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The Insider Nov. 17

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Reversal of fortune

Remember the Times cover story last May about the town of McGehee’s ironic, desperate effort to keep Wal-Mart from closing its store there as part of a plan to build a Supercenter 20 miles up the road in the slightly larger town of Dumas, which was happily anticipating an accompanying boost in city sales tax revenue?

Insert sound of needle scratching across record here. Wal-Mart now says it’s leaving Dumas altogether. After months of foot-dragging on finalizing a real estate contract, Dumas Mayor Marion Gill said, Wal-Mart notified a private landowner that it was no longer interested in purchasing his property for a Supercenter. Then a delegation from Wal-Mart’s corporate office told city officials and Wal-Mart’s Dumas employees Nov. 11 that not only will they not be building a Supercenter, they’ll be closing the existing store on Dec. 31, a month before Wal-Mart’s lease expires.



Why?

The store simply wasn’t profitable enough, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Moore said, and the company couldn’t justify making any further investment there. It’s as complete a turnaround as is possible from the company’s position last spring, Gill said.

Did media coverage of McGehee’s plight influence the company’s decision to nix the Dumas Supercenter? Moore said no, but Gill doesn’t buy it.

Dumas, which has several other larger retailers, can take the hit better than McGehee, but Gill said it’s still a devastating loss: at least $420,000 per year in local sales tax revenue, all of it earmarked to pay off bonds on a new hospital and municipal complex or for other capital improvements.



Mansion spruce up

A landscaping project on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion will be handled by P. Allen Smith, the Little Rock horticulturist whose syndicated show appears on national television.

Smith said in a call last week that he was excited about the project, which is being paid for by the Governor’s Mansion Association, a private not-for-profit organization. First Lady Janet Huckabee, who announced in September that she would abandon a project to build a new residence on the grounds, said the landscaping should take top priority.

The Mansion had a $750,000 grant from the state Natural and Cultural Resources Council in 2003 to landscape the grounds, but turned it back last spring.

Sally Stevens, chair of the Association, did not return calls about the cost of the project or how it would be funded, but others have said the project will cost more than $1 million.


Dewayne!

Local gadfly reporter/private investigator Dewayne Graham has decided to run for Pulaski County sheriff.

In 2000, Graham made it as far as a run-off against Mike Ross for the 4th District Congressional seat, garnering 42 percent of the vote. Though he has no policing experience, Graham said he’d whittle down the runaway budget at the PuCo jail. He hopes that being unconnected to the current sheriff’s administration will work in his favor.

“People are looking for an outsider,” Graham said. “And hey, here I am.”


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