Big box business booming


The southwest corner of U.S. 441 and NW 53rd Avenue, pictured here Wednesday, will be the site of a new Home Depot.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Alachua County is poised for an increase of big box stores that may lead to new retail corridors and could change where people go to shop.

Bulldozers pushed dirt around a field Wednesday that in eight months will sprout a 96,000-square-foot Home Depot in north Gainesville. Two open fields, one in east Gainesville, another in the city of Alachua, are slated to house Wal-Mart Supercenters, and the company is still considering another Supercenter site on Archer Road.

Wal-Mart also has submitted plans to the city of Gainesville to expand its Sam's Club on NW 13th Street.

No doubt about it, big boxes are big business in Alachua County.

Of the pending projects, Home Depot has made the most progress. Site preparation has begun at U.S. 441 and NW 53rd Avenue and the home-improvement chain has set an opening date of Aug. 9.

New stores typically hire 100-150 workers, starting two to three months before opening, according to Home Depot spokeswoman Demitra Wilson.

The Gainesville City Commission twice denied requests for Wal-Mart to build a Supercenter at the site, but approved Home Depot's plans and environmental concessions.

It will be the second Home Depot in Gainesville along with the store west of I-75 near Tower Road.

The chain announced this week it will be hiring 200 additional employees split between its existing Gainesville and Ocala stores in preparation for the spring season. Kiosks are set up outside the stores to take applications.

Wilson said spring is like the Christmas season in the home-improvement business, with people starting to go outside and take on home projects.

Home Depot's top competitor, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, opened its second Gainesville store at the site of the old Gainesville Mall at 2564 NW 13th St. in July with 116,000 square feet of inside space and 180 employees.

Jeffrey Meldon, a lawyer and part-owner of the old Scotty's building at 5440 NW 13th St., said the new stores on U.S. 441 and NW 13th Street will serve an important function in siphoning traffic away from heavily congested west Gainesville.

Between the big stores and new residential construction, he said north Gainesville promises to be a growth area for other new businesses.

"I think it's about time the area move north and I think eventually you're going to see Alachua and Gainesville move together on 441," Meldon said.

The old Scotty's houses roofing and siding wholesaler ABC Supplies and has 13,500 square feet of open retail space. Meldon said the owners have had discussions with businesses about filling that space.

"The fact that Home Depot has broken ground adds considerable value to that," he said.

The Waldo Road Wal-Mart Supercenter also brings retail to an east Gainesville area that has been "under-stored," according to Brent Christensen, president of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Although the world's largest retailer has been much maligned by critics who say it destroys local business, Christensen said it brings traffic that provides opportunities to small businesses.

The new Supercenters also will capture shoppers — and the tax revenue — that has been leaving the county, he said.

"In many cases, people are headed to Bradford County and Starke or Chiefland for a Wal-Mart," he said.

For the Waldo Road store, the Gainesville City Commission passed first reading this month of Wal-Mart's plans to redirect NW 12th Avenue to the south, with a second reading Feb. 12. The store still needs a water district permit for road work at 19th Terrace, a city site permit, Gainesville Regional Utilities permit and state transportation permits for driveway and signalization, and drainage. The permits are expected by March, according to Wal-Mart spokeswoman Quenta Vettel.

Construction could start by the end of March.

The store would employ about 350 people, she said. At 217,000 square feet, it would be the county's largest retailer.

Another 196,000-square-foot Supercenter is planned for the city of Alachua, behind McDonald's at I-75 and U.S. 441.

Wal-Mart received its water district permits, despite protests from High Springs commissioners over drainage concerns, and is working on design and traffic civil engineering before applying to the city of Alachua, Vettel said.

"At this point in time, there's no timetable for that," she said.

Wal-Mart is still interested in building a Supercenter on Archer Road and has a site under contract at I-75, but is waiting to see what happens with a possible Development of Regional Impact to expand Butler Plaza, which could include space for big box stores, Vettel said.

The Sam's Club at 2801 NW 13th St. has submitted plans to the city to expand from 110,000 square feet to 142,000 and add a Sam's gas station. Vettel said the store is just starting to work with city planners and is addressing concerns from neighbors about issues such as noise and traffic.

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or (352) 374-5094.

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