County’s Landscape Changing Dramatically in 2013

If you thought that 2012 was a busy year for Alachua County economy, brace yourself for 2013.

Business and government leaders see even more economic activity ahead in the next year than occurred in the past year.

“There’s lots on the table that’s falling into place,” says Mitch Glaeser, the incoming chairman of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’re seeing results of many people with different interests working together for huge successes.”

The Business Report is summarizing the forecast for the coming year regarding the following topics:

  • Major business expansion. New projects are expected across the county, no matter where you turn. For example, Alachua-based Nanotherapeutics is awaiting to hear if it wins a $400 million, 10-year federal contract to develop and manufacture pharmaceuticals. In addition, new industry is considering coming as far east as Plum Creek’s land near Hawthorne and as far west as a 150-acre parcel in Archer.
  • New real estate development. Construction is planned to begin on the 10-story University Corners project scheduled to University Avenue and 13th Street. Meanwhile, plans are being completed for the 100-acre expansion of Butler Plaza. Final designs will be unveiled for the adjacent projects of Springhills and Santa Fe Village, located north of Santa Fe College, which eventually could add 4,000 residential units and 1.7 million square feet of commercial and office space.
  • Expansion of economic opportunities. East of South Main Street, the City of Gainesville expects to continue work on Depot Park and to add more companies to the “Power District,” the 16-acre site that previously housed GRU’s equipment and warehouses. In East Gainesville, officials are working on attracting new business, including ones housed in the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center on Hawthorne and areas around the Gainesville Regional Airport
  • Biomass plant. As work on the new biomass power plant is being completed, GRU officials are working on ways to keep the impact on rates as low as possible and to sell excess generating capacity to another power company.
  • Addressing transportation needs. High on the priorities of city, county and community leaders is developing a shared vision for improving transportation—one that voters will agree to fund by taxing themselves.
  • Leadership changes. The University of Florida will welcome a new president. Voters will have the chance to elect the Gainesville mayor. The county commission will select a new manager, due to the upcoming retirement of County Manager Rick Drummond. The city will hire a new director for the Community Redevelopment Agency, due to resignation of Director Kelly Fisher, who is leaving because of her husband’s relocation.

 

Major Business Expansion

While growth is expected to continue in Gainesville, with the expansion of Mindtree, SumTotal and a broad groups of innovative companies, look for major announcements in outlying areas.

In Alachua, biotech company Nanotherapeutics, based in the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua, is competing for a $400 million, 10-year federal contract to develop and manufacture pharmaceuticals that could create the jobs, which would pay an average salary of $90,000, says Edgar Palafox, Alachua County’s economic development coordinator.

The Alachua County Commission and the Alachua City Commission each have approved $105,000 in tax rebates to support job training for the project. They would go along with state tax rebates for a total amount of $1.05 million.

Nanotherapeutics is interested in locating the proposed plant on a 280-parcel owned by the UF Foundation and next to the Progress Corporate Park, says Bruce Delaney, the foundation’s director of real estate.

If it wins the project, the firm has plans for to build a $150 million 145,000-square-foot expansion, according to its application for the job-training tax rebates.

Meanwhile, RTI Biologics is planning to construct an additional building in the Progress Corporate Park.

The company, which is a leading provider of implants used for orthopedic and dental surgery and other applications, will add to its existing 133,000 square feet of space in three buildings and 38,000 of leased space, says spokeswoman Jenny Highlander. The company plans to release details of the project soon. (See related story on Page x.)

 

Companies Consider Plum Creek Projects

Outside companies are showing interest in developing manufacturing plants on parts of land that the timber and development company Plum Creek owns between Hawthorne and Newnans Lake.

The Envision Alachua Task Force, which Plum Creek created, is enthusiastic about the prospects of a new plant creating jobs.

“The major challenge for me is to contain my enthusiasm,” says task force member Adrian Taylor, senior minister of Springhill Missionary Baptist Church in Gainesville.

 

Archer Attracting Interest

In Archer, several manufacturers have expressed in locating on 150 acres with 1,600 feet of rail frontage that Melvin Lauderdale owns, says City Manager Al Grieshaber.

The city commission is scheduled to make its final vote on Lauderdale’s request to rezone the land to industrial use on Jan. 14.

“I think Archer needs to get back to its roots of using rail to spur economic development,” Grieshaber says. “We’re on the cusp of economic development, with an available labor force and the ability to train workers at the Davis Center of Santa Fe College.”

 

New Real Estate Development

University Corners was first proposed 10 years ago, but it was never built, leaving a large vacant lot at the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street.

Now, South Florida developer the Swerdlow Group has taken over the project, and it plans to begin construction this summer, if it receives all city approvals.

The mixed-use development would include retail space, about 500 apartments or condominiums, a hotel and a parking garage.

Nearby, Roger Development Group of Coral Gables plans to start on the six-story One College Park housing and retail project behind Saint Augustine Catholic Church north of the UF campus, if it receives final city approval.

“I’m glad to see projects near campus moving again,” says attorney David Coffey, who represents the developers of the both University Corners and One College Park. “It’s exciting to see financing become available for what the market is demanding, highly dense urban development.”

At Innovation Square, Trimark Development will begin building its 150,000-square-foot Infusion Technology Center next to the Florida Technology Hub at UF and development of the Ayers Building for innovative companies will continue.

 

Expanding Economic Opportunities

Newly elected Alachua County Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV, a former city commissioner, says local government needs to give attention to the needs of East Gainesville.

“I have to travel to West Gainesville to eat and shop,” Chestnut says. “Something is wrong. We need economic development on both sides of the county.”

Chestnut says he plans to push the city and the county to work together to develop the airport area, including creating a business park at the current fairgrounds site. The county has pursued a new home for the fairgrounds for several years, and it’s now focused on developing a shared site with the Gainesville Raceway.

 

Depot Park and Power District

East of South Main Street, the City of Gainesville expects to continue work on Depot Park.

A two-acre section of the park and the renovated depot building are complete and three companies have submitted proposals for a restaurant in the building, CRA Director Kelly Fisher says.

In 2013, the Gainesville Public Works Department will complete building ponds at the park—which will hold storm water from downtown as well as contribute to landscaping the park, Fisher says.

The final Depot Park landscaping will be completed in 2014, and construction of the Cade Museum of Creativity and Innovation will follow.

The city is working to add more companies to the “Power District,” the 16-acre site that previously housed GRU’s equipment and warehouses.

Prioria Robotics, which make unmanned recognizance aircraft, is the first company in the Power District. It’s renovating a 2,000-square-foot warehouse for its headquarters.

 

Biomass Plant

While critics still question the city’s wisdom in contracting for electricity from a biomass plant, construction is expected to be done by the end of 2013.

GRU officials are working on ways to keep the impact on rates as low as possible and to sell excess generating capacity to another power company.

Mayor Craig Lowe stands by the decision to build the biomass plant. “Any new generation capacity carries a cost with it,” he says. “Our cost is predictable, while the eventual cost of repairing the Crystal River nuclear plant is unknown, and that plant may never reopen.”

The biomass plant brings with it an economic benefit because the fuel for it is coming from within the area, Lowe says. “We made a long-term decision that I think will prove to be sustainable in the long run,” he says.

 

Addressing Transportation Needs

High on the priorities of most city and county commissioners is developing a shared vision for improving transportation—one that voters will agree to fund by taxing themselves. (See related story on Page x.)

Both Gainesville and county commissioners say they don’t want to repeat the split between them over the last year that contributed to a resounding defeat of a transportation sales tax proposal.

County Commissioner Susan Baird sees transportation funding as a key to prosperity. “One of the main roles of government is to provide good infrastructure, including roads,” she says.

 

Leadership Changes

UF will welcome a new president.

Voters will have the chance to elect the Gainesville mayor, with several candidates having announced their candidacy and Lowe seeking reelection.

When former County Manager Randall Reid left to become the Sarasota County administrator, Rick Drummond agreed to serve until his retirement, which will occur in the middle of the year. The newly elected county commission will conduct a search to replace Drummond.

“The person we select has to be someone who’s innovative in the direction he wants to take Alachua County,” Chestnut says. “The county is at a crossroads, whether we move forward and continue to be progressive or whether we become stagnant and just be a quaint small county.”

City Manager Russ Blackburn says he’s sorry to see Kelly Fisher leave as CRA director, a position she has held for the past year. “She did a wonderful job,” he says.

The CRA director plays a key role in expanding economic development, Blackburn says.

It’s major role is to make available money from increased tax value in certain areas to build infrastructure and underwrite the cost of new buildings.

One of the beneficiaries of this funding is the University Corners project. “We help provide incentives for projects that transform the community,” Fisher says.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Knee

    This is great news! No Mayans are coming here.
    Also of interest is public art installations that will enhance the landscape of downtown starting this Friday, Dec 21. Workers will begin installing outdoor sculptures on the four corners of Union Street Station on the private property portions of the walkways. They’re privately funded and we owe a lot to Nava of Persona Vintage Clothing for getting things started.
    Public art whether privately or publicly funded enhances the urban look and makes a city more up to date and sophisticated, like much larger cities.

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