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Northwest Florida: A home run


A Home Run

The origins of downtown Pensacola's revitalization date back to 2010, when Quint Studer, health care consultant turned local developer and philanthropist, bought a North Carolina-based AA professional baseball team and moved it to Pensacola.

Studer convinced city officials to build a $24-million baseball stadium on waterfront property across from City Hall. Since it opened in April 2012, the Blue Wahoos Stadium, named after Studer's Cincinnati Redsaffiliated baseball team, has become the linchpin for a wave of downtown Pensacola development that includes dozens of retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.

Much of the development has been funded by Studer and his firm, Studer Community Investments, which he operates with his wife, Rishy. In 2014, the firm completed the $16.5 million, four-story Maritime Place office building adjacent to the stadium. Since then, the company has renovated several downtown buildings.

The Studers also gave $5 million and donated an acre downtown for a $15-million YMCA. The facility is expected to open late this year. Studer, 64, recently announced he is leaving the Studer Group to focus on his downtown investments, including a $50-million, 260-unit apartment building on a four-acre site downtown that he wants to get under way this year.

Other developers are active as well in Pensacola's downtown. Last year, outdoor advertising magnate Bobby Switzer's investment group bought a block of downtown buildings for $7.5 million. Switzer plans to renovate the century-old Brent and Blount buildings with retail space and residential units.

In addition, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a nonprofit robotics and artificial intelligence research institution, has nearly finished a $7.3-million, 30,400-sq.- ft. Expansion of its downtown Pensacola headquarters.

IHMC CEO Ken Ford says the building will more than double the institute's current space and help with recruiting and retaining staff.

Meanwhile, a Tennessee firm broke ground this year on a 100-room Holiday Inn Express on Main Street, adjacent to several of the Studers' retail shops.

"We're definitely in the midst of a building boom in downtown Pensacola, and what's driving it is capital and confidence," says Scott Luth, president and CEO of Florida West Economic Development Alliance.

"It's generating a lot of interest in other folks with capital who have not done deals in the community in quite a while but are now starting to recognize new investment opportunities."



A number of projects are driving growth in Tallahassee's downtown core, starting with the construction of student housing.

"There have been over 5,000 new student housing beds built within one mile of the capitol in the past three years, much of which is mixed use and urban in nature," says Jay Revell, executive director of the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority.

Onyx, a large-scale student housing development with nearly 600 beds and 20,000 square feet of retail space, was completed in fall 2015. Located between the heart of downtown and the Florida State University campus, Onyx "is a good example of how modern, updated student housing is changing how our young talent is interacting with our downtown," says Revell.

On another front, some of Tallahassee's most prominent and successful lobbyists have begun to buy and redevelop properties. "This high-income industry is beginning to significantly redevelop Capitol Hill," Revell says.

Brian Ballard, president at Ballard Partners, a well-known Tallahasseebased lobbying firm, bought downtown property in 2015 and plans to build a $15-million to $20-million, six-story office tower that will include suites for his firm and other tenants. The building, expected to be completed late next year, will be one of the largest redevelopment projects in downtown Tallahassee's recent history, says Revell.

Meanwhile, Southern Strategy Group, another large lobbying firm, has renovated a two-story office building downtown, putting executive housing suites upstairs and two restaurants downstairs.

People to Watch

» Kim Rivers: Rivers is a principal in Inkbridge, the leading company revamping downtown Tallahassee's hospitality and restaurant industry. The 37-year-old Rivers and her team recently renovated Hotel Duval and are now focusing on a major renovation of the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Tallahassee.

» Allan Bense: A Panama City businessman and former Florida Speaker of the House, Bense chairs Triumph Gulf Coast, a non-profit foundation in charge of distributing $1.5 billion in oil spill compensation money to eight Panhandle counties.

» Rick Byars: Gulf Power's community and economic development general manager, Byars also chairs Florida's Great Northwest, a non-profit marketing and branding council for 16 Florida counties.

» Bob Bonezzi: Bonezzi is an active investor and developer in the Destin- Okaloosa County area, with a recent project portfolio that includes The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island, Meigs Executive Park, Live Oak Commons and Marsh Harbor Executive Park.

» Lewis Bear Jr.: A close confidant of Gov. Rick Scott and scion of the Bear Family Foundation, Bear is a major Pensacola-based philanthropic donor. Bear's most recent gifts include $1 million to the University of West Florida, $2 million to support kindergarten readiness, and $1 million toward a new YMCA in downtown Pensacola.

» Adam Corey: President of Unconventional Strategies, a new Tallahassee-based lobbying firm, Corey also heads a group of local investors behind the development of several restaurants, including 101 on Kleman Plaza and the new Edison in Cascades Park.

Regional Roundup

» Leon County

County population: 292,382, „¼+5.1% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.4%

Per capita income: $41,549

TALLAHASSEE — Construction is under way on a new laboratory for Danfoss, a manufacturer of magnetic bearing compressors. The 22,000-sq.-ft. structure will be built adjacent to the company's existing facility, which houses its engineering and manufacturing operations.

» Escambia County

County population: 309,135, „¼+3.2% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.9%

Per capita income: $42,108

PENSACOLA — Construction is under way on Navy Federal Credit Union's $594-million latest expansion, which will accommodate 5,000 employees. Completion is expected in late 2018 or early 2019, says CEO Cutler Dawson.

» Bay County

County population: 180,474, „¼+6.3% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.2%

Per capita income: $41,215

PANAMA CITY — Transportation assets fueled much of Bay County's economic progress in 2015. The addition of commercial flights at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport led the way, with total passenger growth up nearly 10% over 2014, according to airport Director Parker McClellan. Port Panama City's largest tenant, Eastern Shipbuilding Group, added 150 jobs in 2015, and Berg Steel Pipe, another port tenant, added 180 jobs in 2015.

» Okaloosa County

County population: 198,376, „¼+8.2% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.1%

Per capita income: $49,267

FORT WALTON BEACH — Fort Walton Beach's Brooks Landing Waterfront Park has been redeveloped with shoreline restoration and improvements to lighting and landscaping.

» Santa Rosa County

County population: 171,013, „¼+9.8% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.3%

Per capita income: $41,383

SANTA ROSA COUNTY — The county is focusing on developing commercial buildings, says Shannon Ogletree, director of economic development. "We're seeing numerous inquiries from overseas, the West Coast and Southeast for buildings between 30,000 to 50,000 square feet with ceiling heights of at least 30 feet," says Ogletree.

» Walton County

County population: 64,544, „¼+15.8% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.5%

Per capita income: $41,727

WALTON COUNTY — The FedEx freight handling facility is under construction at Walton County's Mossy Head Industrial Park. The building will be a major distribution hub for FedEx ground service operations, says Steve Jaeger, executive director of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance.

» Calhoun County

County population: 15,069, „¼+2.0% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.5%

Per capita income: $25,902

ALTHA — Joint funding commitments in 2015 by local municipal and county governments led to the January groundbreaking on a $3.2-million, 10-mile expansion of the Blountstown sewer system. The expansion will link the town of Altha and the Calhoun County Industrial Park with the Blountstown facility.

» Dixie County

County population: 16,367, „¼+0.1% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.2%

Per capita income: $25,612

DIXIE COUNTY — Hitchcock's Groceries moved to a facility in Old Town, adding 30 jobs. Dixie Wood Products, a wood pellet manufacturer, expanded operations in 2015, adding 10 jobs. A runway at Cross City Airport has been repaved using FAA and Florida Department of Transportation funding, totaling $1.8 million. Ten new hangars at the Cross City Airport are being constructed with $1.5 million from FDOT.

» Franklin County

County population: 12,024, „¼+4.6% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.3%

Per capita income: $34,047

FRANKLIN COUNTY — Tourism in July, August and September helped boost Franklin County's tourist development tax revenue past the $1-million mark for the second straight year. County officials are funding a major effort to restock oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay, says Alan Pierce, director of administrative services.

» Gadsden County

County population: 46,904, „½¡X1.0% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 6.0%

Per capita income: $32,252

GADSDEN COUNTY — The Gadsden County Development Council is working a project pipeline that totals 414 potential jobs and $38 million in proposed capital investment, says Beth Kirkland, executive director of the Gadsden County Development Council. Gadsden commissioners also have established a policy for awarding tax reduction incentives to companies that create jobs that pay more than the county's average wage of $31,828, Kirkland says.

» Gulf County

County population: 16,060, „¼+2.4% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Per capita income: $30,018

PORT ST. JOE — Local officials and business leaders are focusing on securing state and federal funds to dredge the navigable channel to Port St. Joe. "Our focus is to get the port open and get the channel dredged to a depth of 35 feet," says Chris Holley, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition.

» Holmes County

County population: 20,287, „¼+2.3% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.4%

Per capita income: $30,796

HOLMES COUNTY — Holmes County's development commission has signed leases with TransCore, a traffic-signal maintenance and repair company, and a startup manufacturer that has yet to be named, says Raymon Thomas, the commission's executive director. Both companies will be operating within the 270-acre Holmes County Industrial Park.

» Jackson County

County population: 49,882, „¼+1.6% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.1%

Per capita income: $32,144

JACKSON COUNTY — Jackson County is working to secure site certification for two more of its four industrial park sites this year, says Bill Stanton, executive director of the Jackson County Development Council. The county's goal is to have four industrial park sites certified under a Florida First Site program sponsored by Gulf Power.

» Jefferson County

County population: 14,595, „¼+0.7% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.1%

Per capita income: $32,144

LLOYD — Jefferson County has hired an attorney and architect for a proposed $28-million sports complex in the Lloyd community, just off I-10.

» Lafayette County

County population: 9,130, „¼+3.5% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.1%

Per capita income: $23,033

LAFAYETTE COUNTY — A Plus Trailers & Fabrication owner and CEO Tom Caldwell says the company landed a large contact last year to fabricate 250 custom-built trailers for a major Southeastern manufacturer of tiny houses.

» Liberty County

County population: 8,745, „¼+6.2% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.0%

Per capita income: $28,761

LIBERTY COUNTY — Local officials are working to find a suitable site for a forest products company in Liberty County. Johnny Eubanks, executive director of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, says the original project site chosen in 2015 encountered environmental problems.

» Madison County

County population: 18,926, „½¡X1.0% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.1%

Per capita income: $29,578

MADISON COUNTY — Madison County officials will participate in Duke Energy's Site Readiness Program, an evaluation process that leads to full certification for industrial and commerce park sites, says Crawford Powell, the county's economic development consultant.

» Taylor County

County population: 23,272, „¼+2.6% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.8%

Per capita income: $30,614

PERRY — Duke Energy broke ground in late January on its Perry Solar Facility. The plant is expected to generate some 5 megawatts from an array of 22,000 solar panels on a 22-acre site.

» Wakulla County

County population: 32,569, „¼+5.2% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 4.0%

Per capita income: $34,391

MEDART — Tallahassee Community College has opened the first phase of its Wakulla Environmental Institute in Medart. John Shuff, co-chair of the county's Economic Development Council, says the 10,000-sq.-ft. facility will offer educational opportunities, including courses in firefighting and forestry.

» Washington County

County population: 25,055, „¼+1.9% vs. 2011

Unemployment rate: 5.2%

Per capita income: $27,885

BONIFAY — Washington and Holmes County commissioners are working with the city of Bonifay to create an authority that would fund construction of water and sewer lines to several communities in Washington County. "The lack of water and sewer lines is inhibiting Washington County's growth," says Ted Everett, executive director of Washington County Chamber of Commerce.