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Walmart submits store plan for Cottage Grove; would develop drive-in site

Walmart has submitted a building plan for a Supercenter store on the Cottage View Drive-In site, city officials said Friday.

The retail giant proposes a 177,000-square-foot store with groceries and a drive-thru pharmacy on a 22-acre lot along Highway 61 near Keats Avenue.

The project would eventually bring an end to the Cottage View's four-decade-plus existence. It is one of only a handful of drive-in theaters that remain in the state.

Walmart's plan will go to before the Cottage Grove Planning Commission April 23, City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said.

Walmart issued a statement late Friday and said it plans a neighborhood meeting in the coming weeks.

The company's statement said: "We are pleased to announce the development of a Walmart Supercenter in Cottage Grove. We are excited to bring Cottage Grove residents the convenience of one-stop shopping for household goods, general merchandise, and a full line of fresh groceries all at Walmart's everyday low prices. We look forward to sharing our plans with the community and receiving their feedback."

The nearest Walmart stores are in Hastings and Woodbury.

"I think this is the jump-start we've been looking for to catapult what's going to (develop) down there in the future," said Mayor Myron Bailey in an interview Friday.

Longtime owner of the Cottage View Gerry Herringer confirmed Friday that a purchase agreement was in place between his company, the Apache Chief Theater Company, and Walmart. He declined to reveal the terms of the deal but said the agreement is contingent upon city approval of the retailer's plan for the site.

Herringer has aggressively sought to sell the two parcels that make up the theater site over the past decade and city officials have placed a high priority on luring commercial redevelopment to the property.

A 2007 proposal by Minneapolis developer Paripassu that featured a 90-plus acre retail development advanced as far as the city's Economic Development Authority before the company went under in the midst of the nation's economic collapse.

That led city officials in recent years to urge Herringer to be open to developing a portion of the property at a time, rather than in one fell swoop like was proposed in 2007. That is what officials say Walmart has proposed to do in the plan submitted to the city's planning department.

Bailey said the hope is more retailers and restaurants will follow in the giant retailer's wake.

"Walmart drives additional commercial development because Walmart drives traffic," the mayor said. "And traffic drives commercial development."

One more drive-in season?

So, what becomes of the Cottage View and its red, 1960s roadside sign that has been a fixture on the southern end of the city since 1966?

This season -- the drive-in's 47th -- is safe, Herringer said, giving fans of the Cottage View another shot at catching a summertime flick under a starry sky. If approved, Bailey said he expected construction on the store would begin in the fall.

Even without the Walmart proposal, however, Herringer said the theater's future is uncertain. The drive-in needs a new, $70,000 digital movie projector in the near future if it is to continue operating, he said, something unlikely to happen considering the annual uncertainty over the Cottage View's fate.

"It's in serious doubt either way," said Herringer, the owner of the drive-in since its inception. "It's too bad but I guess that's progress."

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