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'Don't Fort Lauderdale St. Petersburg.' Dunkin' drive-through fails

Chelsea Rhea, the owner of Amulet Tattoos, speaks out Wednesday against the proposed Dunkin' Donuts drive-through that would have been built near her shop on First Avenue N. The Development Review Commission rejected the plan. [SARA DINATALE | Times]
Published Mar. 8, 2018

EDITOR'S NOTE: The lot is located at 913 First Ave. N. A previous version of this story gave a different location.

ST. PETERSBURG — Business owner Sarah Arrazola delivered the rallying cry Wednesday for those opposing a developer's bid to open a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through in downtown:

"Please don't Fort Lauderdale St. Petersburg," she told the Development Review Commission.

The Orlando developer, Jonathan Moore, defended the project from charges that it would dilute the city's local charm.

"National chains are already here," he said, "and they're not evil."

The commission sided with the more than three dozen people who opposed the project, denying the developer's drive-through after 90 minutes of debate and discussion at City Hall.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Dunkin' Donuts in downtown St. Pete? Locals say no way

It was a victory for the dozens who showed up and begged the board to keep the 'Burg local. But that doesn't mean the corporate chain naysayers have won a complete victory. The vote only means that the lot at 913 First Ave. N cannot have a drive-through — not that it cannot house a chain business.

"Downtown is really the place we want to keep as local as possible," said Keep St. Petersburg Local founder Olga Bof, "and it's not like we are fighting this fight alone."

Many of those who spoke out were young business owners or employees from the eclectic Edge District.

The commission made it clear, though, that the vote was only about whether it should allow a fast-food drive-through on that stretch of First Avenue.

For Arrazola, owner of St. Pete Ferments, the outcome was obvious. Her business on Fourth Street N in the Old Northeast is already next to a Dunkin' drive-through: "Every time I go to work, I have to be careful not to get hit by a car."

Moore, the president of Acquisition Consultants, said he worked with the city on a traffic plan to ensure pedestrian safety and controlled traffic flow. Ultimately, the commission members said that wasn't good enough.

In emails provided to the board, Moore said he had been marketing the property for about eight months and no local businesses were interested.

He said he didn't want to take away from the local "vibe," but said people don't go to First Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street for local "flavor" anyway. The crowd scoffed at that claim. They also booed when a rendering of the Dunkin' Donuts appeared on a screen.

The future of the lot is unclear. Moore said Dunkin' Donuts was interested in that spot if it could have a drive-through. But he said another chain was also interested in the location but did not identify it. After the vote, he left the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

The proposed Dunkin' lot used to be a Verizon Wireless store near local nightlife staples The Bends, The Blue Goose and Engine No. 9.

Meanwhile chains have struggled in that area. In the last 12 months, the Subway next to the Mill restaurant at 200 Central Ave. and the Five Guys on Third Street S have closed.

Bof said it's because people are coming downtown to find something special — not what they can get at the mall.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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