1. Business

Publix decides against new store at Encore site near downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Publix has decided not to put a new store at the Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project on the northern edge of downtown.

Tampa Housing Authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore got the news Monday from Tailwinds Development, which has a contract to buy two lots at the 28-acre Encore site for a grocery store.

"Publix gave it a tremendous amount of consideration; we're appreciative of that," Moore said Tuesday. He added that in the end, the supermarket chain made a decision that was right for its business. "We can't second-guess that."

Tampa officials say attracting a grocery store to the central business district is a critically important step in further transforming downtown into an active residential neighborhood.

"We all want a grocery store for downtown," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "Publix, I get the sense, wants to be in downtown. I get the sense the numbers make sense for them to be downtown. I think that eventually it will happen. I can't tell you when."

With Encore out of the mix, "certainly the odds have increased" for a store going to the Channel District, the other area that has received the most attention as a potential downtown grocery site, Buckhorn said.

Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said she could not discuss Publix's decisions on Encore or say what other locations might be under consideration.

"We are willing to discuss sites that are approved when we have a fully executed lease or have closed on the property," she said in an e-mail to the Times. "At this time, we cannot confirm or deny if we are looking at any sites in downtown or Channelside area."

Encore's plans call for 794 apartments, plus about 300 to 700 condominiums and up to 268,000 square feet of offices, stores and other uses, including a hotel, museum, school and grocery store.

Publix was the first candidate the housing authority wanted to pursue for that store.

"We think the Publix brand is certainly Florida's grocer of choice," Moore said. "They're complementary of the brand that we're trying to create at Encore."

But that doesn't mean there won't be others.

Moore said Tailwinds Development says it has "other options they're pursuing." Records show those could include high-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Sprout, Earth Fair and Neighborhood Market.

In December, the housing authority won a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Encore project.

So far, the housing authority and its co-developer, the Bank of America Community Development Corp., have put in the roads, water lines and other infrastructure, and have finished one apartment building while breaking ground on two more. With the Choice Neighborhoods grant, the authority can start a fourth apartment building.

"Encore has a very, very bright future," Buckhorn said. "Getting the funding for the residential was the most important part of it. Retail will follow residential. Once the private sector knows that the commitment is there to build those towers, I think they will look at Encore with fresh eyes. So if not Publix, then maybe Trader Joe's."