Friday, February 16, 2018
Business

Jabil Circuit considers building headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Jabil Circuit is considering building a new worldwide headquarters near Tropicana Field, a five-block project that would help transform downtown St. Petersburg.

The electronics manufacturer, currently based in the city's Gateway area but spread out in several locations county-wide, has long discussed a headquarters to unify about 1,600 local employees.

Downtown is one of three potential locations, Dave Goodwin, the city's planning and economic development director, confirmed Wednesday. Two other sites were already known to be under consideration: Jabil's current campus on Dr. Martin Luther King Street N and Roosevelt Boulevard and roughly 100 empty acres that Jabil owns at Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275.

A draft plan for the downtown site foresees a 360,000 square foot campus of Class A office space and parking that would make it downtown's largest commercial complex, Goodwin said. The city would contribute $8 million for land acquisition, in exchange for Jabil meeting job targets.

Jabil is the second-largest public company headquartered in Tampa Bay and the area's largest global employer, with 175,000 workers in more than 50 countries.

Jabil CEO Mark Mondello said via email on Wednesday that the company was "most certainly committed to St. Pete, but absolutely undecided on a specific location."

In previous interviews, he said the company was looking at "a single headquarters" which it could bring together employees now scattered in up to nine locations throughout Pinellas County.

Mondello, who became CEO in March, also indicated that a decision is likely this year, adding that the exact timing hinges in part on when the company's current office leases expire.

"We're a Pinellas company and we want to stay within Pinellas County — even if the economics aren't exactly on par with other offers (in and outside Florida) — if we decided to construct a headquarters," he said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in February. "Based on the conversations we've had, I think Jabil and Pinellas County will be able to figure out a good solution."

Goodwin favors the downtown St. Petersburg site.

"It would be a game changer'' for the Trop area and could boost the downtown workforce by 10 percent, Goodwin said. "We would love to have them downtown if that is their desire," he said. "We would work with them to accomplish that goal.''

The site in question is often referred to as the Webb's City area, one of St. Petersburg's thriving retail centers decades ago but now dominated by empty parking lots and vacant storefronts. A corporate headquarters the size of Jabil's could bind the area to more vibrant parts of downtown St. Petersburg and spur development along the Central Avenue corridor.

The proposed site would be bounded by the Trop's eastern edge, Eighth Street, First Avenue S and Fourth Avenue S. It would include two vacant blocks owned by the city, as well as private property containing a U-Haul storage facility, AAA's St. Petersburg office and the Winn-Dixie Plaza, which has struggled to maintain tenants. Urban Style Flats apartments, also in the area, would not be included in the plan.

Private property in the five block area is valued on tax rolls at a little more than $7 million.

A unified Jabil headquarters would be akin to luring a big company from out of town, said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

"Jabil right now has such a low profile in terms of its corporate presence," Homans said. "(Having) a Fortune 500 headquarters with a concentration of jobs in one building with the identity of the company more pronounced does an enormous amount to stimulate economic activity all around it. It's good for all of us."

As far back as 2008, Jabil lined up tax incentives to consolidate its headquarters at the northwest corner of Gandy Boulevard and I-275. That project, which included manufacturing space, was estimated at 450,000 square feet. The company secured a promise of at least $8 million in state, city and county tax breaks in exchange for expanding and creating jobs. That project fizzled, no money was paid and those incentives expired.

The downtown property would not include manufacturing space, Goodwin said. Talks with the city began about 18 months ago, he said, and in September, the city drafted a preliminary proposal. Jabil is now considering its options, he said.

The city would expect to recoup some, or all of its money through an existing tax increment financing district, where city and county taxes are devoted to capital development. The deal would need an amendment to current development plans in that district, which would require approval of both the City Council and County Commission.

Jabil would have to build a headquarters of at least 360,000 square feet and take occupancy with at least 1,100 employees, adding at least another 500 workers within five years. If Jabil did not meet the 1,600 job target, it would have to refund up to half the city's investment at a rate of $8,000 per job.

The city would lease its land to Jabil for 30 years for a nominal fee, then deed the property to the company as long as job targets continue to be met. The city would have use of all Jabil surface parking for Tampa Bay Rays games during non-business hours.

Several elements of the city's long-range planning could support the development, Goodwin said. The tax increment financing district plan includes calls for a multi-modal transit center somewhere in the district, which could include a parking garage, Goodwin noted.

A preliminary plan for light rail, if voters approve it, calls for three major stops in downtown St. Petersburg, including one in the general Webb's City area.

Goodwin declined to speculate on whether Tropicana Field's parking lot could be used by Jabil employees during non-game hours. And the Rays declined to comment.

City officials who have contemplated the area's development prospects have long lamented the presence of the U-Haul storage facility, which sits right between the Trop parking lot and two vacant city-owned blocks.

"As far as general development of that area, the U-Haul site is always under consideration,'' Goodwin said. "If you are a businessman and sitting on a pot of gold and don't need that property to do business, you might think about cashing out.''

AREC 8, a Phoenix company that owns the U-Haul storage facility, could not be reached. Nor could representatives of AAA or the out-of-state owners of Winn-Dixie Plaza.

Editor's Note: This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: Urban Style Flats is an apartment complex bordering Tropicana Field at 300 10th St. S. A story and map Thursday listed a different name.

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