St. Joe-subsidized airport sets stage for next wave of Panhandle development
Update mid morning: St. Joe Co. released its third quarter earnings, reporting a loss of $14.4 million compared to a loss of $19.2 million for the third quarter of 2008. More details here.
Wake up and good morning. Florida real estate giant St. Joe Co. often gets likened to a feudal lord, at least in the state's Panhandle where the company's concentration of acreage, development history and astonishing political clout seems to let the firm pretty much do what it wants.
The nasty recession has stalled its pace of development, mostly upscale beachfront projects west of Tallahassee and east of Pensacola. But the delays won't last. The latest stimulus to the Panhandle -- or "Florida's Great Northwest" as St. Joe publicity spinners prefer to call it -- is a new airport (see rendering of terminal) due to start operating next May, built on donated St. Joe land. It is the fruition of years of lobbying by the Jacksonville-based company. The coup de grace: St. Joe convincing Southwest Airlines to fly in and out of the new Bay County airport when it opens, with St. Joe covering any Southwest losses there for the first three years. Here are more details on the joint venture.
The airport replaces a smaller one, which means a significant jet service will be able to draw tourists and, St. Joe hopes, vacation home hunters and retirees more conveniently from a greater swath of the Midwest and Southeast.
The airport (see aerial photo) has been a fundamental strategy for St. Joe, in effect introducing a firehose of new people to the Panhandle instead of the trickling garden hose provided by the smaller Panama City area airport.
A new AP story here catches us up on St. Joe and its Panhandle plans. In the story, St. Joe CEO Britton Greene says the company has a chance to reshape Florida by creating new towns, resorts, shopping centers, hotels and highways in places that haven't experienced much more than a few timber mills for generations until now. St. Joe owns 580,000 acres. Says Greene:
"Because this part of the state is so new and so green we have the opportunity to be one of the leaders in job growth. We don't have the massive vacant real estate overhang that they have in other parts of the state."
Not to mention that the Panhandle boasts some counties with the lowest unemployment rates (one under 6 percent) in the state. Not a bad base to build upon.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist