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Local Leaders Break Ground On Wilson Shopping Center

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Wilson Shopping Center Illustration
WILSON, N.C. — Developers and local leaders broke ground Thursday on a 430,000-square-foot shopping center that promises to bring big-name stores such as Best Buy and Target.

Local leaders said they expect the new Heritage Crossing Shopping Center to bring as many as 1,000 jobs.

"We've lost more jobs in the last two years than any county surrounding us, so it just means so much," said Wilson County Commissioner Sid Boyette.

But not everyone welcomes the new neighbor.

Russell Hesmer, who owns Westwood Village -- the Wal-Mart shopping center in Wilson -- fears other businesses will lay off workers because their sales will go down. He and his business partner filed a federal lawsuit against the developers, city and county over a $2.5 million incentives package because they believe it gives their competition an unfair advantage.

"We just don't believe the government needs to be in the business of handing our retail incentives," Hesmer said. "In my opinion, it's not legal."

Target told local leaders it would build in Wilson only if the city gave $2.5 million for roads, utility lines and infrastructure.

"Most of us don't like incentives, period," Boyette said. "We don't think you ought to have to do that, but if you're going to stay in the game, then you're going to have to do it."

Rich Barta, one of the developers of the site, said construction crews will begin right away and expect the first stores to open by October 2006 if everything goes as scheduled.

"I think that will be played out in a court of law, but we're confident we're on good ground here," Barta said.

The business owners who filed the lawsuit said it will likely take years to resolve.

The Employment Security Commission reports that Wilson County has the third-highest unemployment rate in the state. In April, the unemployment rate stood at 8.9 percent. Only Tyrrell and Scotland counties have higher unemployment rates.


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