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Variety market to fill void at plaza
By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- A vendor-driven variety market is expected to open at Maximo Plaza in a few months, occupying a massive space left empty when a miniature auto-racing business closed.
Owner Sam Lee envisions a larger version of his Miami Fashion District, open for about 61/2 years a mile north of Maximo, which is on 34th Street S between 43rd and 44th avenues.
Lee predicts 50 to 100 vendors will sell clothing, shoes, jewelry, CDs, communications equipment and the like in a cavernous 80,000 square feet. Aiming for an August opening, but conceding it could be later, Lee hopes to add a food court at some point.
Lee, a 37-year-old Tampa resident, likens his operation to a flea market but "more upscale." The merchandise is all new, he said.
If all goes as planned, Maxi Mall will join two other stores expected to open soon in the plaza, which has struggled in recent years.
Health and More, a health foods store, is stocking its shelves. And a sign at the plaza's south end says that an Ace Hardware store is on its way.
A move by Ace, currently at Skyway Plaza on 62nd Avenue S, has been in the works for several months.
The current half-dozen tenants at Maximo were disappointed when MoKart, the auto racing business, closed this year and left vacant about 69 percent of the plaza's total space.
Maxi Mall's advent has pleased some tenants, such as Gene and Sherry Pringle, who own Spare Room Mini Storage.
"It's going to be nice. It's going to be good to have someone there. I'm looking forward to being one of his good customers," said Sherry Pringle.
"I'm looking forward to him being being one of my good customers," Gene Pringle chimed in.
Clatties H. Dawkins is hopeful but not wildly excited. She has owned the Print Emporium, a Christian bookstore and print shop, nearly four years and said she has seen entrepreneurs come and go.
"It could hurt us, it could help us. I really don't know," Dawkins said. "I was hoping for something more sophisticated."
But "I'm remaining positive and I'm kind of remaining neutral on it until I can wait and see."
Dawkins and another tenant put in a parking lot light with the help of Florida Power, but she said she would like to see more lighting and a "face lift" for the entire plaza. Tenants have long complained that the California man who is the Plaza's majority owner has not been receptive to their needs.
Lee, who said he has a 15-year lease on the space, is clearing out the remnants of MoKart. He said he would not have to do extensive renovation.
"Lucky me," he said. "MoKart had quite a bit of improvements here. There's new air conditioning and a roof."
Lee said he wants to improve the appearance outside.
"Hopefully, I'm going to keep the place up. Outside a little more clean, a little greener." He said he would like to install landscaping.
Lee said Miami Fashion District, at 2319 34th St. S, has been successful. He said the lease at that site expires in about 18 months. "We've been thinking about expanding in St. Petersburg," he said.
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