Multibillion-dollar investment firm T. Rowe Price has its sights on another home besides its offices in Hong Kong, Paris and Singapore: fast-growing Land O'Lakes.
Despite the panic on Wall Street, the Baltimore company is deeply in talks with state and Pasco County officials to move from its Tampa office and expand, possibly receiving $14-million and other financial breaks.
At least 425 T. Rowe Price employees, with an average annual wage of nearly $50,000, would join Pasco's work force in offices on State Road 54 about 1 1/2 miles east of the Suncoast Parkway. The office would include investment brokers.
But ultimately, 1,650 people could work there, county officials said. It would break with Pasco's decades-long status as a bedroom community that loses bids for white-collar or corporate jobs, such as the major Tampa expansion of the Moffitt cancer research center in 2006.
Peter Geraci, whose family owns the site on SR 54, said the land was under contract to be sold to Tampa's Amprop Development, which is hammering out a deal with T. Rowe Price.
"It seems the stars are lining up," Geraci said Monday.
But a deal isn't done, despite months of talks. Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox, who works with the Pasco Economic Development Council, said the county believes it faces out-of-state competitors, though he and state Sen. Mike Fasano said they did not know where.
County officials last month approved a change allowing up to 1.3-million square feet of office space on 330 acres, including the Geraci property targeted by T. Rowe Price.
There had been only 300,000 square feet of office space planned there until the County Commission's Aug. 12 vote, though supporting documents never mentioned the company. It marked a shift from a retail-based project to an office-dominated project as part of the Long Lake Ranch development.
The land, which has been in the Geraci family for 50 years, was most recently used for cattle.
Eric Schoessler, Amprop's managing partner, did not return a phone message Monday evening. Amprop is also developing Shoppes at Sunlake Centre, the Publix-anchored retail center across the highway from the Geraci property.
While not identifying T. Rowe Price, Cox said the company would start out with 50,000 square feet of office space, eventually tripling the space to accommodate the 1,650 workers. It would invest $190-million to do it, he said.
Brian Lewbart, a spokesman for T. Rowe Price, said the company's 10-year lease at its Tampa property expires in 2012.
"We're evaluating all of our options right now," said Lewbart, who declined any comment on the move or talks with Pasco. "In no way have any final decisions been made."
Lewbart declined to comment on how the financial crisis would affect a proposed expansion. A week ago, the company released an advisory saying it is financially strong with zero debt on its balance sheet.
Talks over incentives continued Monday, including a late-afternoon conference call involving the company and Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano is chairman of a committee that oversees the state's economic development budget.
This spring, Fasano won $5-million in the state budget to recruit jobs to Pasco, which he and Cox said could be paired with other state money for the $14-million T. Rowe Price package.
The negotiations also involve whether Pasco should add $2.5-million to the deal, Cox and County Commissioner Ted Schrader said.
Beyond that money, the county is expected to provide credits against paying impact fees on construction, Cox said. Fasano also said he was exploring whether it's possible to provide state money for road improvement.
The company also wants guaranteed approval for a 100-bed hotel near its office, Cox said.
"We're going to roll out the red carpet for this company," Cox said. "Because we want to make sure we get this right and show the world that Pasco County is serious about economic development."
As of June 30, the company's Web site says it has $387.7-billion under management. T. Rowe Price has 14 investor centers nationwide, including Tampa and Boca Raton, as well as in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.
In 1994, T. Rowe Price selected Tampa over 20 other cities for an investor service center. The firm eventually moved to the Corporate Center at International Plaza, one of the most prominent business developments in the West Shore area. Other tenants at the center include OSI Restaurants Partners Inc., parent of Outback Steakhouse, and Carlton Fields.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232. Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free 1-800-888-7505, ext. 6247.