CLEARWATER — It has been a missed opportunity on a prime patch of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard for almost seven years.
A nearly 10-acre shopping plaza lot, the longtime home of Kmart, has been a vacant eyesore since the retail giant left in March 2009 after 30 years.
If all goes to plan, that could change as early as this fall.
Leon Capital Group, a Texas real estate investment company, is planning a $5 million redevelopment of the plaza and is in lease negotiations with seven retail businesses for the venue, according to Jared Moon, the company's vice president of Florida development.
Although Moon declined to name the potential tenants, he said the company is planning to have the project completed and open for business by October.
Leon Capital bought the site in October 2014 for $7.1 million, according to property records. Before then, Kmart was paying rent for the vacant building from when the company left in 2009 until the lease expired in October 2012.
Geri Lopez, Clearwater's director of economic development and housing, said a redevelopment of the plaza would be a needed boost to the already evolving Gulf-to-Bay.
The corridor had a handful of new housing developments sprout over the last several years, which Lopez said may have lured a different level of retail clients.
A Culver's restaurant currently under construction across from Clearwater High School replaced an outdated strip center with a cellphone and office furniture store, Lopez said.
The KFC, Taco Bell and McDonald's along the corridor also have all undergone renovations.
And housing complexes like Solaris Key Apartments, which opened earlier this month, appear to be one of the drivers.
"A lot of the retail you're seeing is responding to that new residential aspect that's coming online, to be able to meet those demands," Lopez said. "We're definitely seeing a pattern. There's still several other shopping centers there, and you're starting to see more upgrades of all of those."
Because the developer is designing the project to meet all current code requirements, they can apply for building permits directly without going through an approval process, according to Clearwater building official Kevin Garriott.
So far, the city has received only a fence permit and site work application from Leon Capital — but even though it's early, it's still encouraging, said Mayor George Cretekos.
"That can truly become a retail destination with lots of little boutique-type shops and specialty stores," Cretekos said of the corridor.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.