Is Elon Musk about to establish a foothold in Pinellas County? It’ll happen if a proposed Tesla showroom and service center comes to pass.
The Pinellas County Board of Adjustment and Appeals has granted conditional approval to a proposed Tesla sales and service facility at an old Kane’s Furniture liquidation store in Lealman. The electric vehicle manufacturer is under contract to buy the 4.2-acre property for an undisclosed sum later this month.
While not technically a traditional dealership — Tesla’s stores are company-owned, rather than dealer-owned — the center would look and feel like one.
The 102,410-square-foot facility would let potential Tesla owners test-drive and purchase new cars, or have their existing Teslas repaired or maintained. Newly delivered cars would be parked in a 50,000-square-foot climate-controlled storage area.
The project would add landscaping along 34th Street N and 46th Avenue N and add “a cutting-edge facade” and new roof, according to a site proposal. The company expects the new facility will employ about 50 new software and automotive technicians.
Among the potential benefits outlined by the company: Unlike a traditional auto dealership, where potentially pollutive materials like fuel and oil are commonplace, Tesla’s all-electric operation would be among “the cleanest automotive service centers in the United States,” according to the proposal.
The property sale is not yet final, and the county’s approval is conditional on a final site plan review and certain fees. But the fact that Tesla even looked at Lealman in the first place is a win for the community.
“You hear St. Pete talk about being the next Austin. Well, Lealman is its next-door neighbor,” said Christopher Moore, assistant county administrator and the county’s liaison for Lealman. “Right now in St. Petersburg, middle-class earners and workers, much less lower-income, can no longer afford to live in the city. And they can’t really go south. They can go to Bradenton. But more likely, they would just head north, and they would hit Lealman. So just from being the next-door neighbor to the next Austin, you’ve got tremendous potential.”
The Tesla project sits within the boundaries of the county’s Lealman Community Redevelopment Area, established in 2015. That means the community, one of Pinellas County’s poorest, can use tax increment funding over a 30-year period to support building and infrastructural improvements. The value to the CRA would be determined once the property is reassessed following Tesla’s improvements in 2023 or 2024.
“Making an investment like this into the community increases the tax value of that property,” Moore said. “There’s a direct connection to additional revenue.”
The parcel sits near the western edge of the Joe’s Creek industrial area, a focus of the county’s Community Redevelopment Agency. That project is expected to include improvements to the creek, biking and walking trails and mixed-use elements that could include industrial, office and residential uses.
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“There is a lot of infrastructure improvements that have already happened and are in the process of happening,” said Jeremy Heath, chairperson of the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area. “When you’re talking about high-net-worth tenants moving in there, a combination of both blue-collar and white-collar, eventually the Joe’s Creek bike path passing through that, you’re talking about a major resource for all walks of life, which is what I think Lealman really needs.”
What drew Tesla to the Lealman, Heath said, is the low cost of development relative to the rest of the Tampa Bay area, as well as its concentration of car dealerships along U.S. 19. Tesla has a retail store and separate service center in Tampa; the Lealman project, combining both, is part of a newer trend for the company, Moore said.
Tesla does not have a media relations department; an email to its investor relations department was not returned Monday afternoon. A Kane’s spokesperson declined to comment on the property set to be acquired by Tesla, but confirmed that there are no plans to close a nearby furniture showroom at 4501 34th St. N.
Moore and Heath likened Tesla’s impending arrival to that of another tech giant, Amazon, which announced last year it was building a giant distribution warehouse in Pinellas Park.
“It just really is the tip of the spear in terms of investment and opportunity that exists here to really transform the community,” Moore said. “Some of the biggest, smartest companies in the world have done their research and said, ‘This is where we want to be’.”