After years of speculation, Walmart has confirmed that it is moving forward with a plan to expand its store in Falmouth.

On Friday, the retailer said it has agreed to take over space now occupied by Regal Entertainment Group’s cinemas, next to Walmart’s 84,000-square-foot store on Route 1 near Depot Road.

“We recently signed a lease with the landlord to expand the existing store in Falmouth,” said Daniel Morales, Walmart’s communications director. “It is something that was just begun. We don’t have a timeline.”

If the plan is completed, Walmart will tear down the 22,500 square feet of space now occupied by Regal and replace it with a 36,000-square-foot addition, said Ben Devine, a part-owner of the shopping center.

The renovated store would be about 120,000 square feet and likely include a grocery store and a garden center.

But the expansion is far from finalized, and the timing is uncertain.

Devine said Regal remains a tenant under a short-term lease and has not told him when it plans to move out.

According to Devine, the cinema company, one of the country’s largest, will close the Falmouth location as part of a plan to focus on newer, state-of-the-art theaters.

“Regal has made (the) decision it is no longer a viable unit for them,” said Devine. “They don’t want to hold that location.”

Devine said cinema competition is fierce in the area. Portland and South Portland have theaters, and Berenson Associates plans to open a six-screen cinema in Freeport next summer.

Regal did not immediately return a call for comment.

Walmart’s plan is also challenged by proposed zoning changes in Falmouth. On Dec. 13, the Town Council is scheduled to consider a proposal to limit retail stores to 75,000 square feet of space, which would likely derail Walmart’s plans.

If that happens, Devine fears he will have difficultly finding an attractive client to occupy the space after Regal leaves.

He said the retail real estate market in Falmouth is slow and vacancies are high. A discount store or a mattress retailer may be interested in the space, but Devine doubts he would attract higher-end retailers, like Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s.

If Walmart’s plan isn’t killed by the town, the company will likely expand its payroll.

Morales estimated that Walmart would have to hire 30 to 50 additional staffers with the expansion, jobs he said would come with good benefits, like health insurance, bonuses, paid vacation and 401(k) plans with company contributions.

Though Walmart’s lease has been signed, a Walmart manager in Falmouth who was contacted Friday was unaware.

“The company has been pursing it for years now and has always had an interest, but as far as them telling us anything — they haven’t said anything,” said Dave Gaetani.

Even with the expansion, the Falmouth store would be far smaller than other Walmart stores in the area. The Auburn Walmart Supercenter, for instance, is 220,000 square feet.

Walmart is also focusing on opening smaller stores. According to recent reports, the company has been hunting for retail space in the 20,000- to 50,000-square-foot range in markets across the country. That size is larger than a typical drugstore but smaller than a supermarket.

Walmart already operates four Marketside stores, which are about 15,000 square feet, and 154 Neighborhood Markets, which are about 42,000 square feet.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

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