With the city council's approval of a new Wawa store for near the corner of Manatee Avenue West and 75th Street West, it will be the third Wawa location in the city and the eighth in Manatee County.
Five stores are currently open, two are under construction and Wednesday's approval makes eight, so it begs the question of whether Wawa's rapid expansion into Manatee County, which began in 2014, is coming to an end.
Scott Gerard, project engineer for Wawa, said locations are becoming more difficult to find given the rather large footprint needed for its stores, typically constructed on heavily traveled roads.
"You are probably seeing the last in Manatee County for awhile given the lack of locations for a build out," Gerarad said, noting the company had looked long and hard at Manatee Avenue West without success until this opportunity became available. "But we'll continue to look at areas of the county that are seeing a lot of development."
The new Wawa is slated to be built in the old Albertons parking lot fronting Manatee Avenue West and directly east of the Suntrust Bank, which occupies the corner. The plans came forward within days of the city announcing that Lucky's Market would occupy the Albertsons site.
Plans for Lucky's are to demolish the old 60,000-square-foot Albertsons and build a new store about half the size of the existing building.
Though Wawa's local expansion may be slowing down, nearby residents in Village Green had hoped it would have happened one store earlier. Several residents voiced concerns about increased traffic through their neighborhood, more intense traffic at the Manatee Avenue/75th Street intersection and the tendency of Wawa's outdoor seating to sometimes draw panhandlers.
Residents also questioned the need for what will be a fourth gas station within a quarter mile of each other but as explained to many of them at last month's planning commission meeting, officials can only take into account whether an application meets the land use requirements for the site.
"I realize the opposition here is fighting an uphill battle, but I wanted to put my two cents in," said Village Green resident Frank Hill.
For Darenda Marvin, senior planner representing Wawa on virtually all of its Manatee County stores, the west Bradenton location is personal for her.
"I'm personally excited about this one," Marvin said. "This center was developed in the 1980s and was known as the Manatee West Center. It was a very vibrant center through the 1990s. Unfortunately, when Albertsons closed six years ago, the center has deteriorated and lost most of its tenants."
The residents said they were pro-redevelopment but preferred a different type of shopping experience.
"Unfortunately, we've been sitting here for six years with this center being vacant," Marvin said. "If those types of businesses were going to come, they would have come."
Council members disagreed that Wawa would be bad for the area.
"Business is driven by business," said Vice Mayor Gene Brown. "I believe this can revitalize the whole area there and believe it will bring other businesses into the center. I believe in my heart you'll see good things, but you have to look at the overall picture."
"We don't get to pick and choose the market," said Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff. "The market comes to us for requests and it's not the government's job to pick winners and losers. We get requests, we weigh the merits and look at the land use issues and have to comply with them."