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Sweetbay construction about to begin

Activity begins soon on Tangerine Plaza.

In the next couple of weeks, signs announcing the coming of the shopping center will be put up on the property at 18th Avenue S between 21st and 22nd streets.

During the week of Dec. 6, developers plan a formal groundbreaking for the center to be anchored by Sweetbay Supermarkets.

Work begins right after the groundbreaking.

"We will be moving dirt within a week," said Larry J. Newsome, president of Urban Development Solutions, the St. Petersburg company building the shopping center. "We expect to start vertical construction in January."

Finally, a grand opening is likely for October 2005.

Tangerine Plaza will have the supermarket, a liquor store and room for several other retailers that Newsome hopes will be local stores.

It is a small center but one that will have a big impact because it is located in Midtown, the 5.5-square-mile neighborhood mostly south of Central Avenue. The city of St. Petersburg has targeted that area for extra resources to improve living conditions. Residents are mostly African-Americans with lower incomes who have said one of their most pressing needs is a chain grocery store.

So the groundbreaking is an important signal of needs being met.

"It will be a big deal," Newsome said. "We will have city officials and people from the community. Everybody thinks this is a milestone."

Midtown has only one chain grocery at its northern edge. Residents, many of whom do not have their own transportation, rely on smaller markets that can be more expensive with limited selections.

Midtown lacks other basic services such as a retail post office and adequate banking facilities. It will get a post office next year.

Newsome said the city is negotiating with a bank to locate on one of two other corners near Tangerine Plaza. He could not disclose which bank is involved but said there was a verbal agreement between the city and the financial institution.

Kash n' Karry signed a lease to be in Tangerine Plaza. Then the company changed its focus, business plan and renamed itself Sweetbay Supermarkets. While the footprint of the center remains the same, Newsome said the new name brought a new look.

"It's going to look dramatically different from the center that we first introduced," he said. "When Sweetbay changed, it changed everything. We had to redesign the rest of the center."

The new design is contemporary and incorporates greens, browns and brick colors. The angled roof lines of Kash n' Karry are gone, replaced by straight lines on the top edges and slight curves over the entrances.

The change delayed the start of the project as Sweetbay redesigned everything and reintroduced itself. Delays plus the rising cost of steel and concrete have pushed the price of the project beyond $5.4-million, its last estimate. The hurricanes that hit Florida also figured in because they have delayed construction.

Newsome said he could not say with certainty now what the total would be but that it would be higher than $5.4-million.

The grocery store will be about 38,000 square feet. A liquor store will be built next door leaving space for several other retailers.

Early this year, some residents were incensed to learn that a liquor store was part of the plan. Their complaints: The liquor store will be too close to Perkins Elementary School across 22nd Street S, that a half-dozen such stores already serve the neighborhood, and that one more will further encourage men to loiter and drink.

But the city said the plan was legal, and at the time, Newsome said complaints were from a small group. He added that he doesn't drink but didn't think he should tell adults what they could and could not do.

As for the remaining retail space, Newsome said he had had a "ton of inquiries," but none have been signed.

"Our goal is not to do that until at least within a year of the grand opening. I want more of those to be local merchants. To sign leases way in advance is probably not a good idea. A lot can happen within a year."