ST. PETERSBURG — It’s been nearly a year since Tangerine Plaza lost its anchor tenant, Walmart Neighborhood Market.
The city-financed Midtown plaza soon became a symbol of economic malaise and neglect in the black community.
Its empty storefronts became another avenue of attack during the contentious mayoral election between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker.
As 2018 approaches, there is new hope that Tangerine Plaza could be revived — yet again.
A group has shown interest in redeveloping the property while a recently completed market analysis has stirred hopes of a renaissance for the strip mall at 22nd Street and 18th Avenue S.
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Deveron Gibbons, a former mayoral candidate and financial services executive, said he has assembled a development group and up $15 million in financing to remake the plaza and a vacant city-owned parcel across the street.
The Kriseman administration has also had discussions about the empty shopping center with Altis Cardinal, LLC, a Miami development firm that contributed heavily to the mayor’s reelection campaign, about Tangerine Plaza.
Altis Cardinal has already been busy in St. Petersburg, guiding $75 million worth of redevelopment along the 34th Street corridor.
Gibbons said his group, TLM, has a project that’s ready to go in Midtown. He leases the vacant city lot across from the plaza and plans to build a convenience store and gas station there. He has the development rights to that parcel, but not to Tangerine Plaza.
The city spent $2 million to open the shopping center in 2005 and earlier this year took back control from the former operator after Tangerine Plaza lost its second grocery store in three years.
City development officials said they want more time to digest a consultant’s analysis of Tangerine Plaza and then assess their options.
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Meanwhile, they said, Gibbons should concentrate on his plans to build a convenience store and gas station across the street.
"That’s where we think the focus should be," said Nikki Gaskin-Capeheart, the city’s urban affairs director.
Gibbons is an executive with Amscot Financial, Inc., sits on the St. Petersburg College Board of Trustees and was a mayoral candidate in 2009. He got the development rights to the empty parcel in 2014. But the project stalled, he said, because financing has been hard to get, especially after Walmart closed in February and then so did a nearby Walgreens.
His investment group appealed to City Council in June for an extension on the development agreement. Council members set a Jan. 31 deadline for Gibbons’ group to secure financing.
Since then, Gibbons said he has secured a commitment from a financial institution to fund his convenience store project. But he said the lender wants to expand the project across the street to Tangerine Plaza.
Gibbons said the city was amenable to that idea. But he said city officials also wanted him to allow his parcel to be folded into a request for proposals for redeveloping both Tangerine Plaza and the vacant lot.
That would allow other developers to pitch their ideas for the shopping center. But that scenario could also end up costing Gibbons control of the vacant lot.
Gaskin-Capeheart said the two properties aren’t viewed by the city as a single development package — yet.
"It’s not connected at this time to Tangerine," she said. "I’m not sure about down the line."
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So while there’s interest in remaking Tangerine Plaza, the city also has a better idea of what ideas might work best.
A consultant’s market analysis, delivered to city officials at the end of November, recommends adding a 20,000-square-foot grocery store — about half the size of the old Walmart’s footprint. The consultant said the city would likely have to offer a rent subsidy to offset the limited spending power of nearby residents and competition from corner stores, the study concluded.
Further complicating matters is mayoral politics. Gibbons was a Baker supporter during the mayoral race. Altis Cardinal and related entities contributed $30,000 to Kriseman’s reelection campaign.
When the mayor chooses a development group, Kriseman spokesman Ben Kriby said, political contributions will not influence his choice.
"I don’t see any correlation there," Kirby said.
Altis did not respond to a request for comment.
Gibbons remains optimistic that a deal can be reached to combine his parcel with the plaza.
Tangerine Plaza, however, has seen a Sweetbay Supermarket and a Walmart go belly-up since 2013. No one wants to see a third attempt to revive it go south, Gibbons said, so his team has done its homework.
"We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure the projects, both of them, will be successful," he said. "If myself and my partners don’t make a dime and the community gets what it needs, we’ll be fine with that."
City officials sounded more cautious, saying they will take their time to digest the consultant study and vet a variety of proposals. There is no timeline for the city to even ask for requests for proposal, Gaskin-Capeheart said, adding:
"The mayor has been very clear that we make sure we don’t make mistakes of the past."