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A battle of the big boxes taking shape in south Twin City’s suburbs

Susan Feyder, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

The competition between discount behemoths Wal-Mart and Target is about to escalate in the south metro area with this month’s opening of Wal-Mart stores in Lakeville and Burnsville.

The Lakeville outlet, just off Interstate 35 and Hwy. 70, opened last week. The Burnsville store, near I-35W and Cliff Road, is scheduled to open Friday.

Minneapolis-based Target, with almost 50 stores in the Twin Cities, still greatly outnumbers Wal-Mart’s 20 outlets, but the gap is narrower in Dakota and Scott counties. The new Wal-Marts give the retailer based in Bentonville, Ark., eight stores in the two counties against Target’s 10.

Wal-Mart recently has had less success in putting stores in other parts of the Twin Cities, including Chanhassen, Roseville and Plymouth. It’s had better luck in Brooklyn Center, where it recently opened a store on the former Brookdale Center site, and in Blaine, where it’s building that city’s second store. Andover and Cottage Grove recently approved plans for new Wal-Marts, the first in those communities.

Like Target, Wal-Mart is experimenting with new store formats nationwide, including smaller outlets for more compact downtown locations. Wal-Mart at one time explored Block E in downtown Minneapolis as a possible site, about six blocks away from Target’s store on the Nicollet Mall, according to Richard Grones, whose Edina-based Cambridge Commercial Realty specializes in the retail market. Representatives of Wal-Mart did not respond to interview requests for this story.

City planners in Lakeville and Burnsville said Wal-Mart’s store plans did not meet opposition. That’s a change for Burnsville, where a store proposed near W. Crystal Lake Road and Burnhaven Drive failed to get built after running into neighborhood protests.

“The Burnsville story has been ongoing for years,” Grones said. “Wal-Mart finally found another site the city could support, and they jumped at it.”

Both the Burnsville and Lakeville stores are stand-alone outlets in areas that have limited retail development. The Burnsville site, across the street from Northern Tool and Equipment, was a former industrial property that had been vacant for several years, city planner Chris Slania said.

“It was great to see reinvestment and improvement in that site,” he said.

The Lakeville Wal-Mart site also had been vacant, with the Lakeville 21 Theatre the primary retail neighbor for the new store. Dave Olson, the city’s director of economic and community development, said he believes the new Wal-Mart could encourage more interest from retailers to fill out the southern part of the city.

Slania said the two Wal-Marts have had separate development teams. Even so, Burnsville became aware of plans for the new Lakeville store. He said the city wasn’t concerned that the Lakeville store would steal any thunder from the Burnsville development. “They’re really drawing from different parts of the metro area,” he said. The outlets are about 10 miles from each other.

Target spokeswoman Erika Winkels said the retailer typically doesn’t engage in any special promotions when a competitor, including Wal-Mart, opens a new store nearby. Target’s 10 south-metro outlets include stores in Lakeville and Burnsville.

“Overall, Target continues to be selective when choosing new store locations to ensure we make the best use of our resources long term,” she said. A Target that opened in July in Inver Grove Heights is the only new Twin Cities-area store planned for this year.

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