Two weeks after Tampa developers reluctantly revealed that Winn-Dixie pulled out of negotiations to build a supermarket on Upper Matecumbe Key, they still have not disclosed what company might build a store at that location.
The developers, 81001 Overseas Highway LLC and Win-Development LLC, said at the Feb. 13 Islamorada Village Council meeting that a supermarket is still planned for the mile marker 81 bayside property. But they declined to be specific.
The developers were at the meeting to lobby the five-member Village Council to approve a zoning change that would allow them to build a 22,237-square-foot grocery store. All the supporting documentation supplied by the developers mentioned Winn-Dixie. In fact, the company's name was mentioned 56 times in the communication.
But when pressed by Mayor Ted Blackburn, Owen Ewing of Win-Development said two companies are involved in negotiations but neither one is Winn-Dixie.
That angered Blackburn and Councilman David Purdo, both of whom voted against the zoning change. Purdo accused 8001 Overseas Highway and Win-Development of lying to the council.
Ewing's disclosure that Winn-Dixie is no longer in the plans sparked a guessing game around town about what company wants to open a store in Islamorada. Speculation has ranged from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart Markets, a grocery store chain opened by Wal-Mart in the late 1990s.
Patricia Silver, the developers' attorney in Islamorada, said residents will be "pleasantly surprised" when they find out who will be the proposed tenant.
But Blackburn is frustrated the candidate companies have not approached any village elected officials or offered to speak to the community -- something both Winn-Dixie and Publix have done in the past.
"I hope whoever it is will come to the village and reach out to us and the public and explain the good things they're going to do for us," Blackburn said.
Councilman Ken Philipson, who voted for the zoning change, said he is confident residents will not have to worry about the quality of the companies looking at the property.
"The company has to have a AAA credit rating and the ability to burn money," Philipson said. "It won't be a mom and pop that in six months will be out of business because they couldn't get it financed."
The Winn-Dixie project was originally proposed by another Tampa developer, Net5FDA. Win-Development took over the project last summer after Net5FDA went into foreclosure.
The three council members who voted for the zoning change -- Vice Chairwoman Deb Gillis, Councilman Mike Forster and Philipson -- said at the Feb. 13 meeting that they are not bothered that the developers did not mention Winn-Dixie pulled out of the deal.
They said the developers are allowed to lease the property to any company they want as long as a supermarket is built on the property.