Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – Whole Foods Market and Wawa — two popular brands that have ratcheted up the region’s profile, especially among their sometimes zealous devotees — will be married at the new “University Station” shopping plaza at the southwest corner of University Parkway and Honore Avenue.
Rezoning paperwork filed with Sarasota County for the proposed shopping plaza shows that SJ Collins Enterprises, the Atlanta-based commercial developer behind the project, would host a 40,148-square-foot Whole Foods, another 10,000 square feet of in-line shops and a nearby Wawa gas station/convenience store.
“SJ Collins is working with Wawa and their developer to create a cohesive plan that will include shared access parking, landscaping and signage,” said Jeff Garrison, a partner with the Georgia real estate firm. “We’re working with a number of high-end restaurants and boutique retail concepts for the remaining available space.”
Commercial real estate specialists were impressed with the proposed lineup, though the proposal already is raising concerns of more traffic on the congested University Parkway.
“This is better than a grand-slam home run in terms of a retail plaza,” said Stan Rutstein, a commercial agent with Re/Max Alliance in Bradenton. “There’s no convenient gas station on that stretch of University Parkway, from the airport to the Mobile station in Lakewood Ranch. And then you have Whole Foods, which will drive customers all on their own.”
Pennsylvania-based Wawa has been expanding aggressively throughout Florida. Its first Southwest Florida store opened at 701 First St. E. in Bradenton during December, drawing huge crowds.
Two more are coming in Manatee County.
There are three proposed Wawas in Sarasota County, including the University Parkway site.
The new Whole Foods would be the Austin, Texas-based organic grocery chain’s second supermarket in this region. The company has has operated a busy and profitable supermarket on First Street in downtown Sarasota since 2004.
Wawa and Whole Foods Market attract two very different types of shoppers, but both companies have strong brand followings, which will compliment one another, said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail analyst who knows the Southwest Florida market well.
“Whole Foods must really feel like they’re not reaching shoppers in the University corridor,” Green said. “Whole Foods will taking a stab at The Fresh Market, which is half the size of this new store. But you wonder if they’ll be cannibalizing their own store as shoppers transfer from one to store the other.”
The Fresh Market is in the Market at University Town Center, not far from the proposed Whole Foods site.
The new Whole Foods will likely open in 18 months to two years, company officials have said.
Some nearby residents worry that Whole Foods and Wawa, two well-known brands, will generate even more traffic on the growing University Parkway commercial corridor.
In February, SJ Collins agreed to provide an analysis of what traffic impact the proposed plaza would have on that area.
“Whole Foods is locating a second store on University Parkway and Honore in response to the high demand from their existing customers living in the area,” Garrison said. “These customers, currently using the University Parkway corridor on a daily basis, can now make a trip to Whole Foods as a part of their existing travel and eliminate the need to make a special trip into downtown.”
The plans for the shopping center show three shared traffic access points: right turn in/right turn out access from University Parkway, right turn in/right turn out access from Honore Avenue and a traffic signal on Honore.
“Thy way I look at traffic is, if the parking lots are full and there is traffic on the streets, everyone is doing well,” Rutstein said.
“It’s up to our community to get involved and find a solution that works for everyone.”