Wal-Mart adding gas station near newest Supercenter
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 3:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 3:53 p.m.
Murphy Oil plans to start construction of a gas station near the new Wal-Mart Supercenter within the next month after last year receiving approval from the city with no opposition and little discussion from the public.
The relatively quiet approval process was a far cry from past attempts to include gas stations that were more closely tied with Wal-Mart plans, including one failed attempt for a new Supercenter and one gas station that was approved but ultimately not built with the expansion of Sam's Club, which is a division of Wal-Mart.
News that a Murphy Oil station will be coming to Gainesville could be welcomed by cost-conscious consumers in a town whose prices often are among the state's highest. Murphy Oil stations typically have some of the lowest prices in towns that have them.
With the new station, Murphy Oil proceeded separately from the new Wal-Mart that opened in February 2013 at 5700 NW 23rd St. off Northwest 34th Street and U.S. 441.
Murphy bought the one-acre parcel at 6360 NW 13th St. in November, shortly after receiving final approval from the Gainesville City Commission. The property, along the 23rd Street entrance to Wal-Mart, last housed a Capital City Bank.
Wayne Gibson, real estate project manager for Murphy Oil, said the gas station hopes to start construction — including demolition of the bank building — within the next month and complete work around mid-June, depending on weather and permits.
The new station will include four pumps with eight fueling positions and a 1,300-square-foot convenience store.
As a standalone facility, the gas station is a Murphy Express with a full convenience store instead of a Murphy USA found on Walmart properties with a kiosk-style store. The Express also does not offer the 3-cent gas discount available with some Wal-Mart gift cards and credit cards but does offer a 4-cent discount with a Murphy USA Platinum Visa card and a 3-cent discount with a Murphy check card.
Gibson said Murphy started building the standalone Express stores in 2007. They try to be near Wal-Mart locations, but not always, he said.
"We just decided there were some locations we saw that were good opportunities to set down in and started buying our own real estate," he said.
A Murphy Express in Chiefland is a short distance from Wal-Mart, while one in Ocala is seven miles from the closest Walmart.
Before Murphy closed the property sale, the city approved a development plan, transportation mobility program area permit and a wellfield protection special-use permit required to build a gas station with underground fuel tanks within the outer perimeter of the Murphree Wellfield Protection Area designed to protect the city's water supply.
About a dozen gas stations are permitted within the Murphree protection area.
Murphy's plans call for double-walled fiberglass storage tanks with leak monitors.
The City Plan Board unanimously recommended approval Sept. 26 with no public comment, and the City Commission unanimously approved the permits and development plan Nov. 7 with questions from one resident but no objections.
A neighborhood meeting held for nearby property owners prior to submitting plans drew two curious neighbors who both said they were pleased with what they saw, according to minutes of the meeting prepared by the civil engineer hired by Murphy.
By contrast, Wal-Mart's plans to build a Supercenter with a gas station at 5150 NW 13th St. at what is now a Home Depot was ultimately defeated in 2004 after facing opposition from residents and businesses, including environmental opposition from consultants hired by The Pantry, the North Carolina company that owns Kangaroo gas stations.
Bob Cohen, the Gainesville geologist and former City Plan Board member who spearheaded the environmental opposition, said The Pantry's interest was only partly about gas prices.
Murphy and Wal-Mart had a history of selling gas below cost and driving competitors out of business, he said, an accusation Wal-Mart denied.
Florida's Motor Fuel Marketing Practices Act was passed in 1985 to protect small, independent gas stations from predatory pricing by prohibiting below-cost gas sales to lure shoppers, but Cohen said the law is hard to enforce and lacks teeth.
"It's a slap on the wrist after the damage is done," he said.
Of bigger concern, Cohen said, was that the location was environmentally inappropriate for what Wal-Mart wanted to do. The Pantry's CEO at the time was a political progressive who saw Walmart damaging small towns by drawing business away and hired the consultants as a counter-balance to Walmart's own high-end consultants, Cohen said.
The City Commission voted down Wal-Mart's plans for that location over environmental concerns.
The Pantry and other opponents brought in attorneys and consultants again when Sam's Club proposed a gas station as part of its expansion plans in 2007. The City Plan Board recommended that the City Commission approve the expansion without the gas station. The commission approved both, but Sam's never built the gas station.
Mayor Ed Braddy, who was a commissioner at the time, said the gas station was approved with conditions that were impossible to meet.
Following those battles, Wal-Mart did not include gas stations in plans for the two Gainesville Supercenters.
Braddy said at the time a strong anti-Walmart sentiment was driving the opposition.
"Back in my commissioner days, it was less about gas and it was more about was Wal-Mart a good corporate partner, what kind of partners do they support and ‘We don't want more Walmarts in our community,'" he said.
Braddy said people now view the Waldo Road store as a community asset after several years in business, and the new Supercenter has been received well, "so I think some of the angst has disappeared."
Anthony Clark is the Gainesville Sun business editor.