Effort to save Midtown Sweetbay has failed

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A last-ditch effort by the City of St. Petersburg to stop or delay the closing of the Midtown Sweetbay has failed. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Mayor Bill Foster and Sweetbay landlord Larry Newsome were told the planned mid-February closure would happen as scheduled. The company said it would help find a new grocer in the Tangerine Plaza in Midtown. 

“We look forward to working together with Mayor Foster to quickly find a grocer that can help meet the needs of this community,” Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau said Wednesday morning.”

In previous public meetings Foster said he expected Sweetbay to close, and in the event it did, the city is in conversations with other grocery vendors to quickly fill the space. 

Foster and city officials said they were blindsided by the news two weeks ago that Sweetbay would be closing three St. Pete stores. The St. Pete store closings are a part of 33 “underperforming” stores that Sweetbay announced it would close. 

St. Pete Stores to Close:

  • 6095 9th Ave. N 
  • 955 62nd Ave. S  
  • 1794 22nd St. S 

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Foster, along with city and state officials and community activists, held a press conference in the parking lot of the Midtown Sweetbay to ratchet up public pressure to open a dialogue with Sweetbay. 

Some, including state Rep. Darryl Rouson, argued passionately for Sweetbay to stay. 

“This is more than just four walls and a roof. It’s about the catalyst of economic development,” Rouson said at the press conference. ” … This building, this is more than just a building. It’s a story of the beginning of growth in a community. We cannot let this building go dark and we will not. And we want to keep (Sweetbay) but they have got to understand our feelings. But come talk to us. Don’t treat us like somebody that has not been a partner in wanting your success.”

Foster and Newsome at the time of the press conference claimed silence from Sweetbay, but according to Sweetbay officials Foster was told of the struggling store in April 2011. 

That issue came to a head at the Jan. 24 city council meeting among council members Wengay Newton, Leslie Curran and Mayor Foster. 

Curran and Newton were skeptical of Foster’s recollection of the meeting that took place with St. Pete officials nearly two years ago. 

They said it was a pattern of stories changing by the Foster administration. 

“… Because of the pattern that was presented, when you talked about the Rays, a secret plan, then there was the RNC, then the cameras, then the house was torn down, that story’s changed four or five times,” Curran said at the Jan. 24 council meeting. 

Foster said that he met with Sweetbay officials then, but that they expressed no dire financial situations of the Midtown Sweetbay. 

“Nothing was expressed to me that there were financial issues with this store,” Foster said at the meeting.

Starting Jan. 30, Sweetbay was taking 50 percent off everything left in the Sweetbay stores that are closing. 

Via William Mansell of Patch.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.