At the urging of a broad group of residents and local business owners, the Tampa City Council voted unanimously in June to reject a proposal to level a neighborhood shopping center to make way for a Walgreen pharmacy and a bank. The shopping center is currently home to nine locally owned businesses, including three restaurants, a fitness center, beauty parlor, and laundry.
A developer sought to tear down the center, annex parts of two residential properties, and construct a large, box-like Walgreen’s and a bank. In order to proceed, the developer needed the city to re-zone the residential portion of the site.
The center’s business owners worked with several neighborhood associations to mobilize residents to fight the project. They gathered more than 1,200 petition signatures and sent numerous emails to city council members. More than a dozen people testified against the development at a public hearing.
Residents argued against the loss of local, neighborhood-serving businesses for yet another chain pharmacy. “We don’t want to be caught up in the pharmacy wars,” said Jack Caramello, co-owner of Gumby’s Pizza & Grinders, one of the plaza’s tenants, in reference to the fact that the major drugstore chains have been deliberately over-building in a head-to-head rivalry that is certain to produce numerous vacant outlets once the dust settles. According to Caramello, community involvement was critical to convincing the council to turn down the project.
The developer, angered by what he described as “mob rule,” contends he will demolish the center anyway and redevelop it for national chains in a manner that does require a rezoning or other city approval. So far, however, he’s been stymied by the presence of a large grand oak tree in the center of the parking lot, which, under existing law, cannot be cut down.