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Walmart to refurbish old Kmart and open in Tarpon

TARPON SPRINGS — After years of encountering roadblocks, the king of discount stores is finally making Tarpon Springs home.

But the store will not be where it was originally proposed: on the scenic banks of the Anclote River, a location residents and environmentalists fought for years.

Instead, Walmart is making plans to move into a former Kmart at 41232 U.S. 19 at Tarpon Avenue. The 84,907-square-foot store will not be a supercenter, but will have general merchandise, a grocery, pharmacy, bakery and deli.

"It's an opportunity for Walmart to be able to serve the residents and customers of Tarpon Springs," said Michelle Belaire, Walmart's senior manager of Public Affairs and Government Relations. "During these tough economic times, there are savings that Walmart can provide. We are excited and looking forward to being a good community member and civic partner."

Tarpon Mayor David Archie is just as pleased that the store is finally coming to town. As a commissioner, he voted for Walmart's original plan in 2005.

"It's great news and we are looking for Walmart to be a catalyst for that corner, which is the entrance to the city," Archie said. "There are also going to be some jobs."

Belaire said the target date to reopen the store as a Walmart is 2013, though that could be moved up. Walmart is currently under contract to purchase the parcel where the building sits, Belaire said.

The store will provide jobs to about 200 people. A hiring center will be opened within a 5-mile radius of the store 90 to 120 days before the store opens.

"This allows us to directly hire from the community," Belaire said.

The Kmart closed in November 2009 after 35 years in the Tarpon Square shopping center. Because Walmart plans to just refurbish the building, all that is needed from the city is a building permit. There will be no public hearings on the matter. The permitting process will take only 10 to 20 days to complete.

Belaire said the former Kmart garden center will be demolished so more parking can be added. The plan is to have 4.3 spaces for every 1,000 square feet of store space.

Walmart tried to build a 203,000-square-foot supercenter on 74 acres near the Anclote River in 2005, but spent nearly five years trying to get the necessary zoning changes and permits. A citizens group, the Friends of the Anclote River, organized and fought the plan. That project eventually stalled.

"This is what the Friends of the Anclote River had requested all along," said Commissioner Susan Slattery, one of the original founders of the group. "We would chant, 'Find another site, find another site.' "

Slattery said Walmart's new plan is a "win for everyone."

"It's great," Slattery said. "It's not hurting the environment, it's going into an existing location, it brings jobs and helps the tax base. I think Walmart will be a good neighbor."

Walmart still owns the 74 acres along U.S. 19 on the banks of the Anclote River.

"At this point, we have no intentions to develop that land," Belaire said. "We are not marketing it or selling that land at this point."

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

Walmart to refurbish old Kmart and open in Tarpon 04/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 8:51pm]

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