ST. PETERSBURG — Whole Foods is considering opening a store in downtown St. Petersburg. The chain of large health food grocery stores known for its vast salad bar, hot food bar and soup selection along with the many rare products on its shelves is eyeing property adjacent to the Synovus Bank building at 333 Third Ave. N.
"They are studying a couple of different schemes. There is some kind of written agreement," said Dave Jenkins, a property manager with Southeast Companies, who oversees the Synovus building and property.
He didn't know the details of the agreement but said it was contingent on the grocery company deciding the site worked for its needs and that it would probably make a final decision by the end of the year.
No potential plans call for razing the Synovus building, Jenkins added. The bank owns the whole block where the building sits. The bank and its tenants would stay where they are.
"They can't go on Fourth Street. Publix has 38th Avenue tied up. Fresh Market was able to just squeeze in its location," said Paula Clair Smith, retail real estate broker with Commercial Asset Partners who specializes in St. Petersburg but is not involved in this potential deal. "Whole Foods has a very specific footprint and design. That block would give it to them."
"I can't confirm anything on that," said Dominic DiMaio Jr., president and CEO of Synovus Bank of Florida, when asked if Whole Foods has an agreement on any of the bank's property.
He said the property is not listed for sale but the bank would entertain any offers.
The Miami Beach-based broker who represents Whole Foods in real estate acquisitions wouldn't comment on the downtown St. Petersburg site or discuss the Texas-based chain's general plans for Tampa Bay.
"We are looking throughout the Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg market," said Michael Finkle, managing director at Koniver Stern Group.
There is a Whole Foods at Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa and another in downtown Sarasota. A 36,000-square-foot store is slated to open in Carrollwood
"In '08 there was talk that Whole Foods was kind of looking at that property. So it's interesting that they are back on that site doing a study there," Smith said. "Where else can you get that perfect rectangle with enough space to do their footprint in downtown or even in a good portion of St. Petersburg?"
While the population of downtown St. Petersburg is growing, some might question whether there is enough density of high income residents to support a Whole Foods.
"Even though you don't have the residents there are so many people downtown in a day or on the weekends. There's the Saturday Morning Market. Hotel guests at the Vinoy," Smith said.
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"An addition of an upscale market to our community, and especially to the growing residential neighborhood of downtown, will escalate the growing epicurean sector in St. Petersburg," said Sophia Sorolis, the city's manager of economic development.