NORTH VERNON — Most Jennings County residents waited only a year for the Walmart Supercenter to open Wednesday in North Vernon.
Larry Sporleder waited more than a decade.
The North Vernon real estate broker first listed the property at State Road 3 and Madison Avenue on Feb. 6, 2002. But the final sale of the land, formerly occupied by Wildey Mobile Home Park, to the retail giant was not completed until August 2011.
“I’ve been in the business for almost 35 years,” said the associate broker with Tom Lawson Real Estate and Auction Service. “But this was the longest listing of my life. We just ran into all types of complications.”
It began as a business deal between two buddies who had regularly played euchre for 25 years.
Mobile home park owner Morris Wildey asked Sporleder to sell the property on his behalf. While Sporleder agreed, nobody seemed to express the slightest interest in purchasing the park for the next 18 months.
Sporleder eventually handed the property over to another Jennings County real estate broker, Jerry Lamb. But Lamb’s luck at selling the mobile home park wasn’t any better. After a year, Lamb allowed Sporleder to take another shot at it.
According to Sporleder, both he and Lamb had attempted to get Walmart to take a look at Wildey’s property for a supercenter. However, he said neither of them was able to even get calls returned.
But in 2004, after purchasing residential property in front of the old Walmart store, Sporleder was approached by two out-of-state commercial real estate agents: David Shank of Louisville, Ky., and Joe Redding of St. Louis, owners of Tri-Star Venture.
Together, the three were able to broker a deal that eventually resulted in the O’Reilly Auto Parts store.
After Sporleder explained his frustrations with Walmart to Shank and Redding, they agreed to try for one year to approach the Bentonville, Ark., corporation.
“They were able to flip it to Walmart right as their contract was about to end,” Sporleder said. “Those two were able to approach Walmart when I couldn’t.”’
That was in 2005. But it would be another six years before it became a done deal. During that period, Walmart asked for five extensions in order to retain the rights for land.
City officials in North Vernon say it was the presence of the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center that likely persuaded Walmart to set aside economic worries in 2009. But before the retailer would close the deal, Sporleder and the other realty agents had to take care of a few of the company’s concerns.
Sporleder described addressing those concerns as “hitting concrete wall after concrete wall.”
The first priority was to get the nine remaining mobile homes off the land. At the same time, the Madison railroad refused to give up a small parcel of land necessary for a required easement. It took about a year, as well as money and a land swap, before the agents got what they needed from the railroad.
Then, the Indiana Department of Transportation stepped in. They had considered State Road 3 and Madison Avenue to be a dangerous intersection for several years. And with a new Walmart being proposed, INDOT was worried the store would cause passenger vehicles and semitrailer trucks to back up at a nearby railroad crossing.
But Sporleder gives a tremendous amount of credit to both the city of North Vernon and the state for working together to come up with acceptable solutions.
But there was still one more concrete wall to smash through.
When the land was used for agriculture during the first half of the 20th century, farmers had placed a drainage ditch every 100 feet. But because the property hadn’t been a farm for a half-century, those ditches ended up holding water, instead of draining it. As a result, it had become classified as protected wetlands.
Sporleder recalled what he did shortly before the Army Corps of Engineers came in to inspect the land.
“I brought my tractor in here to bush-hog all 27 acres,” Sporleder said. “But it didn’t do a bit of good. They still objected. And you don’t change the findings of the Army Corps of Engineers.”
He added that the realty agents had to acquire a neighboring piece of property in order to make up for the wetland. Once that was completed, the Corps removed its objections.
It was on Aug. 11, 2011, that Walmart finally signed off on the site. Construction began the following month.
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