Around midday today Palm Coast government put up an update about the Wawa convenience store expected at Bulldog Drive and State Road 100. The update was posted shortly after FlaglerLive inquired about the project in calls to the deputy manager and the deputy development director, neither of whom had called back by the time the update was posted.
“Some of you have been asking when the Wawa at Bulldog Drive and State Road 100 will be built. The site plan was approved last September,” the Facebook update read, “the building permit was approved in January, and there isn’t any further permitting work to be done as they have all of their approvals from the City to do what they need to do to build.”
That’s not quite accurate.
Wawa, in fact, cancelled its permitting process last week, on July 2. The city’s update did not mention the cancellations, which affect three permits in all (for the $11 million Wawa project, for a dumpster enclosure, and for the $180,000 gas canopy.) Beau Falgout, the city’s deputy manager, was not aware of the cancellations when asked by a reporter, but quickly found out after speaking with Ray Tyner, the deputy development director. “They called the building department to cancel it, and indicated that a new contractor will be submitting the package,” Falgout said.
That means all permitting applications for the Wawa structure at the 9-acre site must be resubmitted, making whatever building permit approved in January null and void: the original building permit was never picked up. Last fall, the city was expecting the store to open this month. Now it’s not clear when construction will start, let alone when the store will open, if it does.
“One of our planners told me the Wawa developer indicated they will likely wait ’til September or so to start,” Cindi Lane, the former spokesperson for the city, had written in mid-June, before her resignation. At the time, the permits were still awaiting pick-up. “They have a builder who has previously constructed other Wawa stores to do the vertical work including putting in the underground tanks. The horizontal improvements have primarily been completed by a local site contractor.”
The contractor was actually Kissimmee-based Carl Pursell Construction. The firm had been going through the usual permitting process with the city for several months in late 2018, with building officials placing holds and requiring further tweaks to the contractor’s plans, which is not unusual. All activity ceased at the end of the year.
“They’re definitely coming, there’s no indication whatsoever that they’re not coming,” Tyner said today, though he had just found out that the permits had been cancelled. He said it’s not unusual, when developers change contractors. “They have a lot of their own contractors that do their own work around the state of Florida, that do the vertical construction, and I believe they’re really, really busy,” Tyner said. He surmised that the company needed a new contractor “because they’re so busy right now and probably shuffling contractors.” Still, he insisted, “there’s all indications it’s still a go, for sure.” But, he said, “could be a little while.”
At the site itself, there’d been the demolition of a structure toward the north end of the parcel, a $13,500 job carried out by S.E. Cline earlier this year, followed by site-development work, which included laying out an access, asphalted road with curbs around the property, with an entrance off State Road 100 and one off Bulldog Drive. That work is done. The permitting and inspection fees on that portion of the work ($1,105) was paid. But that’s the only payment of fees the city has received so far. None of the more than $215,000 in fees for the greater totality of project has been paid, nor would it be paid until the permitting is completed.
Lori Bruce, a spokesperson for Wawa, could not give a timeline about expected construction–or even confirm when work would resume. “If this store is not yet under construction, we would not be able to confirm or provide any details about the planned construction or opening until we are further along in the land development process,” Bruce said in an email this afternoon.
The uncertainty echoed some of the same dashed promise of a new Walmart store at the south end of Old Kings Road, near State Road 100, a store for whom the city rerouted Old Kings Road and borrowed $6.7 million to pay for the $10 million project before saddling other taxpayers along Old Kings with the bill. Walmart never built the store. That project was much larger and its timing much more precarious. It was among the many real estate casualties of the housing bubbles a decade ago.
Stirring similar sweeteners, the city sold the 9-acre parcel intended for Wawa on favorable terms, for $575,000 less than it paid for it. The city sold the land to Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments, the only company to submit a proposal in response to the city’s request for bids from anyone interested in developing that land. Unicorp put together the Wawa deal. But that deal was originally conditional on the developer acquiring additional parcels adjoining the parcel intended for Wawa, on the east side of Midway Drive, among them the Kathleen McGann property, where Airport Auto Used Cars operates. Unicorp was to develop further commercial properties such as restaurants and shops. Those acquisitions have not been successful. But Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp, perhaps anticipating resistance, told the city council in 2016 that construction would proceed around holdouts anyway.
Now, the Unicorp plan may be limited to Wawa. “Unicorp is still involved with the original plan,” Tyner said. “I’m not real sure if they are going to expand. I think they had an option to purchase and decided not to. They’re still involved with the Wawa, for sure.” But not beyond that.
Today, there was no fear on city officials’ part that the Wawa project would not go through. “The site work is done, it’s just a matter of the building permit application,” Falgout said. “And if it’s the same set of plans, it’s really quick.” The cancelled permits, he said, were for the “”vertical construction on the site.” No new application has been submitted.
Born as a textile manufacturing company, then a dairy farm, and named for a game a then-local Native American tribe liked to play, The Wawa, Penn.-based chain of some 800 stores in six states hasn’t lacked for appetite in Florida: it opened more than 100 stores in the state in four years. In June alone, Lake Placid south of Sebring, Fort Pierce, Lantana, DeLand and Indian River County all saw new Wawa stores open or announced plans for new stores. In mid-June, Palm Beach County saw the second Wawa open in the county that year, and the seventh in two years. The old Barnes and Noble store across from the Speedway in Daytona Beach is being demolished to make way for a Wawa. There are 11 Wawas in the Jacksonville area, and three more planned. There are four in the Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach area. But the area between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach remains a Wawa desert (or a RaceTrac oasis, depending on your perspective).