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Walmart negotiating for old Kmart store, Tarpon Springs officials say

TARPON SPRINGS — Walmart may have found a home in Tarpon Springs after all.

After years of intense bickering over whether the retail giant should build a supercenter on the banks of the Anclote River, Walmart is negotiating to put a store in the space vacated last year by Kmart, City Manager Mark LeCouris said Friday.

"We received a call this week saying that they got the go-ahead from their corporate offices to pursue the purchase of the Kmart building and parking lot," LeCouris said. "They are now in the process of conducting their due diligence to see if they can put a deal together."

If a deal is reached, it could create as many as 100 jobs, said LeCouris and City Commissioner Susan Slattery.

On Nov. 15, Kmart closed the store at 41232 U.S. 19 after being in the Tarpon Square complex for 35 years. The 84,180-square-foot building has been vacant since then.

Walmart spent the last five years trying to get the necessary zoning changes and permits needed for a 203,000-square-foot supercenter on 74 acres near the Anclote River. A citizens groupfought the plan and ultimately the project stalled.

If a deal is reached between Walmart and Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Kmart, there would be no need for the matter to come before the City Commission because the old Kmart already is zoned for a department store.

"It's like a Publix going into an empty Sweetbay," LeCouris said. "That means, there's no review process, no environmental issues. If it comes about, it's a big win, win, win for everybody. But again, it's not done, is just in negotiations."

Officials for Walmart and the Sears Holdings Corp. could not be reached Friday afternoon.

Slattery is a founding member of the Friends of the Anclote, the group that vehemently and successfully fought Walmart. She said she was surprised at the retailer's efforts to purchase the empty space. Walmart was encouraged all along to choose another location, Slattery said, noting that the retailer is needed.

"It will be good for our community in some ways … jobs and the tax base," Slattery said. "Traffic is my concern. As bad as it is, there is nothing we can do about it. It will not come before planning and zoning or us. It sounds like they are going to do it.

"Do I want a Walmart at the gateway of the community? Not necessarily. But there is nothing we can do."

From an economic perspective, Mayor David Archie said a pending Walmart is "some of the best news I've heard lately."

"Being able to hire people within our city and looking at some of the goods and services that the old Kmart had and having that building occupied, which is at the gateway of our city, is also a plus," Archie said. "I don't see any negatives in terms of them occupying that building."

If a deal is reached, things would move quickly, LeCouris said. The Walmart would be ready in six to eight months and will contain a small grocery. Walmart would own one of the nine spaces in the small plaza, LeCouris said. The plaza now has a Big Lots and a Radio Shack.

Walmart still owns the land near the Anclote River and has not indicated its intended use, LeCouris said.

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Walmart negotiating for old Kmart store, Tarpon Springs officials say 09/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 9:04pm]
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