Make us your home page
Instagram

St. Joe for sale. A case of too many eggs in one (Panhandle) basket?

St. Joe Co., the one-time Panhandle juggernaut of real estate development and a company long steeped in Florida land history and political influence since the Depression, may put itself up for sale.

A number of investor fights inside the company are driving this possibility. But St. Joe's decision, announced Tuesday, to hire investment bank Morgan Stanley to pursue "strategic alternatives" that include a possible sale also begs this question:

Did St. Joe put too many of its development eggs in one basket — namely, yuppie vacation housing near the Panhandle beaches — only to crash head-on into the collapsed real estate bubble and, for the coup de grace, the BP oil spill?

St. Joe even moved its headquarters from Jacksonville several years ago to the Panhandle. The company gave away an enormous tract of land north of Panama City to create Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. It promised to cover Southwest Airlines' losses if it provided ample air service.

The strategy was to provide jet-caliber, nonstop service to the Panhandle from a much broader swath of the United States than was previously offered through lesser airports and bumpy propeller planes. The idea? To lure upscale southerners and baby boomers to the long overlooked Panhandle — despite its lingering nickname of the "Redneck Riviera" — to sample St. Joe's upscale beachfront and adjacent developments built in the "new urbanism" style.

I've seen plenty of St. Joe Panhandle projects. Many are beautiful. Many are pricey.

In the late 1990s, St. Joe hired Peter Rummell as CEO after he built Disney's master-planned, new urbanism town of Celebration, with its old-style downtown, walkable sidewalks and front porches.

After Rummell, St. Joe CEO Britt Greene stayed the Panhandle course. Despite St. Joe's largesse in giving away land and building hospitals, some Panhandle residents resisted St. Joe as too pushy.

When the real estate bubble burst, the yuppies went away. St. Joe withered and began reporting losses. Investor David Einhorn, known for shorting stocks (profiting if the stock prices fall), recently claimed St. Joe inflated the value of its real estate assets.

St. Joe's largest shareholder, Bruce Berkowitz, still sees value in St. Joe. But he may be behind this week's shake-up and push to sell the company.

If the real estate market collapse was not stunning enough, St. Joe's decision to concentrate its assets in the Panhandle also made it fall prey to another disaster.

The BP gulf oil spill.

St. Joe sued BP and others tied to the horrific April spill claiming it's been harmed by bad global perception that white sand Panhandle beaches — key to so many St. Joe developments — are tainted by oil.

St. Joe got its start in 1936 during the Depression years when rich Alfred DuPont bought lots of Florida land dirt cheap. Ed Ball — a big name in Florida business and politics and DuPont's brother-in-law — eventually ran and expanded St. Joe.

Over the years, St. Joe owned various other businesses ranging from Florida East Coast Railroad and Talisman Sugar Corp. to upscale home and commercial builders. Always influential in Tallahassee, some of St. Joe's best deals came from selling conservation land to the state.

Are we about to see an end of an era for this Florida icon?

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

St. Joe for sale. A case of too many eggs in one (Panhandle) basket? 02/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa is 15th-most popular city to move to with U-Haul

    Markets

    TAMPA —Tampa is undoubtedly a destination point, at least according to U-Haul.

    Tampa is the No. 15 destination for people moving with U-Haul trucks. | Times file photo
  2. Florida's economy growing faster than other big states and far better than U.S. overall

    Business

    When it comes to economic growth, Florida's running alongside the leading states and well ahead of the United States as a whole.

  3. Westshore Marina District project takes shape with another acquisition

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — One of Tampa Bay's prime waterfront areas took another major step toward redevelopment Friday as WCI Communities bought 2.35 acres in Westshore Marina District.

    WCI Communities, Lennar's high-end subsidiary,has paid $2.5 million for 2.35 acres in the Westshore Marina District for 35 townhomes. WCI is under contract  to buy an additional 9.5 acres.
[BTI Partners]
  4. Posh Guy Harvey RV park to open in Tampa Bay with $250,000 cottages

    Business

    HOLIDAY — Love those Guy Harvey T-shirts with the soaring marlins? In the not too distant future, you might be able to kick back in your own Guy Harvey cottage in the first-ever Guy Harvey RV park.

    Renderings of the clubhouse and an RV cottage site of the planned Guy Harvey Outpost Club & Resort Tarpon Springs.
[Guy Harvey Outpost Collection]
  5. Port Tampa Bay secures $9 million grant to deepen Big Bend Channel

    Business

    Port Tampa Bay has secured a $9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel in southern Hillsborough County.