Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Wawa, Walmart to open at intersection of Ulmerton and Starkey

LARGO — The trees are wilted, the grass is overgrown and weeds sprout through cracks in the asphalt. There's a pile of rubble where the gas station used to be, and a few bales of hay are strewn haphazardly across the parking lot.

If an independent film crew needed a spot to shoot a movie set in postapocalyptic Largo, the lot at the southwest corner of Ulmerton and Starkey roads would be on the short list. But not for much longer.

After several years of sitting vacant, the land where the Ulmerton Cinema 9 once operated will be cleared this year, and in 2013 or 2014 should become the home of a new Walmart Neighborhood Market and a Wawa gas station/convenience store.

The neighborhood market, smaller than their supercenters, will be Walmart's second in Largo; there's also one at 13817 Walsingham Road.

The Wawa will be one of the first in the Tampa Bay area for the Pennsylvania-based chain, popular in the Northeast for offering made-on-site deli hoagies, baked goods and gourmet coffees 24/7. Several are planned and one is under construction in Pinellas Park along Gandy Boulevard in the Gateway Centre.

Officials with Walmart and Wawa said they expect to start construction on their Ulmerton locations in 2013, and to open in 2014.

The site's developer, Belleair Development Group, also plans to have a spot for a new bank and to offer about 18,000 square feet of retail space, either for one tenant or two.

"It all really depends on the market," said Belleair Development president Carlos Yepes. "There's a tremendous amount of traffic at that intersection."

Yepes cited state Department of Transportation statistics that show nearly 80,000 cars pass by the site on Ulmerton and Starkey roads every day.

For Largo Community Development Director Carol Stricklin, the development is another positive sign for Largo's economy.

"That has been an underperforming property for at least a decade," Stricklin said. "To see somebody come in and put in not just retail, but also new users in the marketplace, that's a positive. Wawa's just moving into Florida, and they've seen value in that site."

Wawa — whose name comes from an American Indian word for the Canada goose — opened its first Florida locations in the Orlando area this year. It has five stores slated to open in the Tampa Bay area in 2013, starting in Pinellas Park. Wawa hopes to have 100 stores open in the Orlando and Tampa markets within five years, according to company spokeswoman Lori Bruce.

"The Largo site is a great location that meets all of our real estate criteria," Bruce wrote. "It's a great community with a large population, development and a good stable business base."

Wawa will have competition for gas station/convenience store business at that corner, though, as another out-of-state chain plans its first Largo store nearby, Stricklin said. Thorntons, a Kentucky chain with a similar business model to Wawa, plans to open one of its first Florida stores on the northeast corner of Starkey and Ulmerton roads, at the former location of Badda Bing Gentlemen's Club.

Thorntons officials were unavailable for comment last week. The company is building a store on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater that is slated to open in November, a spokesman said in August. And Thorntons plans five other locations in the area by early 2013.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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