St. Pete officials ask Walmart to reconsider Midtown closing
State. Sen. Darryl Rouson said Friday he’s so mad at Walmart’s decision to close its Midtown store that he wanted to vandalize the store.
“I felt like taking everything off the shelf and throwing it on the floor,” Rouson said at a late-afternoon meeting at his downtown St. Petersburg office with Walmart representatives and local officials.
Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said Walmart should have alerted state and local officials of their plans to shutter the store. Tuesday's announcement that the store, in the shopping center at 22nd Street and 18th Avenue S would close on March 3 took everyone by surpise. Why hadn't the company reached out?
“I would have scratched my brow to come up with a life preserver,” Rouson said.
Instead of smashing merchandise, Rouson said he’s channeled his anger to find a solution to saving what was heralded as a key part of Midtown’s economic resurgence when it opened three years ago.
He told Monesia Brown, Walmart’s Tallahassee-based director of government relations and public affairs, the story of how he used to buy crack cocaine in the dilapidated housing that once occupied the land where Tangerine Plaza now sits. Later, as an attorney, he sued the owners of those houses, eventually assembling about half of the site for what he said has become an essential part of neighborhood life.
As Brown gazed at the August 2000 St. Petersburg Times story framed on Rouson’s office wall that traced his redemption and recovery, Rouson ended his story with a bang:
“ I’m so glad today you’re announcing the reopening of the store,” he beamed.
That didn’t happen.
Brown said the company had hoped the store would succeed, but its performance hadn’t met expectations.
“It’s not on the course we hoped it would be,” she said. “We’ve tried everything we can do.”
When asked if shoplifting, low sales or other factors led to Tuesday’s announcement, Brown said she didn’t have the economic data on hand.
But the company didn’t make the decision lightly, she said. The “highest levels” of the giant global corporation were involved, she said.
St. Petersburg’s Urban Affairs Director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart said the city was willing to go to the mat to save a key part of its newly-minted South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.
“If we need to go to Bentonville, we’re prepared to do whatever it takes,” she said, referring to the Arkansas city where Walmart’s headquarters is located
City Council member Karl Nurse ticked off new developments nearby like Commerce Park’s recently approved light manufacturing and upscale housing being built in formerly downtrodden neighborhoods like Bartlett Park and Palmetto Park.
“You all are leaving as I see the ship coming in,” Nurse said.
Is this a final decision? Rouson asked.
“That is my understanding,” Brown replied.
But she promised to relay the city’s concerns and said the company would take them into consideration.
“This has been elevated to the very highest levels in the company,” she said.