TAMPA — After more than a decade of hard work, frustration and disappointment, a grocery store is finally coming to downtown Tampa's Channel District.
A 37,600-square-foot Publix is expected to open in the fall of 2017 at the corner of E Twiggs Street and N Meridian Avenue, developer Mercury Advisors of Tampa said Tuesday.
"It is the last missing piece of a downtown that is about ready to explode," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "We knew the numbers were there. We knew the demographics were there. We knew the timing was right. We're excited."
The store will be paired with a planned 21-story apartment tower in a project known as the Channel Club. Construction on the $80 million to $90 million project is expected to start in the spring.
"While there is still work to be done, including final contracts and the permitting process, we are confident that all parties want to see the successful completion of this project," Publix spokesman Brian West said in an email.
Mercury, headed by Ken Stoltenberg and Frank H. Bombeeck, has worked for 13 years to bring a grocery store to its two big projects in the Channel District.
Their first was the Grand Central at Kennedy, with 392 condominiums plus 70,000 square feet of offices and 108,000 square feet of retail, including, so far, a gym, restaurants, hair salon, dry cleaners and pub.
The Channel Club will be their second.
Over the years, Mercury made 17 different approaches to various retailers. It tried to interest Publix in the Grand Central development five different times, only to be turned down every time.
Stoltenberg said a turning point came several years ago as he ate lunch — a Publix deli Italian sub — in his truck outside the smaller-sized Publix on Platt Street near downtown. On the front seat was a set of plans for the Channel Club project, then known as the Martin at Meridian.
At that time, Mercury was focused on getting a grocery store into Grand Central and planned to put a hotel next to the apartment tower on Twiggs Street. But as Stoltenberg looked from the plans to the store where he had just bought his lunch, he suddenly thought that maybe the supermarket was in the wrong project.
"I said, 'Wait, a minute. This will fit,' " he said.
Back at the office, he sent Publix corporate an email pitching the Channel Club project. He had a response within an hour, and was meeting with the supermarket chain about the idea the next day.
"If at first you don't succeed, try another 16 times, I guess," he said.
In addition to the two Mercury projects, the area around the grocery store is expected to become home to 2,000 or more new residents in the Ventana condominiums, the Bell Channelside apartments and a set of mid-rise apartments being built just to the south by Florida Crystals Corp., the West Palm Beach-based sugar producer controlled by the Fanjul family.
But the new Publix is expected to have a reach beyond just the Channel District. While the company has a store just across the Hillsborough River from the Tampa Convention Center, the new Channel District store is expected to serve a growing population in areas like Harbour Island (just two stoplights away, Stoltenberg notes), Ybor City, Tampa Heights and Riverside Heights.
Just east of the Channel Club tower, city officials plan to build a park for the area. It will be on slightly more than a third of an acre that Stoltenberg's company donated, plus another half-acre that the city bought from a separate ownership group for $1.56 million in 2013.
Mercury Advisors is not the only development company looking at bringing a grocery store to downtown.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said recently he wants a grocery store in the $2 billion-plus development he is planning with his partners in Cascade Investment, a fund created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for 40 acres around the Amalie Arena.
Stoltenberg said the interest of big, deep-pocketed investors like Vinik, Cascade and Port Tampa Bay, which is pursuing its own $1.7 billion plan for land it owns nearby, should only fuel interest in what is becoming a "very dynamic city."
Already, it seems to be happening.
After news about Publix came out Tuesday morning, he got four inquiries about available retail space in the Grand Central project. He also hopes the store will similarly bring more prospective buyers to Grand Central, which has about 60 available studio, 1- or 2-bedroom condos with prices from the mid-$200,000s to the high-$500,000s.
"You always reach a tipping point in these situations where you push a rock up a hill and you get to the top of the hill," Stoltenberg said. "I think that's where we are now."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times