It's the first of two new Polk County stores slated for late 2017 opening, senior real estate manager Mike Everage told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday.
The California-based company has filed a site development plan with the city and Southwest Florida Water Management District, calling for a new 2,600-square-foot restaurant with drive-thru at the site of an existing Pizza Hut, on the corner of Cypress Garden and 3rd Street.
"We had been targeting Winter Haven for the past 3-4 years and just needed to find the right position in the market," he said. "We recognized the strength of the Cypress Garden Boulevard corridor and that, combined with the growth around Legoland, we are very excited about this opening."
Jerry Presley, former development manager for Horne Properties, is the property owner. Presley and his wife acquired the Pizza Hut outparcel from his then-employer in May before retiring at the end of the year. Horne was the original developer of the Walmart-anchored shopping center.
Panda Express currently has about 25 restaurants in the Greater Orlando area and one in Lakeland. The company has recently opened stores in Port Orange, Melbourne and Clermont and is building new stores in Casselberry and on Kissimmee's W192 tourism corridor.
The company has more than 1,900 stores globally, and is adding about 100 per year.
Winter Haven Senior Planner Sean Byers said before the city can approve a DP, the site needs to be rezoned to highway commercial.
The outparcel originally was part of a PUD for the Colonial Promenade shopping center, and it had been amended so many times it was no longer clear what was allowed on the site, Byers said. The rezoning vote is scheduled to go to City Council in February, to be followed by the site plan approval.
Everage said the company hopes to start construction in June, with a Fourth Quarter 2017 opening.
Everage said PRG will add a third Polk location later this year in South Lakeland close to the intersection of Alamo Drive and S. Florida Avenue.
"Polk County has been very good to us, and we look forward to these new locations and connecting with the communities in Winter Haven and South Lakeland much as we have in North Lakeland," he said.
Byers said Pizza Hut wants to reopen in a new location.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include comments from company representatives.