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Publix may open at USF Tampa by fall 2017

TAMPA — The first Publix supermarket ever to open on a college campus could come to the University of South Florida by fall 2017, a company spokesman said.

The store would be part of an expansive new student housing project called Andros Village.

The USF Board of Trustees Finance and Audit workgroup approved preliminary plans Tuesday for a 28,800 square foot grocery store to be built at the corner of Fletcher Avenue and USF North Palm Drive — the main northern entrance to the Tampa campus.

Up to three acres of the site would house the neighborhood market-style Publix and 150 parking spaces with lighting and security. That land is currently occupied by a parking lot and portions of the 1960’s-era Andros dorms that the university hopes to replace, pending approval from the Florida Board of Governors.

The USF Board of Trustees will vote Tuesday on bringing the Publix to campus. Then the plan moves to the state Board of Governors for final approval, said USF spokesman Adam Freeman.

Officials hope a new residence hall would boost the number of students living on campus from 5,600 to about 7,000 — and with almost 60,000 students and employees at the Tampa campus, the store can expect lots of business.

“We do believe this is a unique opportunity that would really reduce the need for students living on campus to leave campus for groceries,” Freeman said. “There’s also a high density of students off campus just north of Fletcher that walk to campus, so this will be convenient for them.”

Katie Owens, 21, lives off campus in a nearby apartment but spent her first two years at USF living in the Andros dorms, where she made use of her mini-fridge and kitchenette. Without a car, she often rode her bike to the nearest Publix on Fowler Avenue, balancing the bags on her handle bars.

“The first time I rode to Publix I almost got hit by a car,” said Owens, a senior. “It was really scary. It’s really hard for pedestrians to navigate the sidewalks around campus, outside of the school it can be really scary.”

Ali Gomez, a 22-year-old senior, also lived in the Andros dorms freshman year and relied on city buses to get around town. The nearby Walmart didn’t always feel safe, she said.

“We eat on campus every day, but it can be pricey,” Gomez said. “If students could pay at the Publix with their meal plans, that would be really good.”

USF’s Publix would be smaller than most — the average store is about 45,000 square feet — but would also include inside and outside meeting areas for students to eat or study. The design should provide bike and walking paths to other buildings and fit in with the university’s aesthetics, according to the contract.

The Lakeland-based grocery chain also agreed to hold at least two job fairs each calendar year on the USF campus and consider hiring students for employment or internships. Beyond that, details are limited.

“We are excited about the potential partnership with USF,” Publix spokesman Brian West said in an email to the Tribune. “Both parties are in the process of the due diligence period, and at this time, there are no additional details to share.”

Publix opened its first pharmacy separate from its grocery store in the Moffitt Cancer Center at USF in 2012. The USF supermarket would be another first for the company, but it’s not the only major chain to take root on a college campus.

In April, Walmart opened its latest convenience store-style “Walmart on Campus” at Virginia Commonwealth University following a 2014 opening at the University of Missouri. Two Walmart on Campus stores opened in 2013 at Georgia Institute of Technology and Arizona State University, and its first on-campus store opened in 2011 at the University of Arkansas.

A two-story Fresh City Market grocery store opened at Indiana’s Purdue University last year, and Sheetz convenience stores opened it’s second on-campus location in September at Pennsylvania State University. The first opened at West Virginia University in March.

Still, the model is just beginning to pick up steam, said Lorrie Griffith, editor of grocery industry publication The Shelby Report.

“It’s a built-in market for them, so it’s a good place for these stores to be,” Griffith said. “I don’t think they would do anything where they would lose money.”

Publix stores are typically staffed with 130 employees, and many are part-time with flexible schedules, according to Publix’s website. Full- and part-time employees also get benefits like stock options, quarterly bonuses, and tuition reimbursement of up to $3,200 a year for select courses.

The university opened up the selection process to other local grocery stores, but Publix was the only chain to submit a bid. Under the 20-year contract approved Tuesday, Publix would pay USF $130,000 a year in a ground lease agreement to rent the land for the store, leaving no financial obligations for the university.

Six opportunities to renew the contract another five years could expand its stay to 50 years. The university can increase rent by 10 percent every five years.

The store would be the cornerstone of a new live-work-play housing complex scheduled to open in fall 2017. Andros Village would be developed under a private-public financing partnership with Capstone Development Partners and Harrison Street Real Estate Capital.

The estimated cost of construction is about $133 million.

Publix would be among the proposed retail options for the village but would operate independently, Freeman said.

The village would replace nine outdated dorms and add an additional 1,000 beds to house 2,165 students on campus. If the housing complex is approved, USF officials said they would like to begin demolition in May.

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