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Few in Seminole Heights recoil at idea of Walmart Supercenter

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Tina Rodriguez walks her pit bull past piles of trash and old furniture at a dead end on Mohawk Avenue.

The road parallels Hillsborough Avenue and could soon be a back entrance to a Walmart Supercenter.

Although the retail giant regularly meets resistance as it saturates the country, Rodriguez and many of her neighbors say they will welcome the store at 1720 E Hillsborough Ave., once home to a Chevrolet dealer.

"I'm sure they'd do a better job of keeping the area up," said Rodriguez, who has lived there for 12 years and said it would also make for a short walk to shop.

Walmart representatives are in the "very early stages" of talking to the city about their plans for a 120,000-square-foot store and have not yet bought the empty lot in Seminole Heights, said Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz.

The city has approved two driveways on 19th Street — one for customers, one for delivery trucks — and two more on Mohawk Avenue. Representatives are requesting a traffic signal at 19th Street and Hillsborough Avenue.

Six lanes of traffic zip by the 11.78-acre site lined by tall palms wrapped in vines. It's next to McDonald's and across from a barbershop, a bridal outlet and a pawnshop.

"When Walmart builds a new store, it offers job opportunities and groceries and other affordable goods," Wertz said. "It improves the economic situation."

Half a mile west, at Sanwa Farmer's Market, Lisa Williams works as a cashier. She doesn't think Walmart would hurt business at the produce market, although she considered applying for a job at the new store.

"You can fill you cart with twice as much here for the same price as you can at Walmart," she said.

Mary Paul drives almost 5 miles to the nearest Walmart Supercenter, at 8220 N Dale Mabry Highway. She said she'll be glad to save gas.

Not all chain stores have gotten such a warm welcome in Seminole Heights.

Last year, neighbors launched an unsuccessful protest a mile and a half from the proposed Walmart against national discount chain Family Dollar, which plans to open soon at 5100 N Florida Ave. They said the store didn't fit in with the neighborhood that loves its locally owned businesses. More than 830 people opposed the store on a "No Family Dollar" Facebook page.

"Family Dollar was a different story," said Danielle Ferrari, who lives near the dollar store. "My heart hurt for those neighboring businesses."

She and friend Michelle Brooks don't plan to protest this Walmart.

"They did get the right spot," Brooks said. "It's been a dark space for a long time."

Brooks owns Brooksie's Market, a bungalow stocked with consignments and art from locals. Walmart won't take her customers away, she said, and she will only shop there on special occasions. But she values the diversity of her neighborhood.

"If I'm going to embrace my neighborhood, I don't get to speak for all of them," she said.

Board members of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association met Tuesday night to discuss the proposed store. Some voiced concerns about increased traffic, including trucks that traverse 15th Street, said Debi Johnson, president of the group.

She said they won't protest the new store.

Some aren't thrilled, though. Most of the more than 60 Facebook posts on the Greater Seminole Heights page decried the news. Some wished instead for Trader Joe's, Costco or Target.

Johnson realizes that many businesses on the stretch where the store may come don't have the look and feel these residents are aiming for, but she hopes they'll have a say in the aesthetics of the new store.

Wertz said Walmart tries to work with neighbors to develop stores that fit in and often meets with community members, although no meeting is yet planned.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

Few in Seminole Heights recoil at idea of Walmart Supercenter 03/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 2:49pm]
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