After eight months of underground work with only a mound of concrete and dirt visible at the site, vertical construction can now begin for St. Pete’s first-ever Whole Foods Market.
Development partners St. Petersburg-based J Square Developers and Atlanta-based SJC Ventures are building the new 40,000-square-foot grocery store at 201 38th Ave. North., home of the former Sunshine Plaza strip mall.
The Sunshine Plaza formerly housed Suncoast Fitness, Dollar General, Sun Country Cleaners and a Kahwa Coffee drive-thru. The demolition of the plaza started in December 2021.
“The underground utilities and infrastructure are very complicated from a construction point of view. We are building a single grocery store and there is a culvert that runs in the middle of the property when the old shopping center was created,” Jay Miller, CEO of J Square Developers, said to the St. Pete Catalyst.
“Most of the work we’ve done to date was the relocation of the underground storm pipe. It became more challenging when we had heavier-than-anticipated rainfall in September. We finished the reconstruction of the pipe two weeks ago,” Miller said. Hurricane Ian added a weeklong delay but did not cause major damage.
Miller received the construction permit this week, allowing him to proceed with vertical construction.
He expects to hand the keys over to Whole Foods Market in March, which is when the grocer will start its interior buildout.
“It took years of talking with Whole Foods. They looked at the site four years ago and were against moving forward with the project at that time, but then they looked at it again in 2020 and decided to move forward with it, and we were able to negotiate acceptable terms and start on the plans,” Miller said.
The Whole Foods Market will sit across from Publix Super Market at Northeast Park Shopping Center, which is near the Publix Super Market at 4th Street Station – and a mere few blocks south, there is a Fresh Market. Wild Fork, a meat and seafood market, is planning to open a storefront on 4th Street as well.
Miller said the 4th Street corridor is continuously gaining traction and attention from retailers as its proven to be a successful market.
“The 4th Street corridor has good demographics and it’s in a convenient area that draws from affluent neighborhoods and the middle class,” he said. “Retailers love to be in a block. It may seem counterintuitive, but they want to be near competitors and where customers go for products.”
Nearby is a Trader Joe’s, which Miller developed and opened in 2015 – becoming the first and only Trader Joe’s in the city.
Miller and his team are also building a drive-thru Starbucks on 4th Street North, which is currently underway. The coffee shop will be handed to Starbucks by the end of January and would likely open in the spring.
There will be three main access points to the Whole Foods Market: One will be located along 38th Avenue N. to the east of where there’s a gas station. The other alternative is at the traffic light on 3rd Street, leading to two plaza entrances.
In speaking about other areas that may see a retail boom, Miller said he anticipates seeing more activity in the Skyway Marina District and the Tyrone area.
“Pinellas County is very dense and the most activity occurring involves redevelopment. Retailers are looking to reposition themselves in a new redeveloped center,” he said.
Meanwhile, South St. Pete continues to be designated as a food desert and the shuttered Tangerine Plaza remains empty.
“In my opinion, it’s difficult to attract another grocer there because of its history,” Miller said, noting the previous grocers that did not succeed at Tangerine Plaza. “A better approach would be to have a smaller grocer, a unique operator and find a way to provide transportation there.”