CLEARWATER — Months ago residents learned that a Walmart Neighborhood Market and a luxury apartment complex were destined for 30 acres of bare land at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road, one of the busiest intersections in the county.
But another business planning to build there, the Tampa Bay Times learned this week from a city official, is Wawa, a Pennsylvania-based convenience store chain with a rabid following.
"I'd go — I like Wawa," said Kristin Pitts, 24, who recently moved to Clearwater from Washington D.C. "We had them up north, and I'd order the turkey and cheese hoagies."
Wawa, which promises clean bathrooms, foamy lattes and made-to-order hot hoagies, has announced it will open 100 locations around Central Florida in the next five years. The first in the Tampa Bay area opened last week at 3101 Gandy Blvd. in Pinellas Park.
Site work began this week on the long-fallow acreage at Gulf-to-Bay and Belcher, with bulldozers downing trees and making room for a new retention pond on the property's southern end.
The property was previously occupied by Lakeside Mobile Home Park, but residents were forced to move out and the mobile homes were removed six years ago.
When the city of Clearwater approved the development project, proposed by Nickel Plate Properties in 2010, residents feared imminent traffic gridlock. However, the developers have agreed to spend nearly $1 million on road work, such as right-turn-only lanes into the commercial center that will occupy the north side of the property, said city planning and development director Michael Delk.
"Traffic will still be pretty bad," he said. "But after the work, it won't be worse than it is now."
Walmart Neighborhood Markets are grocery stores with a smaller footprint than the brand's massive supercenters. Once the store is built, supermarkets will occupy three of the four corners of the intersection. Wawa, which also sells gasoline, will compete with a gas station across Gulf-to-Bay.
"More competition around here will hopefully mean lower prices," said Clearwater resident Sharon Nevill, 68, who was shopping at the Publix across the street on Friday. "I'd put up with a little extra traffic for that."
The Wawa, Walmart Neighborhood Market and apartment complex tentatively named Lakeside Clearwater should open by summer 2014, said Ed Armstrong, attorney for Nickel Plate.
Armstrong would not reveal what other businesses might locate in the shopping complex. More specific plans will be announced this summer, he said, when deals with those companies are expected to close.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.