St. Lucie County undergoing tremendous building boom along commercial corridors
Plentiful land for large-footprint distribution facilities is powering the growth
BY ANTHONY WESTBURY
Stop at almost any Interstate 95 interchange in St. Lucie County and listen carefully. That rumbling in the background isn’t traffic noise, it’s a rapidly intensifying torrent of industrial and commercial development coming down the pike.
The world has finally discovered St. Lucie County’s wide-open spaces for business parks. Easy access along I-95 to South Florida and an abundance of affordable land for large-footprint commercial buildings has led out-of-town developers to flock to the region.
The epicenter of this activity is the Tradition Jobs Corridor in south county, but, as Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County president Pete Tesch noted, almost any interchange in the county between Fort Pierce and Becker Road has or will have its share of large-scale commercial developments in the near future. Many of these will exceed 1 million square feet, and are likely both to improve the tax base and offer hundreds of new good-paying jobs.
A recent council report listed five major commercial real estate companies with pending or active interest in developing commerce parks. These span the distance between The Treasure Coast Research Park off Kings Highway in the north down to Becker Road in the south.
The county lies within a three-hour drive of 70 percent of Florida and has significantly lower labor and land costs than anywhere else in southeast Florida, the report noted.
“Yes, it’s our time,” Tesch agreed. “Prominent national developers certainly are becoming more aware of us.”
One of those is the Sansone Group, a St. Louis, Missouri, real estate company that recently announced two prominent commercial clients in its Legacy Park commercial center at Tradition. The commerce park will eventually house more than 5 million square feet of commercial space, according to Jeff Greenwalt of Sansone.
Already under construction is a 245,000-square-foot regional distribution and logistics center for FedEx. Coming soon is a 500,000-square foot regional hub for food services distributor Cheney Brothers of West Palm Beach. Another development that will encompass almost 250,000 square feet, code named Project Senior, should break ground by September, Greenwalt said.
“The explosion of e-commerce and changes in logistics [handling] have created a demand for large last-mile distribution facilities,” Greenwalt noted. “These [require] a large footprint. There’s no suitable land anywhere else in South Florida. Port St. Lucie is the closest to the Miami and West Palm Beach markets.
“We’re working with several Fortune 500 companies and have their stamp of approval.”
Greenwalt said Legacy Park should encompass 5.4 million square feet of commercial development at build-out. He envisages the park as being fully committed within 18 to 24 months.
Tesch said the county has reached a point of critical mass in terms of its economy and demographics. It has a maturing economy. Other development drivers include an available and capable workforce,Tesch said, but the availability of large parcels of affordable commercially zoned land is the real driving force. The EDC report noted that St. Lucie County has the lowest industrial land costs in southeastern Florida — at $1.50 a square foot, compared to $6.58 in Miami and $5.00 in Palm Beach County.
“We’re getting a lot of inquiries,” Tesch said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s a lot of intense interest [in us].”
Tesch pointed out there also is a ballooning manufacturing and warehousing presence a little farther north of Legacy Park within the Tradition Jobs Corridor, a 4-mile-long strip of land alongside the interstate.
Wire manufacturing company Accel International [up to 150,000 square feet] and precision optical manufacturer Oculus Surgical also have relocated to the jobs corridor, along with lighting fixture manufacturer Tamco/City Electric.
“So, we have a lot of big-boxes in distribution,” Tesch said, “but advanced manufacturing is going to become more important here.”
FORT PIERCE GROWTH
Further north, at the intersection of I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike in western Fort Pierce, Interstate Crossroads Business Park has long been a top location for distribution and warehousing. The park is partially built out, but there are still 132 acres left to develop, Tesch said.
“They have very competitive pricing relative to Tradition,” he added. “It may be that their time is coming.”
He noted that bids have been solicited for 1.1 million square feet of distribution facilities at Crossroads.
“They’re building spec, but I suspect they have a brand-name tenant in mind. We’re not privy to any particulars yet, but I know they have had some interest.”
Another giant commercial/residential and shopping destination at the intersection of I-95 and Midway Road is on the drawing board. LTC Ranch Industrial will house a more than 1 million-square-foot single-user distribution center on 108 acres that will include more than 1,000 parking spaces for employees, loading bays for trucks and 390 drop-trailer parking spaces.
Again, the name of the tenant is confidential, Tesch explained, but local rumors that a very prominent online retailer will occupy the space are hard to avoid.
As Jill Marasa, the EDC ‘s vice president of business retention and expansion, noted, “as the parking lot tells you, it will be a lot of jobs. This is a very large and complex project. It is on a very rapid time frame.”
Close by, the LTC Ranch housing development has been an on-again, off-again project since the late 1990s. It is a go again under the auspices of national homebuilding giant D.R. Horton Homes. The company plans 4,000 single and multifamily homes and other development on the site.
A little further north, south of Orange Avenue in Fort Pierce, Seefried Development of Atlanta is planning a 650,000-square-foot industrial and warehousing facility.
Not much further north, Ashley Capital of Atlanta, one of the nation’s largest real estate investment companies, is seeking to acquire the 550-acre Treasure Coast Research Park off Kings Highway to develop it as a Class A+ commerce park for distribution, warehousing, e-commerce and manufacturing users.
“It’s all pretty phenomenal in my mind,” Tesch admitted. “Over the next 12 to 18 months we’ll be seeing major developments on almost every I-95 interchange between Fort Pierce and Becker Road. It’s the first time in my career I could be accused of helping to create too many jobs!”
Tesch noted that 60 percent of St. Lucie County’s workforce travels outside the county for work. He believes the upcoming wave of commercial development in St. Lucie could be an opportunity to reverse that daily flow and keep some of those people closer to home.
Port St. Lucie City Manager Russ Blackburn has been at the helm of the city’s efforts to attract jobs to the city.
FIRST BIG INVESTMENT
Blackburn traced the beginning of the popularity of the Tradition Jobs Corridor to the decision of Tamco/City Electric to build there in 2020. Port St. Lucie competed against Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dallas for the development of a 410,000-square-foot lighting fixture manufacturing facility and distribution center, he said.
“That was really the first big investment we had competed for,” Blackburn said. “Then it snowballed after that. The city had the opportunity to take over the Jobs Corridor [from Tradition Land Co., successor to the original developer of Tradition].”
Rather than selling the 1,140-acre corridor as one package, as its former owners had unsuccessfully attempted, the city decided to sell off individual parcels.
“It made a huge difference having a large footprint for big industrial and warehousing,” Blackburn recalled.
After success with Tamco and several other manufacturing and distribution successes by ACCEL International [electrical wire manufacturers] and Oculus Surgical, Blackburn said activity picked up at the southern end of the corridor in what has become Legacy Park.
“The EDC brought in Sansone Group,” Blackburn said. “They proposed buying 65 acres and have an option on an additional 300 acres for a distribution and commerce park. [Sansone] has been very successful in New Jersey and Indiana, and they have very good national connections. We’re now seeing a critical mass of large-footprint facilities that will offer above-average wages and benefits.”
PSL SUCCESSFUL APPROACH
The city manager attributes Port St. Lucie’s success in attracting developers of this caliber to its land bank, its proximity to major markets and a business-friendly approach.
“City Electric chose us for exactly that reason,” he said. “We’re committed to helping [prospective companies] in the development process, in streamlining permitting and building inspections.
“It’s our trademark: We’re here to help you grow,” Blackburn said.
The Sansone Group’s Jeff Greenwalt would agree. He said Sansone chose Port St. Lucie because it offered both the physical space and a much faster development process than most competitors. While other cities can take 12 to 18 months to process the paperwork, Port St. Lucie “has been unbelievably helpful — 90 to 120 days, which is unheard of,” Greenwalt said.
The FedEx project actually took only 108 days to gain site plan approval.
Both Port St. Lucie and St. Lucie County have adopted streamlined permitting and expedited site plan review processes for targeted industries.
Blackburn said the city and county do offer new companies tax breaks, but newcomers only receive 100% relief on property taxes for five years. After that, tax advantages progressively reduce.
“That helps them make a big investment, but it’s not the only factor,” Blackburn said.
POTENTIAL TAX REVENUES
The exact results of new development in boosting the tax base are unclear at the moment, Blackburn said, but prospects look very bright. He noted that the Cheney Brothers project alone could increase city funds by up to $55 million. New employees will pay sales taxes and the St. Lucie County School District will receive enhanced tax income straight away, he said.
The city manager said he’s committed to keeping the welcome mat out as long as possible. That means maintaining a trained and capable workforce, in partnership with Indian River State College and other agencies including the Workforce Development Board.
Blackburn also noted the city is working closely with St. Lucie County in encouraging industrial growth. The county recently announced major expansion efforts for St. Lucie’s burgeoning boat manufacturing industry in the north of the county.
“There’s no question, this could be a golden age for us in St. Lucie County,” Blackburn noted.
“We’ve long been known for affordable housing. Now we’re finally catching up in offering local jobs that require no traveling outside the county. That’s a very big shift for our county.
“There’s a lot going on and more to come,” Blackburn concluded.
When the city first announced the acquisition of the Tradition Jobs Corridor, the city manager had proclaimed, “We’re open for business.” It seems he was absolutely correct.
Treasure Coast Business is a news service and magazine published in print, via e-newsletter and online at tcbusiness.com by Indian River Magazine Inc. For more information or to report news email [email protected]