ST. PETERSBURG — As a building began going up at the corner of 34th Street and 26th Avenue S, rumors included that it was a Starbucks, or even an apartment complex.
Further south, work at a long-closed Thai restaurant also drew curiosity. The news is that it is being transformed into a $1.2 million Seventh-day Adventist Church.
As for the site of the imagined Starbucks, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation based in Los Angeles is actually building a $1.6 million pharmacy, health clinic, wellness center and thrift store.
"The idea is a one-stop shop," said Imara Canady, spokesman for the organization's Fort Lauderdale office.
The new facility at 3400 26th Ave. S, on the edge of Midtown, will be the organization's first in St. Petersburg. The group operates in 36 countries and has about 50 facilities in 14 states. Nearby locations are in Clearwater and Safety Harbor.
"We really work to be in communities where there is an issue and an unmet need. When you look at the HIV and AIDS epidemic, the South is greatly impacted by this epidemic and various parts of Florida have high infection rates and cases of other STDs," Canady said.
"Our motto is providing cutting-edge medicine regardless of one's ability to pay," he said, adding that anyone who tests HIV positive can begin getting care within 72 hours.
The difference between his organization's pharmacy and other well known establishments is that "96 percent of every dollar that is raised goes back into the community," he said. Canady also said that having a pharmacy at the same place where someone is receiving care helps to alleviate "the barriers of getting the medication one may need."
According to Pinellas County records, the property was bought for $725,000. The new 14,875-square-foot building — across from Amscot Financial and near Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church — is expected to draw a broad clientele with its Out of the Closet thrift store.
The shop also will offer "free, rapid, one-minute, confidential testing," Canady said. "One of the inhibitors of people getting tested is the high level of stigma and judgment around HIV. Now nobody knows why you're going into a thrift store."
As in other areas, Canady said the AIDS Healthcare Foundation plans to collaborate with local nonprofits, including faith groups.
About a mile and a half away, the emerging Skyway Marina District will become the new home of All Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church, which sold its 2611 First Ave. N building for $600,000 in December.
The church bought the former Ai-Mei Thai restaurant at 4200 34th St. S for $525,000 and is adding a 1,517-square-foot fellowship hall.
Pastor John Mills, who was born in Jamaica and migrated to the United States in 1992, said the new church will seat 329. It should be complete by the end of the year, he said.
Until then, the congregation is meeting temporarily at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ at 6315 Central Ave.
With an average attendance of 180, church members believe the new location, on a main thoroughfare and with surrounding neighborhoods, offers the perfect opportunity for growth, Mills said.
"We want to reach out to the community as much as we possibly can," he said.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at @[email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.