PINELLAS PARK — The La Mark Charles Motel, long a thorn in city officials' sides, has closed.
It will be replaced by a Wawa gas station and convenience store.
Pinellas County property records show the property at the northwest corner of U.S. 19 and 62nd Ave. N was bought for $2.6 million on Aug. 13 by Agree Pinellas Park LLC, which is based in Farmington Hills, Mich. Signs on the property indicate a Wawa will be built there on the approximately 1.7 acres.
"This is certainly going to be a better use of the property than what's there now," city spokesman Tim Caddell said. "Wawa's got a good reputation."
The La Mark Charles, he said, is something of a landmark, appearing on postcards back in the 1960s as an attractive place to stay while visiting Pinellas County. But, in recent years, the motel at 6200 U.S. 19 N had become a dead-end place with a reputation as a hangout for drug dealers and those who were down on their luck.
"It's something that was past its day," Caddell said. "It's a landmark that's begging to be torn down."
City records show that from June 20, 2011, to this Sept. 6, police received 161 calls for service at the motel. Among them were 36 reports of suspicious people, 21 calls to assist citizens, 15 calls to assist other agencies and 10 disturbances. Police calls also included complaints about narcotics, trespass, suspicious vehicles and theft at the motel.
Pinellas Park firefighters were called there 49 times — almost once a week — between Sept. 1, 2011, and this Sept. 11, according to city records. All the calls were for emergency medical services.
"It was a resource gobbler," Caddell said. "It has, in recent years, been a thorn."
Nevertheless, its absence will be felt by those who provide shelter for the homeless. Lt. Col. Tom Jones, community relations director for the Salvation Army of Upper Pinellas, said his organization has a temporary shelter in St. Petersburg and a longer term transitional living facility in Clearwater. More homeless on the street could strain those.
"The closing of any place where the homeless have been able to find a roof over their head inevitably affects everyone," Jones said.
Although the departure of the La Mark Charles is bittersweet, Caddell said the city is looking forward to welcoming its second Wawa. The first is under construction along Gandy Boulevard in the Gateway Centre.
Wawa is a privately owned mid-Atlantic chain of gas stations and convenience stores that began in 1803 as an iron foundry in New Jersey. It expanded into dairy farming in the late 1800s and built a processing plant in Wawa, Pa., in 1902.
The company opened its first store in 1964 as a way to sell its dairy products and expanded from there. The stores offer made-to-order hoagies, freshly brewed coffee, hot breakfast sandwiches, made-to-order specialty beverages and an assortment of soups, sides and snacks.
Wawa has more than 595 stores, but only 300 also offer gasoline. They are located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. They have recently moved into Central Florida. In addition to Pinellas Park, they're also opening stores in unincorporated Seminole, Tampa, Port Richey and New Port Richey.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.