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    Suitors line up to buy sod farm

    Developers and Pinellas County offer from $3.2-million to $5-million to St. Petersburg for 122 acres in the fast-growing Gateway area.

    By SHARON L. BOND

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Once considered a prime spot for a baseball stadium, 122 acres of city land in the flourishing Gateway area could become a corporate headquarters, an office park or an expansion of the Pinellas County landfill.

    The city received four proposals late Friday ranging from $3.2-million to $5-million to purchase the sod farm on the northern edge of the city.

    Three developers would put offices or industrial operations at the site; the county wants it for solid waste disposal. The city has asked that whoever develops the property create a minimum of 1,800 jobs.

    The property once was considered a prime baseball site because it was far enough north that a team more likely would would draw fans from Clearwater, Tampa and other areas. But baseball ended up in downtown St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field.

    In the past decade, Gateway has become a fast-developing business area of the city, attracting a number of new office parks and companies such as Lockheed Martin, Jabil Circuit, Franklin Templeton, Allstate and Raymond James Financial.

    Last year the city decided that one way to expand its economic base and bring in more jobs was to consider selling the sod farm, on 28th Street N between 94th and 102nd avenues and accessible to Interstate 275 from Gandy and Roosevelt boulevards.

    About half the sod farm acreage is developable. The site has several ponds on it.

    When it asked for proposals, the city said it wanted projects of at least 600,000 square feet of manufacturing space and a minimum of 1,800 jobs.

    The chosen developer must complete the project in five years and not require any financing from the city or expect the city to pay for any of the project.

    The three private developers who submitted proposals are:

    Fred Thomas of Clearwater, who wants to build a new headquarters for his Porpoise Pool & Patio, of which an affiliate is Pinch A Penny pool, patio and spa company. He offered $3.2-million.

    Grady Pridgen, whose company, Grady Pridgen Inc. in St. Petersburg, has developed several office parks in the Gateway area. He offered $5-million.

    Harrod Properties of Largo, which says it has a national company interested in moving its headquarters. Harrod offered $3.6-million.

    Pinellas County offered $4.6-million, saying the best long-term use of the sod farm is for solid waste disposal for St. Petersburg and the county's other 23 municipalities "to ensure low-cost, responsible solid waste management well into the future."

    The sod farm site is next to the existing county waste recovery facility, and in the 1980s the county bought some of its land for its garbage incinerator.

    When the city decided last year to put the sod farm up for sale, it already knew of the county's interest in it. An economic development official said then a sale to the county was not the city's first choice because there would be no long-term tax benefit.

    Thomas' company, Porpoise, now has its headquarters in Clearwater, with 400 employees. It also has 135 franchise locations throughout the Southeast and about 1,000 employees in those.

    Porpoise's plans call for 250,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehousing space and 50,000 square feet for offices, including the corporate headquarters. Another 336,000 square feet would be for office and industrial space that would be sold or leased. The blueprint shows that divided among six additional buildings.

    Porpoise would expect to create 1,850 jobs. The company said it would spend $42-million developing the site, and it wants some concessions from the city, including the waiver of transportation impact fees.

    Pridgen developed and leased two business parks near the sod farm site. He now is in the process of buying another piece of property that will allow him to combine the two parks and build an interchange at 16th Street N and Gandy Boulevard for easier access. The development Pridgen proposes is similar to his other two Gateway business parks. He described it as a high-tech manufacturing business park. The park would be built on speculation, as the others were.

    "In the last three years, we have completed a million square feet and been 100 percent leased at completion," Pridgen said.

    His proposal estimates the new park would create 2,000 jobs. Pridgen said he is not asking for any concessions from the city.

    The Harrod project would include a nine-hole golf course for tenants as well as a fitness/wellness center. The development would include 205,000 square feet of office space and 502,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space.

    Harrod said in its proposal that it was negotiating with a Dallas- and Chicago-based company interested in relocating and building new corporate headquarters. The company was not identified.

    Harrod wants the large pond on the property reconfigured to give the company more exposure on I-275. It also said it needs a "grace period" on property taxes during development of the property. It also wants a credit of $1-million for water/sewer and transportation impact fees.

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