Say hello to supercenter


City Commissioner Scherwin Henry, center, is framed between two of the 15 shovels used for the official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Wal-Mart Supercenter on NE 12th Avenue as he speaks to a crowd on Monday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

East Gainesville community organizers and government officials said they were celebrating more than the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter as they dug gold-painted shovels into the dirt near NE 12th Avenue.

For those who have fought to bring retailers and businesses to the Waldo Road corridor for decades, Monday's groundbreaking for the 196,000-square-foot store was both a sign of the area's economic strength and a way of attracting more investment in the area.

"Finally, finally it happened," said Gilbert Means, chairman of the Northeast Gainesville/Duval Area Front Porch Florida Community. "We've been waiting on this project for a long time. Surely, this is the first step for eastside development."

The symbolic groundbreaking came several weeks after crews began work on the site, preparing to build a store about 42,000 square feet larger than a similar store in Starke.

Earth movers continued to rumble by on Monday while elected officials and community representatives spoke about the possibilities a supercenter would open up for east Gainesville.

In addition to the construction of the actual store, the project will shift NE 12th Avenue south to both accommodate the size of the store and to minimize the amount of traffic that would travel into the nearby neighborhood of Cedar Grove II.

The store should be open by January or February, company spokeswoman Quenta Vettel said.

"Wal-Mart believes very strongly in this market and this community," Vettel said.

Gainesville City Commissioner Rick Bryant, who referred to the groundbreaking as a "watershed event," said the community will be able to look back in 10 or 15 years and credit Wal-Mart with creating the conditions that allow subsequent projects to take hold. Bryant and others have argued that having a major retailer to build a store on the eastside would provide the psychological impetus to convince others to follow suit and that the traffic such a store would bring would allow smaller businesses to thrive in the area.

"I want to say thank you to Wal-Mart for accepting the challenge," Bryant said. "I'm hoping we'll be able to look back and say, 'Thank you for the bank on the corner. Thank you for the dry cleaners down the street.'"

Eastside community organizers had pushed for the supercenter to be located in their area of town since the earliest discussions of building such a store. City commissioners also called on Wal-Mart to consider the eastside or a site along NW 13th Street.

The retailer announced plans to build the eastside center in 2004, pairing it with a plan to build another store on the city-owned Northside Park.

This proposal came after two attempts to win approval for a supercenter and residential complex on NW 53rd Avenue failed to win approval from the City Commission, with some commissioners expressing concern about the environmental impact the development would have on the headwaters of Hogtown Creek.

While commissioners eventually rejected a land swap that would have traded Northside Park for the NW 53rd Avenue property, Wal-Mart moved ahead with its plans for an eastside supercenter, largely without opposition.

"This really is just the culmination and evidence that when citizens come together, and they come together to decide how they want their community to be, they can succeed," City Commissioner Scherwin Henry said.

The supercenter is one of several projects that have contributed to the development of east Gainesville in recent years, said Erik Bredfeldt, the city's economic development director. While the supercenter still stands out as one of the largest symbols of the area's growth, other projects such as the University of Florida's eastside campus and the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center have created the environment necessary for its success, he said.

"Ten years ago, this probably wouldn't have happened because the market was not fully developed," he said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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