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Raymond James financial plans to buy Pasco County land

Thanks in part to incentives, including a hefty chunk of state road money, Raymond James Financial said Wednesday it intends to buy property in Wesley Chapel that could be used for a major expansion.

"Raymond James has signed a letter of intent for the purchase of property in Wiregrass Ranch in Pasco County," company spokesman Steve Hollister said in a statement. "But we are in the process of conducting due diligence and cannot share details about our plans unless and until an agreement is executed."

The announcement comes as lawmakers unveiled a state budget that includes $4 million for two new roads at Wiregrass for "a business expansion expected to create capacity for 750 corporate services jobs."

Rep. Will Weatherford, who secured the money during last-minute negotiations with the Senate, confirmed it is part of an incentive package to lure the Raymond James expansion.

"We're trying to help close that deal," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "It would be a huge, huge step for Pasco County."

Wiregrass is one of two Pasco sites Raymond James is considering for a satellite campus that could be half the size of its sprawling 1 million square-foot headquarters in the Carillon Parkway complex in St. Petersburg. The company is also considering sites in Hillsborough.

The company previously said the current headquarters will reach capacity over the next few years. The firm considered building a fifth tower at Carillon but wanted a location less vulnerable to hurricanes to house operations such as the IT department. Hollister said Wednesday that potential uses for the new campus have not been determined.

J.D. Porter, whose family owns Wiregrass Ranch, would not comment Wednesday on the deal. "We've got a lot of deals going on all the time,'' he said. "At this point we're not at liberty to comment on anything."

John Walsh, vice president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, also said he could not comment directly on the deal. In general, he cautioned against getting too excited about the firm's announcement. "Letters of intent are signed all the time, and it all depends on whether the details can be worked out."

The firm's initial request for proposals says the campus could be 300,000 to 500,000 square feet.

In the latest St. Petersburg Times' rankings, Raymond James was the seventh-largest public company in Tampa Bay with $2.6 billion in annual revenue.

Before Raymond James confirmed it intends to buy land in Pasco, County Commissioner Ted Schrader said he thought the company would make a decision soon. "We feel confident that we're going to be competitive with the proposal we put together," he said.

Schrader said county officials were "working feverishly" to put together an incentive package that included the state road money. He declined to discuss other items in the offer until the firm makes a decision.

Landing Raymond James would be a major trophy for Pasco officials as they try to change the county's decades-old image as a bedroom community. In 2009, Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price bought 94 acres off State Road 54 near Land O'Lakes for an office complex that could bring 1,600 jobs over the next decade. Construction on T. Rowe's first building must be finished by 2015.

Officials have promised $30 million in state and county incentives for T. Rowe if it brings enough jobs with a high enough average wage.

With a second major banking and investment firm choosing Pasco, the county could promote itself as a financial services hub.

"It really changes the game," Weatherford said.

If the deal at Wiregrass were to fall through, the $4 million in state road money would revert to a transportation fund and could be used for other economic development projects.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com. Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com.

Raymond James financial plans to buy Pasco County land 05/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 8:42pm]
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