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Commercial growth along Owen Road was steady in the mid-1990s - Tri-County Times: Tri-County Times Newspaper: Fenton, Linden And Holly MI News Source

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Commercial growth along Owen Road was steady in the mid-1990s

But it was Walmart that resulted in explosive growth on the west side of Fenton

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Posted: Wednesday, September 7, 2016 12:07 pm

Before the mid-1990s, there were only about a dozen reasons to travel west on Owen Road — buy a vehicle, pump gas, attend high school, buy groceries, frequent a handful of fast-food and dine-in restaurants, go home or leave the city.

 Since then, countless new businesses and other facilities have popped up along Owen Road, from Rounds Drive west to just past the city’s border into Fenton Township.

 A few long-time Fenton businesses, such as VG’s, Kmart and Tractor Supply Co., chose to reinvest in their community by constructing new facilities and locating them where they could be accessed from the Owen Road corridor.

 The addition of McLaren Medical Group and McLaren Convenient Care made Owen Road a destination for quality medical care.

 Lasco Ford and Vic Canever Chevrolet also have in recent years invested in major expansions of their facilities. Those who watched the growth take place over the years attribute it to Fenton being centrally located between three major Michigan cities, easy access to the highways, and an abundance of land on which to build.

Then came Walmart

 Although Walmart has since proven to be a positive addition to the Fenton community, its coming to town was not without concerns from residents and business owners, both in the city and neighboring Fenton Township.

 It all began in October of 1997, when developers from Birmingham, Alabama, decided to bring their plans for a massive retail development to a 32-acre parcel of land at the corner of Owen Road and Silver Parkway in Fenton.

 The people said “NO!”

 Although developers would not at first reveal the identity of the major retailer that would occupy the largest store in the plan, rumors that it was in fact going to be a Walmart were confirmed when famed “Sprawlbuster,” Al Norman came to town from Greenfield, Massachusetts.

 His visit was arranged and paid for by the residents and business owners in the city of Fenton and surrounding communities, who feared Walmart would have a negative impact on their property values, traffic congestion, the environment, and cause the demise of the many “mom and pop” businesses in town.

 It was when Norman, who brought his “anti-Walmart” message to small towns throughout the United States and was even featured on “60 Minutes,” spoke before an audience of more than 200 at Fenton High School that Walmart revealed that they were in fact, planning to come to town.

 After several delays and rejections by the Fenton Planning Commission, the Birmingham developers went away for a while. But it wasn’t too long before the Walmart Corporation itself came back with a new set of plans.

 Though the plans were downsized significantly, the people were still not happy. Those who endured the longest with their complaints were the homeowners in the Silver Ridge subdivision in Fenton Township, whose homes are located adjacent to the Walmart site on the west side.

 Those residents filed a lawsuit, new terms and conditions, and in the end, with everyone working together, concessions were made, rules were established and on Jan. 23, 2002, Walmart held its grand opening celebration with great fanfare, and generous contributions from Walmart to local groups and organizations.

 In July of 2008, Walmart started a major expansion project, adding 52,000 square feet to make room for a grocery and pharmacy, making it a supercenter.

 Today, Walmart is one of the city of Fenton’s biggest taxpayers, and is one of the city’s major employers. Since 2002, it has been a catalyst for the tremendous growth taking place on the west side of town.

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