Raymond James a step closer to Wiregrass move
WESLEY CHAPEL -
Raymond James Financial has moved a step closer to building its Wiregrass Ranch campus by submitting a preliminary site plan and construction documents to Pasco County for review.
The plans call for a 65-acre campus with six four-story office buildings totaling 1 million square feet plus a 550,000-square-foot parking garage. The first phase would include a 168,000-square-foot office building just east of The Shops at Wiregrass.
“That's great news,” County Administrator John Gallagher said. “I've been hearing for months that they were getting ready to submit.”
The site plan differs from Raymond James' initial proposal to build two 100,000-square-foot offices in the first phase.
“We are continually evaluating our occupancy requirements and believe the Wiregrass Ranch property is a good future development opportunity,” said Raymond James spokesman Steve Hollister. “In this step of the due diligence process, we are seeking to ensure we can build the maximum square footage on the property that has been represented.”
Zoning Administrator Carol Clarke said her office will fast-track approval of the plan. Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker will be heavily involved in the process, Clarke said.
“I don't know what their timetable is,” Clarke said. “They want to get things in place so when the time is right they'll be ready to move.”
County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader called the plan submittal “an encouraging move,” but said he would hold off celebrating until Raymond James closes on the property. It has been two years since the company signed a letter of intent to move some of its St. Petersburg offices — and up to 750 high-paying jobs — to Pasco.
Wiregrass Ranch owner and developer J.D. Porter said he expects the closing to take place this month.
But Hollister was less committal, saying that securing the master site permits was simply the next step of a lengthy process. “We cannot commit at this time to when or what will be constructed,” he said.
The county and state have offered a $14 million incentive package to seal the deal with Raymond James.
The multimillion-dollar package breaks down this way:
$4.5 million would go toward road upgrades that officials said also would benefit the public. Wiregrass Ranch Boulevard will be a major north-south connector between State Roads 54 and 56. The state also will pay $4 million to build the main access road for the 65-acre site.
The remaining $5.5 million in incentives would be tax breaks spread over 17 years, averaging about $324,000 a year.
Gallagher said the county attorney's office is reviewing the development agreement with Raymond James in anticipation of the company asking for an extension.
“All of these agreements have deadlines,” Gallagher said. “In this economy, it's not unusual for a company to get multiple extensions. I used to frown on that but I don't anymore.”
The plan submittal was one of several major milestones for Wiregrass Ranch. Last week, the Porter family formally donated 138 acres just north of the Raymond James site to Pasco County for a future sports complex. The Florida Legislature also approved the final $6.9 million installment to complete construction of a Pasco-Hernando Community College campus in Wesley Chapel.
“It's something that, in combination with everything else happening out there, will change the face of this county,” Clarke said.
Raymond James was the second major financial firm to announce plans to move to Pasco. Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price will move its Tampa offices to 90 acres on State Road 54, although construction of that office complex has been delayed because of the sluggish economy.
The Wiregrass plans were submitted the same week Raymond James announced it would lay off 160 employees, including 115 people at its Pinellas headquarters. Hollister said the layoffs largely were the result of employment overlap following the company's acquisition of Virginia-based Morgan Keegan & Co. last year.
The cuts leave 3,200 employees at the St. Petersburg office.