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After Walmart's exit, what's next for plaza in St. Petersburg's Midtown neighborhood?

Customers check out with their groceries during the grand opening at the Walmart in the St. Petersburg Midtown neighborhood in January 2014. [Times files]
Customers check out with their groceries during the grand opening at the Walmart in the St. Petersburg Midtown neighborhood in January 2014. [Times files]
Published Feb. 24, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — A local food co-op. A roller-skating rink. A food court. A flea market. An Applebee's restaurant. A Publix grocery store.

No one's quite sure what belongs in Midtown's recently vacated anchor lot in the Tangerine Plaza shopping center, as the city of St. Petersburg mulls its next move.

Community members met with city leaders, administrators and consultants Thursday at St. Petersburg College's Midtown Center to discuss the fate of Tangerine Plaza, the site where a Walmart Neighborhood Market shut its doors for good on Feb. 6, the second grocery chain to close at that location in four years.

St. Petersburg city leaders said they were there to start a dialogue about what the community needs and what it will be able to sustain on the property.

"This is about something that benefits the community for the long term, whether that's a grocery store, a co-op, whether that's a roller-skating rink," Mayor Rick Kriseman said. "I don't think anything should be off the table."

But Kriseman expressed skepticism about whether a large grocery store would be successful in the future after the closing of Walmart and, before that, a Sweetbay Supermarket.

"(The city has) done the same thing over and over and over again, made the same promises over and over and over again," Kriseman said. "And we've gotten the same results over and over and over again."

Turning the city-owned property into a successful commercial plaza in one of the poorest parts of St. Petersburg has been a priority for the past three mayors. The community had long clamored for a grocery store in an area where many residents lack access to transportation.

Several community members spoke of the continued need for a grocery store at the site.

Robin Cooper, who lives just a couple of blocks from the site, said she has no income. She said that she can't afford to spend her food stamps at other nearby neighborhood markets that sell perishables at higher prices.

Kiamba Mudada, the director of nearby homeless shelter Our Brother's Keeper, said it now relies on volunteers to make runs to a Save-A-Lot for the shelter's grocery needs.

"Just think about the less fortunate," he said.

Montez Shelby said she didn't have to go to Walmart for all her grocery needs — she was able to drive elsewhere.

But, she said, since the grocery store was most important to people who have difficulty getting around, perhaps the greatest need in the community is for better public transportation.

Others suggested that perhaps the existing site was too large for a grocery store, and could be broken up into separate lots for different types of businesses.

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Dave Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development, said it was clear that the old model wasn't working. He said there are now 23 grocery stores within a 10-minute drive of the site.

Larry Newsome, the original property manager of the plaza, said that when development of the property began, many nearby grocery stores didn't exist.

He said the new stores only a few miles away have "saturated the market" and made it harder for the site to succeed.

Contact Nathaniel Lash at nlash@tampabay.com. Follow @Nat_Lash.

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