closed 10 underperforming stores, which cost about 1,500 jobs.
While Wilkins would not comment if the sluggish economy was impacting the construction of the Oxford Sam’s Club, it is no secret Wal-Mart has faced financial woes in recent months.
Wal-Mart has cut approximately 13,000 jobs in the past 13 months, including 11,200 jobs in its 600-store Sam’s Club warehouse division, when it turned over in-store demonstrations to an outside company. The cut amounted to 10 percent of Sam’s Club’s work force of 110,000.
The goal, company officials told investors in October, is to cut costs so it can lower prices for shoppers and in turn boost sales.
James Cashman, professor of management in business at the University of Alabama, said Wal-Mart’s layoffs are an indicator the economy is still in a slump. Cashman said people can get a sense of how the national economy is doing by looking at the performance of large companies like Wal-Mart, which have an impact on the economy as a whole.
“What (the layoffs) really reflect is a tangible piece of evidence of the economy as opposed to anything specifically wrong with the company,” Cashman said. “It’s an effort to keep costs down.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.