NEW PORT RICHEY — Construction could begin as early as next year on the first of two Raymond James Financial towers, executives said Tuesday after the Pasco County Commission approved a $10 million incentive package for the firm's new Wesley Chapel campus.
Raymond James executives who showed up for the unanimous vote said they hope to open the first tower by 2013 and complete the second tower by 2020.
"This is a first step," said James Soble, an attorney for the St. Petersburg-based financial services company. "There's a lot of planning that needs to be done."
Company officials will spend up to nine months performing "due diligence" on the Wiregrass Ranch site at State Road 56 and Mansfield Boulevard to make sure it has no environmental problems, said company spokesman Steve Hollister.
County commissioners were all smiles at Tuesday's meeting. The company expects to eventually bring 750 jobs to Pasco. The move is also expected to add $40 million to county property tax rolls and generate $135 million in taxable sales, according an analysis by the Pasco Economic Development Council.
"This has been a very fruitful process for Pasco County," said County Administrator John Gallagher, who noted that county staff worked on Sunday to make sure the documents were completed in time. "This is just the beginning of trying to change the way we do business."
The landing of Raymond James is huge for Pasco County, particularly since it comes on the heels of financial giant T. Rowe Price's purchase of 94 acres on State Road 54 near Land O'Lakes for an office complex that is expected to create 1,600 jobs over the next decade.
Pasco has been trying to transform itself from a bedroom community to an employment center. Being the runnerup for an expansion of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, the collapse of the housing market and the urging of private business leaders all played a role in the county's efforts.
"John Gallagher and the staff were fantastic," Soble said. "We look forward to continuing to work with them."
To help expedite the process, the county formed a rapid response team of top administrators to help break through any red tape. It was similar to what was done for T. Rowe, and assistant county attorney David Goldstein says it will likely be done for other high-profile projects. He stressed at the meeting that none of the incentives offered to Raymond James required a property tax increase.
"The $1.9 million was already set aside for economic development," he said, referring to the money the county will pay Raymond James for job creation.
In addition to the $10 million in various incentives from the county, the state is kicking in about $5 million.
The race to win Raymond James was competitive, with company officials reviewing more than 80 sites in the Tampa Bay area as well as the company's operations center in Southfield, Mich.
But Wiregrass won out because of its access to the interstate, its location farther from hurricane evacuation routes, the availability of land and the sweeteners that were offered, said company officials and Don Porter, one of the principal landowners of the ranch.
Porter said the process began about a year ago when engineers who worked with them learned of an unnamed company that wanted to build a new site. "They asked if we were interested," he said. "For a long time, we didn't even know who we were dealing with."
News of the deal, along with language in a state grant application, drew some concern in Pinellas because it described 350 "net new jobs" and 400 "retained" jobs.
But officials reiterated their intentions to maintain the work force in Pinellas at the Carillon Parkway office complex. "There will be no change in the head count in Pinellas County," Soble said.
Hollister said that new location is solely for expansion and that no jobs would be taken from Pinellas or Michigan.
"If current corporate headquarters-based employees move to the new location to fill expansion-related jobs there, a similar number of positions would be expected to be retained or created at the corporate headquarters in Pinellas County to keep the home office at or near capacity," he said.
Not that anyone at the Pasco County Commission meeting was worrying about that as they basked in the glow of the victory.
"Now Gallagher's getting a chance to play with the big boys," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who jumped up like an eager schoolkid when Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand called for a motion to approve the deal.
"Raymond James Financial — gosh, that does sound nice," Hildebrand said as she read the agenda item.
In other news, commissioners:
• Gave final approval to the $1 billion county budget. The spending plan keeps the property tax rate the same as the current year, $7.68 on every $1,000 of assessed value. Because of declining property values, the county lost $3.3 million in property taxes. The spending plan includes money to keep operating the two county pools and for Sheriff Chris Nocco to hire 23 new staffers to combat prescription drug abuse. The budget takes effect Oct. 1. Commissioner Jack Mariano was the lone no vote, citing continued dissatisfaction with the $2 parking fee at 11 county parks. "It's still a sticking point for me that I feel very strongly about," he said.
• Approved a rate increase for people on the county's water and sewer system. A bill for a typical home using 6,000 gallons per month would go up from $60 to $65. That bill would also rise gradually over the next four years to $72. Officials say the higher rates are caused by inflation and planned capital improvements.
• Approved the new boundaries for commission districts that the county will use for the next 10 years. After rebalancing the population after the census, each district now has roughly 93,000 people. The school district traditionally uses the same district boundaries and earlier gave initial approval to the plan. Both county commissioners and School Board members are elected countywide but must live in the district they represent.
• Selected top legislative priorities in advance of a meeting with Pasco's lawmakers next week. Commissioners highlighted four items: more state transportation money, tougher rules on prescription drug abuse, continued funding for a school infrastructure program and restrictions on utilities that violate local comprehensive plans. The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at River Ridge High.