SEBRING - Sam's Club won't be here in 2014, but Twistee Treat will.
Both locations are where something else used to be: Sam's tore down the old Scotty's Garden Center at Bayview Street and U.S. 27, better known now as the vacant lot next to Hibachi Buffet.
Twistee Treat purchased a half-acre from Walmart to open a 500-square-foot stand at the southeast corner of Grand Prix and U.S. 27, where the former Jucy Lucy's was located. The City of Sebring granted approval on Jan. 7.
President Corey Balzer said Twistee Treat is taking bids from contractors and expects the location to open in 120 days. Stores are built from fiberglass mold sections.
Twistee Treat, an Orlando soft-serve ice cream stand with cone-shaped locations in southern Florida, has two more planned in Tampa. Twistee Treat previously had a stores in Avon Park and in front of the old Kmart near downtown Sebring.
Those former Twistee Treats were franchises; the new company purchased the brand three years ago, Balzer said, so all are now company owned.
Will Highlands County be considered for more locations?
"We have two real estate guys looking all the time," Balzer said. But the company also has a deal with Walmart, so a Twistee Treat is possible at Avon Park.
The menu includes 24 flavors of ice cream in cups, cones, shakes, sundaes, and banana splits, including no fat, no sugar and lactose-free.
As for Sam's, Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz had a definitive answer - kind of: "We will not be building that store in 2014. Plans are a little undefinite at this point, but we will not be moving forward soon enough to get it built in 2014."
The question has been asked since May 8, 2009, when corporate Walmart Inc. confirmed a Sam's would go up at the corner of Bayview and U.S. 27.
Walmart bought a portion of Sebring Square Shopping Center and filed plans with the City of Sebring building department for a 93,350 square-foot store.
Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. of Clearwater demolished the former Scotty's and Bonanza buildings in Sebring Plaza in August 2012. Dollar General relocated to Sun N' Lake, and Allstate Insurance moved near Homer's, and the Cuban bakery and Subway edged closer to Beef 'O' Brady's pub.
Johnny Cheng and his partners worked for months before opening Hibachi Buffet in December 2012, with the hope that Sam's Club would follow the next year.
"Yeah, it's on the lease," said Cheng's sister, Wang. "When Sam's Club comes, they are going to charge us 3 percent of sales."
But instead of building the members-only wholesale store, Sam's planted sod and the lot has been vacant for 2.5 years.
City Building Official Ed White said in 2011 that he initially received a set of plans for a 103,000 square-foot store two years before. Several months later, he received another set of plans for a 93,000 square-foot store.
"They called about a year ago and said, 'Those plans you've got, you might as well toss those; that building isn't going to be built.'"
Periodically, every few years, the company redesigns its buildings, White said. "Who knows what size it's going to be."
So when will Sam's Club actually come to Sebring?
One possible answer arrived in a Nov. 30 letter from Jacksonville attorney Rosel Pine to the City of Sebring and County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete.
"We represent Sam's Club," the letter stated. The building permit expires in 2014, but Florida law grants an automatic extension. "Accordingly, Wal-Mart, as the property owner and permittee, hereby respectfully notifies the city that the subject development order is extended and renewed for an additional two years from its current expiration date through May 6, 2015."