Next showdown for pharmacy wars: Corner of NW 43rd and 23rd

Plans to redevelop both western corners may include a Walgreens

A strip mall located at Northwest 43rd Street and 23rd Avenue is shown Wednesday afternoon in Gainesville.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 11:37 p.m.

The landscape of the Northwest 43rd Street and 23rd Avenue intersection could look radically different in a few years, with tentative plans to redevelop both western corners with at least one and possibly two pharmacies.

A developer has plans to buy the St. Michael's Episcopal Church property on the southwest corner for a retail development, contingent on city land use approvals. Diocese Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard of Jacksonville told church members in November that a Walgreens pharmacy would be built but said in a recent interview he should not have named Walgreens.

"I have no idea who the eventual owner of the land might be if the sale closes," he said.

However, a Walgreens would be right in line with the company's pattern of co-locating across from CVS pharmacies.

The owners of Cedar River Seafood and tenants in the strip mall on the northwest corner said their landlord told them CVS has an agreement to buy the land.

Walgreens and CVS officials said they do not comment on pending land deals.

CVS already has a nearby store in the Millhopper Shopping Center to the southeast, but pharmacies are moving to more free-standing stores with drive-throughs on the corners of busy intersections.

Mike Kinsella of Regency Centers that owns the center said CVS has been looking to move for years but has more than two years left on its lease.

A move from the shopping center also would allow the newly rebuilt Publix there to open a pharmacy.

The supermarket has a space for one, "but because of the lease agreement we're not able to open it right now," Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens said.

The sale of St. Michael's would move that congregation from the home it has held since 1960, along with the St. Michael's Day School prekindergarten that now has more than 60 children enrolled.

Howard said the small church needs repairs and renovations it cannot afford. The sale price of more than $3 million would allow St. Michael's to build new facilities elsewhere, he said.

Church Rector Tom Murphy said the school, parish hall and church need repairs of at least six figures.

Sunday services draw just more than 40 people, he said.

All but a handful of church members left the Episcopal church in 2006 to form the Servants of Christ Anglican Church after the ordination of an openly gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire, but St. Michael's has slowly built its membership since.

Murphy said members are grieving the potential loss of their spiritual home but understand the costs of maintenance and repairs.

Many were concerned about the future of the congregation, but Murphy said the bishop was "very clear" about his commitment to build a new church and school.

Howard said the sale is probably 18 months away.

Current church members could not be reached for comment.

Anniemieke Pronker-Coron, who has participated in services as a musician, wrote to city commissioners to speak for the architectural and cultural value of the church and against the proliferation of pharmacies.

In the last three years, CVS has opened three new stores in the Gainesville area for 12 total with one scheduled for construction soon, and Walgreens has opened two stores for nine total.

The sanctuary, built in 1975, was designed by Nils Schweizer, one of the leading mid-century modern architects in Florida and a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, said the Nils M. Schweizer Fellows of Central Florida.

Schweizer's son and organization vice president Kevin Schweizer, himself an architect, said the group would support efforts to preserve the building.

"I think if everyone was more educated on the significance of the building, they would realize we need to maintain this building and keep it going and keep the congregation supported," he said.

Church officials and developers lost a battle to sell and redevelop the property in 2000 when city commissioners denied a rezoning to build an Eckerd pharmacy and medical offices.

Residents of nearby Suburban Heights presented commissioners a petition with more than 600 signatures.

This time, Diann Dimitri, president of the neighborhood association, said members still are trying to gather more information and plan to send people to any city hearings about the issue. Residents with the most concerns are those whose properties abut the church's playground on the south side of the property, she said.

City planning officials say they have met with the developers — identified by Murphy as Ferber Company of Ponte Vedra Beach — but have not received any plans.

Likewise, county officials met with the developer on the northwest corner — the city line runs down Northwest 23rd Avenue — but have not received a full application, growth management director Steve Lachnicht said.

Like other recent pharmacy projects, talk of more already has raised the usual protests that Gainesville has too many and doesn't need two at the same intersection.

Erik Bredfeldt, city planning and development services director, said projects can be taken into consideration at public meetings. "But I don't think the boards or city commission get into deciding what type of commercial use goes on a property. That's a consideration they leave to the market forces."

Instead, city land use rules cover what a development looks like, how it functions and whether it is compatible with the surrounding area, he said.

As to whether the city needs more pharmacies, retail site location expert Grant Thrall said major retailers can predict within 3.5 percent how much revenue they'll make in a given demographic area.

Thrall is a University of Florida geography professor now serving a year at the University of Memphis.

Retailers try to locate in the center of market areas to be more accessible to the most customers, he said.

Walgreens has a trade area of 20,000 people, according to the company's real estate department.

Pharmacies also are proliferating to serve the aging baby boomer market that increasingly uses pharmaceuticals.

When a company opens a second store in a market, it takes sales from the first store but more than makes up for it with the new store, Thrall said.

And co-locating with a competitor increases customers' attraction to that area, allowing them to comparison shop and find items sold out at the other store.

"If the pharmacies weren't making money doing that, they wouldn't do it," Thrall said.

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