TREASURE ISLAND — For this store opening, Publix Super Markets will post clerks outside to guide shoppers to the parking garage and elevators that take them upstairs to the store.
"Until they're familiar with the layout, customers may need help finding their way in," said Shannon Patten, spokeswoman for the Lakeland grocer that opens its first of many multilevel stores in Central Florida today.
Almost as tall as a five-story building, the huge gray hulk looked like a battleship bearing down on Gulf Boulevard until architects added fake windows, gables and other visual tricks. An elevated outdoor patio will have a Subway and umbrella-shaded tables. A Starbucks also was planned until the coffee giant cut back store growth.
"All those features break up that huge surface area so the building blends into the neighborhood," said Lisa Brennaman of the design team at Cuhachi and Peterson in Orlando.
Publix has similar stores under construction in the Tampa Bay area in St. Petersburg's Tyrone area and a Publix GreenWise Natural Market in South Tampa. Unlike Treasure Island, which uses four elevators to link shoppers with their cars, they rely on escalators: one for shoppers and a parallel one for carts.
Vertical supermarkets are not exactly new. Publix built more than a dozen like this one in the past decade on postage stamp lots in congested urban locations in Atlanta and Miami-Dade County. There's an upstairs Target in Tampa accessible from a two-story garage. But such multifloor stores are making a comeback now that city planners favor dense, mixed-use development and other big-city building tactics abandoned in the post-World War II rush to the suburbs.
For Publix, which developed a small-store footprint in the 1990s to shoehorn stores into heavily populated urban locations, the half-pint, 28,000-square-foot store became a key component in a strategy that puts stores near where people live.
It's been a fight. Voters in Indian Rocks Beach killed one planned as part of a luxury condo in 2006. A similar project in St. Pete Beach was blocked in court by antigrowth forces despite citywide voter approval.
Combined with Publix's pending purchase of 49 Albertsons in Florida, the new and replacement stores will increase Publix penetration in southwest Pinellas from eight to 13 supermarkets by 2009. Sweetbay and Winn-Dixie have four each.
Sticking a Publix above a 125-space parking garage doubles the utility of 2 acres of pricey beach land. To comply with federal flood insurance rules, Publix could not build an occupied first floor close to sea level, which meant operational changes. Deliveries are lifted by freight elevators. Refuse drops down a chute to an enclosed compactor. A generator big enough to keep the store open in power outages is hidden on the roof.
Parking could get dicey. The store employs 110 and has 160 total parking spaces. Until the opening crowds thin out, employees will be bused in from a rented lot a mile away. Conflicts could flare over free lots at a county beach access and city park across the street.
The store is across Gulf Boulevard from the beach, so customers get a gulf view while waiting at the registers. The best view, however, is from a third floor hallway that serves offices and break rooms.
In addition to a bus shelter and bike rack, Publix will build a Boca Ciega Bay dock for customers arriving by boat.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.