The announcement of a second Wal-Mart Supercenter for Meridian eclipsed the news of a flurry of concurrent business openings Thursday at the new corner of River Birch Drive and Highway 19 North.

East Mississippi Business Development Corp. officials and ambassadors led by Barry Murphy cut a ribbon for the new Soap Opera Carwash, the first in a consortium of businesses being developed by River Birch Developers that will fill the property adjacent to the new Wal-Mart.

“The Soap Opera Car Wash will be joined by an upscale Laundromat, an 80-foot tunnel car wash and a Happy Corner Wings and Cream restaurant,” Murphy said. “The entire complex could bring upwards of 1,000 jobs to the area.”

After watching city workers reveal the new street signs at the intersection of Highway 19 North and River Birch Drive, Mayor John Robert Smith made the official Wal-Mart announcement.

“It was a cooperative agreement between the public and private sectors that allowed this street to be built,” Smith said. “I want to thank the investors for their vision, and thanks to the city council for realizing that this is a prime time to invest in Meridian.”

Smith said the new 175,000-square-foot Wal-Mart will be three times bigger than the Wal-Mart currently operating on Highway 19 North. The smaller store, which is not a Supercenter, will close when the new store opens. Smith said the new store should yield 200 to 300 jobs for the region.

Of Wal-Mart, Smith said, “They see a vital community with a wide retail base.”

Smith concluded his speech by saying, “Things are looking good in Meridian.”

New Wal-Mart Store Manager Jeff Caples said he is excited about the potential growth of the community and the prospect of new jobs.

John Reeves is a principle member of River Birch Developers and owner of the new Soap Opera Car Wash — a self-wash operation.

“Construction on the Wal-Mart is set to begin around late March or early April,” Reeves told The Meridian Star. “We’ve been working on this deal for 41 months. We built the new street ourselves.”

River Birch Drive intersects with Highway 19 North just past Backyard Burgers. The eastbound street curves to the south and intersects with North Hills Street. Wal-Mart will use 17 acres of the 51-acre parcel for its store and parking lot.

Reeves said River Birch Developers’ membership is made up of five local businessmen, including himself, Alex Smith, Tommy Slayton, Dr. Al Seal and Dr. Earl Laird.

“The Happy Corner Wings and Creams is a name that comes from my Grandpa’s old country store,” Reeves said.

Barbara Henson, councilman for Meridian’s Ward 3, said, “This is a red-letter day for Meridian.”

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