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Sam's Club could open in St. Petersburg by 2013, bring 325 jobs

ST. PETERSBURG — Todd Herring, 42, grew up in North Kenwood and remembers dirt roads where retail now reigns.

He's now spoiled by choices: Home Depot or Lowe's on 22nd Avenue N, Publix or Sweetbay or Winn-Dixie on 34th Street. The grocery stores are so close together you can walk between them to comparison-shop.

So news that a 136,000-square-foot Sam's Club might join the neighborhood — the first warehouse club in the city — struck Herring as just another shopping choice, and a boon for small businesses that might benefit from shopping in bulk.

As president of the North Kenwood Neighborhood Association, he cautions that Sam's Club owner Wal-Mart Stores Inc. should be considerate as it plans traffic flow, lighting and noise. He would prefer traffic be channeled to main arteries 34th Street and 22nd Avenue N, and not through neighborhoods.

But otherwise, he's pleased.

"As long as they keep the trucks out of the neighborhood, I think everybody would be happy," he said.

It's early yet in the process that could transform an Office Depot and an empty field zoned for industrial use into a Sam's Club with a gas station. The city staff hasn't had a chance to complete a report on a proposed development agreement. A first public hearing is scheduled for February, and the city's rezoning time line stretches into June.

It will have to carefully consider changing the industrial zoning on about 8 of the 14 acres, since there's so little left in the city or county, said Richard MacAulay, a manager in development services for the city. What's requested is zoning that would allow for commercial use, like the nearby property lined with grocery stores, restaurants and strip malls.

But the possibility is this: that a 26,000-square-foot Office Depot with about 20 employees would be replaced by a Sam's Club five times the size with jobs for about 325. The proposed development agreement promises a $14 million project that minimizes traffic on neighborhood streets and emphasizes buses and bicycles. The club could open as early as 2013, said Michelle Belaire, a public affairs and government relations manager with Wal-Mart Stores.

Warehouse clubs work differently from grocery stores. They keep prices low and profit instead from annual membership fees, $35 for businesses and $40 for families. Instead of more than 100,000 items like you might find at a regular Walmart, the clubs stock just 5,500 items, often in bulk sizes.

"You're not buying one apple," Belaire said.

Clubs target small-business owners, offering exclusive early shopping hours, advance ordering and health insurance and financial services.

Zoning official Philip Lazzara says it's the first Sam's Club or Costco ever proposed for the city, though Sam's has nearly a dozen locations within 50 miles, with the nearest store at 7001 Park Blvd. in Pinellas Park.

Jolene Schulte of the 34th Street Business Association says it's great to hear a big development planned for the neighborhood. She owns the Fresh Go Wild Market Grill at 600 34th St. N.

"I think all of the active, vibrant businesses you can get will only help the community," she said.

A New York real estate investor, Joseph R. Daly, owns the retail complex that includes the Office Depot, which will look for another location. If permits go through for the Sam's Club project, he would buy for an undisclosed price the industrial acres behind the building from Times Publishing Co. (parent company of the St. Petersburg Times), which owns land around its printing plant on 34th Street.

Susan Whitton, 48, who lives east of North Kenwood, shops at the Sweetbay Supermarket on 34th Street N. She let her Sam's Club membership lapse about a year ago when she found she didn't get to Pinellas Park often enough.

It was a chore to go that far with the kids — six of the eight are still at home.

But a Sam's Club in the neighborhood? With cheap gas?

"It'd be nice and close and convenient," she said.

Reach Becky Bowers at bbowers@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8859.

Fast facts

What's next

Jan. 25: The city staff completes its report on proposed development agreement, including recommendations.

Feb. 2: City makes staff report public and mails to city planning commission members.

Feb. 9: Planning commission holds public hearing.

Feb. 19: Deadline for any appeal if the request is recommended for denial.

Sam's Club could open in St. Petersburg by 2013, bring 325 jobs 01/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 5:41pm]
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