Walmart will open a supercenter in the former Mervyn's that has sat empty for five years at Blackstone and Ashlan avenues in central Fresno.
The retail giant plans to open the store -- which will include clothing, electronics, a full grocery department, but no auto center -- this summer. At 107,000 square feet, the store is slightly smaller than a typical Walmart Supercenter, but larger than the average Walmart store.
The store will create 250 jobs -- a mix of full- and part-time. A hiring center will be set up nearby in early summer.
"I think this is exactly what this part of the city needs," said Fresno Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes the location.
The area has had problems with prostitution, homelessness, gangs, crime and graffiti, he said.
"That's a big dark space and what Walmart is doing is bringing light and activity to that corner," he said. "My hope is that it chases the people who are doing illegal activities back into the shadows."
Walmart is leasing the property from the owners, the Ochinero family of Fresno. The building has been empty since Mervyn's filed for bankruptcy and closed all its stores. Several national retailers expressed interest in the space, but most didn't want to take over the entire building, said Steve Rontell, a retail broker with Colliers International, who represented the landlord in lease negotiations.
Walmart will spend a "couple million dollars" remodeling the interior, Rontell said. That work has already begun.
The deal with Walmart has been in the works for years as the retail giant conducted studies about the area, he said.
"It's almost the geographic 360-degree center of the Fresno trade area," Rontell said, noting that the area has very diverse incomes, ethnicities and ages. It also has a Highway 41 exit close by.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the city welcomes an investment on its major north/south street.
"Projects like these, coupled with the city's vision for improving Blackstone Avenue with public infrastructure, will help give new life to this critical commercial corridor," she said in a news release.
The plans the mayor referred to included a new bus system. But the City Council last week rejected two Bus Rapid Transit contracts on 4-3 votes, but council members said the plan may return.
Because Walmart is moving into an existing retail space, it won't need to go before the City Council or planning commission for a permit, Olivier said.
It also allows the retailer to avoid some of the public debate that often accompanies new or growing Walmart stores.
Walmart representative Rachel Wall said the retailer's representatives have spoken with nearby residents who have welcomed the company to the neighborhood.
"Right now it fits a mutual need for the local community, local economy," she said. "We've gotten tremendously excited feedback."
Although Fresno -- with a jobless rate of 12.5% -- could use the jobs, some have concerns about how much Walmart will pay and what the new store will do to nearby mom-and-pop businesses.
"There needs to be a mutual and open conversation with the community, faith and civic leaders about those questions," said Rev. Chris Breedlove, who is a board member at Faith in Community, a coalition of 20 churches focused on economic justice.
Walmart says the average full-time hourly wage of its 81,960 California workers is $13.08 per hour, and the majority of its workers are full time.
Breedlove said the conversation needs to be about how much entry-level workers are paid and how their wages compare to retailers such as Costco up the street.
Walmart cited a study that found that supercenters have a positive economic effect on cities, including from job creation and small business growth. Communities with supercenters had stronger growth in the number of retail business permits issued than communities without supercenters, the study said.
Employees at the Petco pet-supply store just two doors down from the new Walmart have been waiting for five years for a new tenant to take over the space, said general manager Carl Giorgini.
"It's only a positive for us," he said. "Anything new is going to draw more customers to the center."
Walmart will compete with Petco on prices for mainstream pet food -- and Petco will match its prices -- but the new store is unlikely to threaten Petco's selection of specialty pet products or niche brands, he said.
"I'm just happy that something's coming into that space and taking over the eyesore with the broken windows," Giorgini said.
Staff writer Tim Sheehan contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @BethanyClough on Twitter.