PINELLAS PARK — Council members unanimously cleared the way for Wawa, a mid-Atlantic chain of convenience stores and gas stations, to open its doors in the Tampa Bay area.
"It will be the first one in the Tampa Bay area and maybe the second one in the state of Florida," Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said just before the council voted to allow a gas station to open in the Gateway Centre, which is on the city's eastern edge.
Although council members were thrilled at the prospect of becoming home to the first or second Wawa in the state, the company was a bit more vague about its plans.
"Unfortunately, I can't confirm anything at this time. At this early stage, we simply don't have information available on specific sites or locations. It's too early in the process," Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said. "What I can confirm is that we are working with developers in the area and actively engaged in looking for sites."
The gas station site is about 2.5 acres at 3101 Gandy Blvd., the northwest corner of Gandy and Grand Avenue. It is north of Roberts Mobile Home Park and immediately east of Dew Eurocars, which is under construction.
The land is owned by Hardy Huntley's Gateway LLC. Huntley is best known as the owner of the Wagon Wheel and Mustang Flea Markets, which are on the western edge of Pinellas Park. Huntley bought 185 acres of the Gateway Centre business park in 2009 after lenders took it back from Grady Pridgen.
Pridgen envisioned turning about 400 acres of the area into a kind of city within a city. But Huntley has persuaded the Pinellas Park council to loosen zoning restrictions on the property to allow more flexibility in what can be built there. The gas station is the first defined plan Huntley has brought to the council.
Wawa is a privately held company based in Wawa, Pa., according to its website, wawa.com. The company was founded in 1803 in New Jersey and was incorporated in 1865 as the Millville Manufacturing Co., a textile company. The name was derived from WaWa, the rural area of Pennsylvania where the company's original dairy farm was located. Wawa is a Lenni-Lenape word for the Canadian goose, which is the American Indian tribe's favorite game.
Wawa, the company, has more than 570 stores, 200 that also sell fuel, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Most of the stores are open 24/7.
"We have not seen a convenience store like a Wawa," Mischler said. "It's a totally different concept."
Peter Creighton, a spokesman for Huntley, said, "My understanding is (that) Wawa is more a food establishment that sells gasoline than a gas station that sells food."
The chain boasts that its stores offer a large fresh food service selection under the Wawa brand, including built-to-order hoagies, freshly brewed coffee, dairy products, breakfast sandwiches, bakery products and ready-to-eat salads and fruits. Wawa Food Markets carry more than 6,000 items, including Wawa brands and national and local products. Wawa offers surcharge-free ATMs and began selling gas about 10 years ago.
Reach Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.