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Tomahawk Robotics, a flourishing Melbourne tech firm launched at Groundswell Startups, is expanding soon into the long-empty Walgreens building in Eau Gallie.
Considered one of downtown Eau Gallie’s anchor properties, the empty Walgreens at US 1 and Eau Gallie Boulevard – Melbourne’s highest-traffic intersection – has sat vacant since 2016.
Tomahawk Robotics may move in by late summer, said Brad Truesdell, CEO and co-founder. At 16,809 square feet, the old Walgreens measures roughly double the size of the company’s current home on Irwin Street, with room for employment to eventually increase from more than 30 to 75 workers.
“It will really allow us to expand from where we are today, primarily on the testing side. We work with a lot of different robotic platforms, and we need additional lab space, “Truesdell said.
“It’s really important for our engineering team to support that multidisciplinary collaboration, and the work across different platforms that we’re doing for our customers,” he said.
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Wednesday night, the Melbourne Historic and Architectural Review Board approved a new temporary sign at the Walgreens property: “The Future Home of Tomahawk Robotics: Join the Unmanned Systems Revolution.”
Walgreens’ debut in Eau Gallie was a community controversy in 1999, as many neighbors feared increased traffic and a “domino effect” of commercial development. The Melbourne Planning and Zoning Board recommended denial of a rezoning request for the project, but the Melbourne City Council approved it.
Amid the debate, Walgreens officials said the store would not be open 24 hours – and it would be built “old-Florida style,” with a blacktop roof, shutters and its original white walls.
The pharmacy opened in 2000, replacing a vacant gas station and three homes on US 1 between Montreal Avenue and Old Oak Street.
In October-November 2019, an Eau Gallie Arts District grassroots social media campaign unsuccessfully attempted to lure Trader Joe’s to open a store inside the shuttered Walgreens.
As of Thursday, the Facebook page “EGAD Trader Joe’s” had more than 23,900 followers.
During that 2019 campaign, a Trader Joe’s public relations director told FLORIDA TODAY the California-based grocery chain had no plans to build a store in Brevard County. The nearest stores are still located in Orlando and Winter Park.
“We got Trader Joe’s attention. But bottom line, they decided not to expand in Florida at this time,” said Eau Gallie artist Derek Gores, who helped coordinate the campaign.
Gores said he looks forward to having “a bunch of young tech engineers and entrepreneurs” with Tomahawk Robotics moving into town.
“Clearly, they’re a blend of technology and innovative creativity. They’re entrepreneurs. I think it’s cool that they grew out of Groundswell, and Groundswell sparked in the Eau Gallie Arts District. So it’s kind of a full-circle experience there, “Gores said.
Tomahawk Robotics develops software and hand-held controllers for air and land-based drones for the military, energy sector and other customers. The fledgling firm moved into a small office at Groundswell with three employees in late 2018.
By late 2020, the company moved into a Groundswell-owned, 8,500-square-foot building just to the north, featuring an outdoor “drone cage” for test flights visible to US 1 motorists.
“Now that our business continues to grow, and we have stronger financial jogging, it’s time for us to make room for the next business behind us that Bud (Deffebach) and his team are supporting,” Truesdell said.
Last month, Tomahawk Robotics announced former Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy was joining its board of directors.
“Ryan will bring his tremendous Army knowledge and (Department of Defense) acquisition expertise to the Tomahawk Robotics team to further their efforts to address the need for next-generation unmanned systems in the U.S. military,” a news release said.
Jarin Eisenberg, Groundswell Startups chief operating officer, said it remains unknown which tenant will move into Tomahawk’s current building.
“It’s what’s supposed to happen – companies are supposed to outgrow us,” Eisenberg said.
Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY (for more of his stories, click here.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ RickNeale1
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