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Plans move forward to open Trader Joe's in South Tampa

TAMPA — Trader Joe's is a big leap closer to opening its first specialty grocery store in the Tampa Bay area.

The developer of the project has hired an architect and is taking bids to build a store near Dale Mabry Highway and Swann Avenue in South Tampa, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. The store would take over the current Shapes gym along Swann.

A bid document for "Trader Joe's/Tampa'' calls for demolition of the existing structure and construction of a 12,300-square-foot building for a national chain grocery store at 3808 W Swann Ave. Bids are due from a preselected list of general contractors June 25.

Construction on the $1 million structure would start around July 25.

The developer, CAP Tampa LLC, hired Barry Byrd Architecture in Knoxville, Tenn., to design the project.

Barry Byrd confirmed Thursday that he is working on a retail project at that location but said he could not disclose the name of the store. His blueprints, while not mentioning the store by name, list the project as TJ-Tampa. The architectural drawing of the storefront shows "Tenant Sign'' in the Hawaiian-style lettering widely used by Trader Joe's.

Byrd was the architect for the Trader Joe's that opened in March in Columbia, S.C. That project, along with the Trader Joe's in Sarasota, was developed by Centennial American Properties of Greenville, S.C., which has the same initials as the company listed on building plans, CAP Tampa LLC. The Sarasota project was done by CAP Sarasota LLC.

Word has circulated for months that Trader Joe's is actively looking for a site in Tampa, most likely along busy Dale Mabry. In April, the Times reported that Trader Joe's was in negotiations to open a store on the Swann property.

At the time, the owners of the site said they knew nothing about such plans but acknowledged that a businessman named Elliot Raj has an option to buy the property. Their understanding was that he was going to buy the site and lease it back to them for 20 years to continue as a gym. Raj would not confirm that Trader Joe's had chosen the building but said he knew that the retailer was looking in South Tampa and planned to make a decision on a site soon.

Property co-owner Robert Karshner said Thursday that he did not know about the plans, and the other owner, Vince Julien, did not return a phone call. Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for Trader Joe's, said the company had no comment.

Trader Joe's has been tight-lipped about discussing new locations, and people involved in the deal have been prohibited from talking about it publicly until a deal is confirmed. Talk intensified about six weeks ago when a representative of the Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm told an annual meeting of the Westshore Alliance that Trader Joe's had found a site along Dale Mabry but gave no specifics.

Tampa Bay shoppers have been clamoring for a Trader Joe's for years and felt snubbed when the California-based chain picked Naples as its first Florida store, followed by Sarasota and Gainesville. Others are in the works for Tallahassee and Winter Park, northeast of Orlando.

Trader Joe's was founded in 1958 by Joe Coulombe and later acquired by a family trust set up by a brother behind the German discount supermarket chain Aldi, which has several Tampa Bay locations. Privately held, Trader Joe's has 370 stores in 34 states and does more than $8 billion in sales.

Local fans have stressed that a store would do well wherever it goes in the Tampa Bay area. People would drive for miles for the Two Buck Chuck wine and gourmet food at reasonable prices. Among the first in line for the opening of the Sarasota store in September were people from the Tampa Bay area.

But Trader Joe's is notoriously deliberate in its site selection and willing to wait. It requires prominent addresses in affluent, well-educated areas and needs parking and room for truck deliveries, both hot commodities in the densely populated, built-out South Tampa.

The Swann Avenue store would be about 900 square feet larger than the existing gym building, leaving space for parking but not an abundance. The property is across from an Einstein Bros Bagels and next door to a site slated to become a tanning salon — small businesses with not a lot of parking. It would be about midpoint between Whole Foods on Dale Mabry and Interstate 275 and Fresh Market on Henderson Boulevard, two of its major competitors with much larger stores.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Plans move forward to open Trader Joe's in South Tampa 06/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 12:33am]
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