New businesses swarm to region


February 05, 2018

By Gary Roberts, Staff Writer - Charlotte Sun

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA — Not too long ago, real estate agents struggled to come up with positive signs in the commercial market. But new businesses are now popping up all over, from North Port to Punta Gorda, and all points in between.

In addition to the truly enormous developments that have grabbed the headlines, along with large chunks of land — such as Charlotte Harbor’s Sunseeker Resort, a Disney-scale water park in Murdock Village, Placida’s Fishery and the West Villages, including the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves — a number of smaller companies are also preparing to swing open their doors.

“We’ve been waiting for some activity in the commercial market,” said Steve Gant, of Riverside Realty Services. “Things have definitely changed.”

Indeed, company site selectors are zeroing in on the area as never before, and local real estate brokers are more than happy to lay out the welcome mat.

At last week’s 12th Annual Economic Outlook Conference, hosted by the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port Association of Realtors, Gant took attendees on a tour of the region, highlighting just how far the commercial sector has rebounded after a prolonged period of hibernation.

Starting in North Port, along the U.S. 41 commercial corridor, there will soon be a Popeyes across from the Lowe’s Plaza, which already boasts a new Moe’s Southwest Grill and Culver’s restaurant as well as Aspen Dental. In Cocoplum Village Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods has signed a lease for the former Sports Authority location.

Also, the city is incentivizing the older centers along U.S. 41 to modernize, helping to attract a new generation of stores, he said.

“The city is doing a lot of great things,” Gant said.

Over on Toledo Blade Boulevard, at the corner of West Price Boulevard, a new Wawa will be part of a major push into the area by the popular gas station/convenience store. Wawa opened 30 stores in Florida in 2017 and expects to deliver to the state about the same number annually over the next several years, according to the Wawa website.

Corporations like Wawa, 7-11, Moe’s, Popeyes and others are putting stakes down in North Port, betting on the city’s bright future.

Conference speaker Todd Rebol, a member of the private-sector Economic Development Partnership, talked about the significance of national brands moving into the area. He said the thoroughness of their market research and subsequent decision to locate here encourages other businesses to recognize the local growth potential.

“A lot of people follow national brands,” Rebol said.

South of the county border, there is increased activity among national retailers as well.

The former Kmart on Cochran Boulevard is scheduled to reopen this fall after an extensive renovation. New stores will include a Burlington, HomeGoods and national shoe store, along with restaurants and more retail.

In addition, a Dollar General is now under construction at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Yorkshire Street, paying $350,000 for slightly more than an acre of land. The $22 billion chain of more than 14,000 stores is in the midst of an aggressive expansion, having opened up more than 1,000 stores last year and planning another 900 this year.

Its low-price business model is a proven success, Gant said.

“They’re attracting a more middle- to upper-income customer who is thrifty. They’ve worked hard for their money, so why waste it?” he said.

At Peachland Promenade, a 3 Pepper Burrito restaurant has been issued an interior buildout permit for the space next to Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which just had its grand opening last week. Meanwhile, another restaurant group has purchased a parcel across from the McDonald’s in the same shopping center.

“There’s going to be a lot of changes in this area over the next 5 to 10 years,” Gant said.

Cruising back to U.S. 41, near Midway Boulevard, Harbor Freight Tools bought 1.7 acres in September for $1.2 million, he said. The site on the west side of Tamiami Trail is now under construction.

Also at Midway Boulevard, another Wawa should be open in the next few months. Recent construction progress has been rapid, although it took two years for final contract details to be worked out, Gant said.

Jumping across the Peace River into Punta Gorda, a 103-room Marriott Springhill Suites is about 70 percent complete in City Marketplace.

“This is definitely going to be a great addition to downtown,” he said.

Further south on U.S. 41, and a block off the main artery, is the Peace River Beer Co., which started welcoming thirsty customers at the beginning of the year. The Fort Myers-based brewing company is located at 1732 Steadley Ave.

Venturing further off U.S. 41, east on Airport Road to the Florida SouthWestern State University campus, is a planned pickleball complex, which could prove a major tourism draw to the region. If funding can be secured, the $4 million PicklePlex would include 32 outdoor courts, eight indoor courts, a fitness center with a pro shop, a restaurant and bar, and a conference center.

Along North Jones Loop Road there is substantial commercial activity, with more certainly coming down the pike.

Aldi’s is building a 19,084-square-foot grocery on a 3.4-acre site near Taylor Road. The brand-new Holiday Inn Express on Mac Drive, near Interstate 75, has added needed hotel capacity. And, at U.S. 41, a building permit application has been submitted for the third new Wawa in the area.

Continuing south on U.S. 41, the former Muscle Car City is scheduled to be converted to storage units. The property at 10175 Tamiami Trail was sold for $4.3 million in December. In addition to the commercial renaissance, industrial opportunities are knocking at the door, Gant said. However, with increased interest in industrial flex space, the lack of available buildings is pushing prices up, he said. The demand is being heard everywhere, from the Toledo Blade Boulevard corridor in North Port down to the 4,300-acre Punta Gorda Interstate Airport Park.

“Industrial is doing great,” Gant said.

Email: groberts@sun-herald.com