After five years of waiting for the big day, Pasco County finds itself abandoned at the altar again.
Financial giant T. Rowe Price, which cut a historic deal with county officials in 2009 to bring 1,600 jobs to Pasco, is scrapping plans to build a campus there.
The decision, which shocked county officials, wasn't even hinted at publicly until April 24, when CEO James A.C. Kennedy said at an annual meeting that the company was renewing its lease in Tampa.
According to the Baltimore Business Journal, Kennedy answered a shareholder's question about the land by saying, "We don't need that space right now." The answer was a response to a speculation that the firm, which has headquarters in Baltimore and a campus in Owings Mills, Md., might move operations to Florida.
T. Rowe spokesman Bill Benintende said Monday that the decision against building in Pasco was made last fall. Company officials had not intended to tell Pasco County, which had secured $30 million in state and local incentives to lure the project, until the lease negotiations were complete. But after Kennedy's comments attracted media attention, the company announced its plans.
Benintende said the company has no immediate plans to sell its 72 acres on State Road 54 west of Land O'Lakes but reiterated that Pasco is not part of its long-range plan.
He said the company was in the midst of plans to renew the Tampa lease but declined to discuss details.
"As you can imagine, those discussions are private and ongoing today," he said.
The company has property in Owings Mills and Colorado Springs, Colo. The Maryland site still has one vacant building.
"There is capacity at both those properties if we need space so that's another factor that precludes a need for us to construct new buildings in Pasco County at this time," he said.
County officials were disappointed. Earlier in the day, they expressed hope after talking with some T. Rowe officials that the deal might not be dead.
"A comment might have been taken out of context," said John Hagen, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council. He said "regular conversations" with T. Rowe had never given any impression the deal was off. But by 5 p.m. Benintende put an end to that speculation.
"We were all counting on that company coming," said County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. She said her husband, Trey, a past EDC chairman, was also caught by surprise.
"I think we rolled out the welcome wagon for them," she said.
When asked about a possible alternative, Starkey said she hopes the company will sell the land.
"That's a prime piece of real estate that has all the infrastructure ready to go," she said. "I'd like to see it made available for another user."
Commissioner Ted Schrader said a private landowner can't be forced to sell property. However, the county has millions in incentives tied up that could be used to attract another company.
"If they have no intention of building on it then so be it, but we can release or unfreeze those dollars we have committed to the project and give those dollars to the EDC," he said.
Schrader said he was disappointed "but not entirely surprised" by the decision.
It's not the first time Pasco has been jilted.
Moffitt Cancer Center considered Pasco for a possible expansion but was outbid by Hillsborough in 2006. Still smarting from the loss, Pasco officials were cautiously optimistic when news of the T. Rowe deal leaked.
"A lot of companies just used (Pasco) County as a reason to get the landlord to lower the rent somewhere else," said retired County Administrator John Gallagher, who was at the helm when the deal was approved. But the fact that T. Rowe plunked down money for land buoyed hopes that this would finally help Pasco transform itself from a bedroom community to a regional player with high-paying jobs.
"This was us coming to the big time where people actually noticed us," Gallagher said. "We saw pictures where they'd built other places in the country. In their world it might not have been a big deal, but it was a big deal with Pasco County."
To receive state and local economic incentives, T. Rowe would have had to finish its first building by 2015. The county does not pay companies incentives until jobs are created.
T. Rowe Price, founded in 1937, employs 5,000, including 400 at its Tampa West Shore office, which originally was intended as a call center when it opened in 1994.