TARPON SPRINGS — Over the objections of a retired campus provost, St. Petersburg College is selling nearly an acre of its Tarpon Springs campus to a developer who intends to build a Wawa convenience store.
SPC's Board of Trustees agreed to sell a .9-acre, L-shaped sliver of a parking lot near the intersection of U.S. 19 and Klosterman Road to RKM Development Corp. of St. Petersburg.
RKM plans to build a Wawa store and gas station on adjacent property occupied now by an old gas station. The land RKM is buying from SPC will be used for the new store's parking lot.
Trustees weren't swayed by Nick Billiris, who started SPC's Tarpon campus in 1970 and retired as its provost in 2003.
When trustees originally considered the sale last month, Billiris asked them not to sell the land. He asked them to consider the deal as futurists, as visionaries. Nine-tenths of an acre, he said, could someday house 80 classrooms in a two-story building.
"If this piece of property is sold, you lose all of that potential," he said. "You can never ask for that property back."
However, SPC's trustees viewed the deal as good for the college — chiefly because it is supported by the Tarpon campus' current provost, Conferlete Carney, who says the sale will have no impact on a campus master plan that SPC adopted last year.
For that plan, an architect and a demographics expert estimated that the Tarpon campus could be expanded over the next 20 years to handle more than double its current enrollment, which would be 7,200 full-time students.
The parking lot land that's being sold isn't in a "high use area," said Doug Duncan, the college's senior vice president of business/administration and IT services.
In addition to paying $400,000 for the land, the developer will build a $250,000 parking lot on campus to make up for parking spaces lost in the sale, Duncan said. The company also agreed to do a $100,000 remodeling of the campus entrance off Klosterman Road and to fix a drainage problem by reconfiguring the entrance to the parking lot that it is buying.
SPC trustees wanted more provisions of the deal to be spelled out in writing, so they delayed voting on the land sale until this month's trustees meeting. The vote to sell was unanimous.
Wawa, a Pennsylvania-based chain, is popular in the Northeast for offering made-on-site deli hoagies, baked goods and gourmet coffees 24/7. Wawa plans to focus its growth on Florida over the next two decades, potentially building 300 to 400 additional stores. A handful are expected to open throughout the Tampa Bay area in the next few months.
It's not clear when RKM Development intends to build the store in Tarpon Springs, since it hasn't yet submitted plans to the city. Calls to RKM weren't returned.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.