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Wal-Mart Pursues Ybor City Site


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Wal-Mart Pursues Ybor City Site


Published: Feb 18, 2005

TAMPA - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is eyeing a site near Tampa's historic Ybor City for a new grocery and department store.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company is negotiating to buy Tampa International Center, a 565,000-square-foot industrial building at the southeast corner of Adamo Drive and 22nd Street, according to city officials and real estate insiders.

``They are in the process of committing to that site,'' said Mark Huey, the city's economic development director. ``This is another sign of how the market is perceiving the potential of our downtown. ... Wal-Mart is seeing enough potential to make a very significant investment. This would offer a new amenity to the people moving to Ybor City, Channelside and downtown.''

Someone familiar with the negotiations confirmed Thursday that a deal with Wal-Mart is in the works. Wal-Mart officials, on the other hand, said nothing is imminent.

Eric Brewer, Wal-Mart's community affairs manager for Florida, said the company has ``no specific plans at this time to build on Adamo,'' but added that it is ``constantly looking at the best places to serve new customers.''

Tampa International Center is owned by America's Capital Partners, the Miami-based investment group that recently bought 400 North Ashley Plaza, the downtown Tampa office tower well-known for its cylindrical shape.

Michael Lerner, vice president of acquisitions and dispositions for America's Capital Partners, said he couldn't comment on Tampa International Center.

The Tampa Tribune is one of the largest tenants at Tampa International Center, leasing space there for its packaging, distribution and preprint operations. Greg Stewart, the Tribune's production director, said some of his employees recently encountered an engineering crew on the property. The engineers said they were doing survey work for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The closest Wal-Mart is on North Dale Mabry Highway, just north of Interstate 275. The nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter is on Causeway Boulevard in Brandon.

The 33605 ZIP code area, home to Tampa International Center, includes the neighborhoods of Ybor City, Gary and Palmetto Beach, and an industrial area at the Port of Tampa called Hooker's Point. According to the most recent Census data available for the ZIP code, 17,081 people live in the area, and the median family income is $25,482.

But more than 30 condominium developments are either under construction or planned for Ybor City, Channelside and downtown.

``There's no grocery store here,'' said Vince Pardo, president of the Ybor City Development Corp. ``People want a grocery store ... but I'd like to see the design.''

The site is just outside of the Ybor City Historic District, which was expanded two years ago to include the north side of Adamo Drive. Any construction inside the district has to be approved by the Barrio Latino Commission, which has strict guidelines to make sure changes fit the historic character of the neighborhood.

But since the prospective Wal-Mart is across the street from the historic district boundaries, the Barrio commission has no control.

Joe Howden, a Barrio member and Ybor resident, said he generally doesn't like the design of Wal-Mart buildings but he would nonetheless welcome it to the neighborhood.

``The positive is that it would be a good, convenient place to shop,'' Howden said. ``The negative is traffic and the look of it. But I think the positives and negatives probably even out.''

The property is the only available tract in Ybor City large enough for a Wal-Mart store, Pardo said. Several grocery stores, including Publix and Kash n' Karry, have inquired about the southwest corner of Adamo and 21st Street, he said.

Fran Williams, owner of Kimmins Contracting Corp. at Adamo at 15th Street, said Wal-Mart would be a great addition to the industrial corridor. Williams plans condominiums, hotels and office space for his 5-acre site in Ybor City.

Williams and other property owners in the Adamo Drive area want city zoning that will allow for greater heights and density. Ybor's historic district has a special designation that restricts buildings to three stories, or 45 feet high.

``Very little planning has gone into that area,'' Williams said. ``[Wal-Mart] would transcend this area maybe 10, 15 years ahead. It will start change in this whole neighborhood.''

Reporter Shannon Behnken can be reached at (813) 259-7804.

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