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    New Orleans Battles Wal-Mart Plan

    Local retailers claim discount merchandiser's bargain prices could squeeze them out of business.

    NEW ORLEANS -- Wal-Mart's latest attempt to open a mammoth Supercenter in a New Orleans has sparked a fierce debate between supporters and preservationists who argue the store would be an ugly blot amid the magnolia trees and 19th-century homes.

    City councilors gave preliminary approval last week to a 200,000-square-foot store on the fringe of the city's Lower Garden District. The Supercenter, which is expected to include a gas station, would sit on about 17 acres and include 825 parking spots along the Mississippi River. It is a major part of a plan to revitalize a run-down part of town where a public housing project once stood.

    "We were the only retailer willing to step up," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Davis Moore.

    But the neighborhood borders the city's Garden District, famous for its clanging streetcar and antebellum mansions. The district offers smaller, but still architecturally significant, homes and redevelopment projects to encourage residents to renovate.

    Wal-Mart supporters note that the company has already compromised on its original plan by reducing parking spots and the store size. As part of the deal, Wal-Mart will also create 200 jobs, build about 1,200 housing units nearby for mixed-income families and restore a historic cotton press.

    Retailers, however, counter that Wal-Mart's bargain prices could squeeze them out of business and complain the city has given the retailer a sweetheart tax deal.

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