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Kanawha officials decline Walmart offer for Coonskin Park

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County officials say they're not interested in an offer from Walmart to buy land at Coonskin Park and put a Walmart Superstore there.

County planning officials said Walmart contacted the county recently about putting a store at Coonskin. The proposed Walmart store would cover about 150,000 square feet and employ about 300 people, county officials said.

Walmart officials offered to pay $2 million for the property, with a total investment of about $10 million to $15 million in the project, according to county officials.

Neither a Walmart regional property manager nor a company public relations representative returned telephone calls on Tuesday. Kanawha planning officials said Walmart officials told them they want to build a store in the northern part of the county.

Walmart already has three stores in Kanawha County, at Southridge Centre and in Nitro and Quincy.

But Kanawha County commissioners said they're not keen on the idea of a Walmart store on the location of a public park and golf course.

Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy said he was happy Walmart is interested in building a store to serve the northern part of the county, but Coonskin isn't the place for it.

"It's probably the nicest park in the region," Hardy said.

County Commission President Kent Carper said Coonskin is used extensively, and offers facilities and programs for youth.

"It's a park," Carper said. "I'd hate to see a park turned into a shopping mall."

Carper also said a Walmart at Coonskin Park could jeopardize the future of the 130th Airlift Wing, which could be shut down by federal officials unless public access to the air base and Army and Air Force National Guard facilities is cut off. State and local officials plan to close off Coonskin Drive and provide new access to Coonskin Park from a bridge across the Elk River in the Mink Shoals area.

County officials promised to support efforts for the project and help pay for a new bridge. "We gave our word to the men and women of the [National] Guard, and I intend to keep it," Carper said.

Hardy said he was confident Walmart executives would be able to work with county planning officials to find a suitable site for a new store.

Carper said it would ultimately be up to the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission to decide whether or not to sell Coonskin Park or part of it. "I, for one, am against it," he said.

Parks and Recreation Commission President Anna Dailey and Kanawha County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson were unavailable on Tuesday.

But Kanawha County Commissioner Hoppy Shores, who also sits on the parks and recreation commission, said he isn't even sure parks officials have the authority to sell part of the park.

Even if they do, Shores doesn't think the property should be used for a store.

"I would oppose putting anything commercial in there," he said. "It's a park, and that's the way it should stay."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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