In 2012 Sarasota will officially welcome its first Walmart within the city limits after the Sarasota Planning Board unanimously approved a plan for a Walmart Market at the site of the now closed Winn-Dixie.
The Walmart Market, approved Wednesday evening, will operate exclusively as a grocery store, plus pharmacy.
“This is not a perfect project, but this is a needed project,” said board chair Susan Chapman. “There is [currently] a food desert in this area.”
Last November, Winn-Dixie closed its doors and many in the area struggled to find healthy food choices, the city said. The city hopes the store will fill that need.
In a neighborhood that has a high unemployment rate, the store's approval is needed good news. Walmart said the new store would create between 90-100 full-time and part-time jobs.
Construction is expected to take around 12 months and Walmart said it would set up a hiring center in Sarasota when the store is 90-120 days from opening.
While the board voted 5-0 to approve the Walmart Market there were still concerns that the board said need to be addressed at a city level. Members felt the sidewalks needed to be widened, traffic on side streets looked at and there was an issue with bus connectivity.
All members, however, said those issues are not Walmart's problem. They said the city must address those issues.
Courtney Mendez, a senior planner for the city, said Walmart had eased security concerns of the neighborhood by adding additional lighting and scaling down the size of the building so that trucks loading and unloading are not on streets.
“[The plan] does meet all the city’s code,” she said. “[Walmart] did work with us throughout the process.”
In late July the city and Walmart to answer questions and concerns the community had with the project. More than 100 people attended the meeting and generally showed a favorable response to the project.
During that meeting Mayor Suzanne Atwell told Patch, "I believe this could be a great catalyst for future development along the North Trail," Atwell said. "I’m excited and I think a lot of the community is excited about this."
“This is a great addition to the community,” said board member Morton Siegel. “The intersection will come alive there. Walmart is doing what they do best. Let’s hope that this area develops in the direction we would all like to see it develop.”