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In quest to lure grocers downtown, St. Petersburg flexing urban muscle

A 50,000-square-foot retail complex with a grocery store is planned for 700 Central Ave.


source: Arc Development Group
A 50,000-square-foot retail complex with a grocery store is planned for 700 Central Ave. source: Arc Development Group
Published Apr. 22, 2015

Downtown Nashville wants one. Dallas, too.

Downtown Tampa wants one — preferably two.

Downtown St. Petersburg has one and is about to get another.

As more city downtowns try to morph into walkable, live-work-play places with condos, apartments, restaurants, bars, parks and more, they all realize what they need most.

A supermarket. Not some quickie mart, but a substantial grocery store where people who live downtown can walk to buy quality fresh food and basics at reasonable prices.

Downtown St. Petersburg first landed a 29,000-square-foot Publix grocery back in 2003, a coup that helped accelerate the pace of urban living. Now the city is on the verge of getting a second supermarket. ARC Group plans a 32,000-square-foot supermarket to anchor a retail center at 700 Central Ave.

That location, which reflects the nearby rise of still more large apartment buildings, is closer to Tropicana Field than St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront.

Will it be another Publix, perhaps a Whole Foods or another chain? We do not yet know.

But in this metro area, a downtown capable of hosting two full-blown grocery stores is ample proof that St. Petersburg's urban core has hit a critical mass in the eyes of a supermarket industry that thinks long and hard before opening new stores.

That's something downtown Tampa knows too well.

When the giant Encore urban redevelopment project began rising on the fringe of Tampa's downtown, blueprints specified space for a major grocery store. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has spoken for years of the need for an Encore supermarket.

Recently, as Encore's grocery prospects have languished, Buckhorn has focused more on a supermarket for the Channel District, now the site where Tampa Bay Lightning owner and real estate developer Jeff Vinik plans a mega-project.

Vinik himself has taken up the grocery cause, indicating to the Tampa Bay Times as far back as January that if a major supermarket chain cannot be persuaded to commit to a store within his 40-acre project, then he may just build one himself.

Many grocers are shrinking stores to cater to tighter downtown spaces. Target is pushing its TargetExpress and CityTarget brands for urban locations. Last year, media reports suggested Publix was pondering a 20,000-square-foot prototype but, if true, the company has yet to share those details with the public.

So here's the Urban Score. Downtown St. Petersburg 2, downtown Tampa 0.

For now, it makes sense given the influx of people pouring into St. Petersburg.

Tampa's running on the same track, just a few laps behind.

"If necessary, I'll read a book on the grocery business," Vinik again told an audience this month, "and go into the grocery business ourselves."

Better to focus on getting his $1 billion project under way. Odds are good a grocery store will come knocking.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.