A 130-acre former golf course adjacent to the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is the biggest development opportunity ahead for Pinellas County, said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.
While the property needs work, the Airco Aviation Business Center is drawing a lot of interest from potential tenants, Meidel told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners meeting in a work session on Thursday.
It was the second of two work sessions in which 13 county departments outlined their accomplishments and goals moving forward.
Pinellas County Economic Development, which works to keep and grow existing business and bring new businesses to the county, cited 14 corporate relocations and expansions among its accomplishments for the most recent fiscal year, with 839 projected new jobs and 2,117 current jobs retained. Those businesses expect $127.7 million in capital investments.
Two of the biggest projects announced during the year were a $67.3 million expansion by Jabil, creating 300 new jobs, and the relocation of S.S. White to Seminole from New Jersey, with a projected 125 new jobs.
There are not large tracts of land available in Pinellas County for projects, so economic developers focus on smaller and privately-owned companies with 30 to 150 employees that need 30,000 to 40,000 square feet, Meidel said.
Going forward, Meidel said the Airco site, southeast of the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, offers a lot of potential.
The property is zoned for office and industrial use, and the airport is expected to complete an environmental assessment on the land this spring.
“It’s right on the runway. The aviation, aerospace, defense industries are doing extremely well right now and we’ve got three interested in the Airco property today that have looked at the site, so we’re real hopeful for that,” Meidel said. “It also can be office. The part adjacent to the runway would be aviation related, and as you get closer to the southeast side of that site we could look at some office space perhaps.”
There also could be a hotel and restaurant on part of the property, he said.
The county controls the land, which could be a drawback for some tenants.
“It would have to be a long-term land lease, which not every client will want,” Meidel said.
In addition, work is needed to fill in ponds that take up about 20 acres on the site, and to elevate the land out of the flood plain.
Pinellas County Economic Development also is working with the Public Works department to provide better access to land along 126th Avenue from 66th Street to 28th Street.
“There’s quite a few acres of industrial land that’s privately held that’s in that area but has terrible access right now, so that will help bring new land onto the market,” Meidel said.
He also wants to figure out how to work with developers to create more office space in central business districts. Vacancy rates are near all-time lows and rents are climbing, so the need for office space is apparent, but rents have not reached the price point that they need to be at to support new construction, according to developers.
Pinellas County Economic Development could potentially tap the next round of the Penny for Pinellas tax to support office construction. Meidel said the county could offset parking costs for new tenants, or possibly own office floors.
“We would own the office space. It would be up to us to rent it. We would know we would probably lose money on the construction costs. We would pay more for the space than we would necessarily get back in rents, but we would have created jobs on that site. So instead of giving an incentive to the client, we would actually create the space that enables the client to locate here,” he said.