DOVER — Less than a month after a deal to build a 3,000-acre renewable energy park that promised 11,000 jobs fell through, landowners believe the idea can be revived.
Having hired their own consultants and engineers — and putting more than $1 million into reclaiming the land along State Road 60 — Turkey Creek Preserve LLC officials say they have a number of companies interested in the project.
"We have received a variety of inquiries, and we are vetting those now," said Chuck Davis, managing partner of Turkey Creek Preserve. "We are extremely encouraged by those we are talking to."
Earlier this month, Turkey Creek terminated its contract with development company Imperium Cos., which envisioned turning the property into a one-of-a-kind alternative energy industrial park with wind turbines, solar panels, a waste-to-energy plant and fish farms. Touted as a potential "silicon valley of renewable energy" by proponents, the project won strong backing from Hillsborough County only to founder over lack of funding.
"Imperium had the property under contract for two years and we made a determination they could not get to a point where they would be able to purchase the land from us in any reasonable time frame," said Jim Burt, a partner in Turkey Creek Preserve. "So our choice was to continue to ride it out with them or basically take over the project ourselves."
The 3,000-acre property between Dover and Turkey Creek roads, a former phosphate mine, is owned jointly by Turkey Creek Preserve (1,225 acres) and Darrell Hanson, of Fort Myers (1,775 acres). Hanson is backing Turkey Creek's plan to attract new investors, Burt said.
In addition to a website (www.tcenergypark.com), that pitch for investors has appeared on several industry websites, promoting the property's zoning for alternative energy, hydroponics, aquaculture, retail/commercial as well as office and utility uses.
"There are no shortage of companies out there, we just have to determine which company is capable of handling the project," said Burt, who said more than 10 companies have already expressed an interest in the project.
That's no surprise to Tim Anderson, director of the Florida Energy Systems Consortium, a state-university based independent energy research, education and technology group.
"We get 10 calls a day on average from industry," Anderson said. "There's a lot of potential here in Florida."
Any renewable energy project would need help from the state, at least in the beginning, said Yogi Goswami, co-director of the Clean Energy Research Center at the University of South Florida.
"Companies need that help to thrive in the beginning, but eventually they will be able to stand on their own," Goswami said.
George Niemann, who lives in the Dover Woods development nearby, watches the new developments with a wary eye. Niemann is co-chair of the Energy Industrial Park Citizen Advisory Panel set up under the failed Imperium project.
Turkey Creek Preserve outlined its new plan to Niemann earlier this month in an informal meeting.
"There are new players involved, but what they have done up until now is reasonable outreach with the community, although I still have concerns," Niemann said.
Specifically, Niemann and his neighbors are worried about what comes after the renewable energy plants are built. The property's land use plan requires two alternative energy plants before anything else can be built.
"Then they can do anything from what I can see, from industrial plants to warehousing," said Niemann who fears the area's roads could not handle the increased traffic congestion.
Niemann also said that if the new project struggles to find funding — as Imperium did — pressure will mount to change the land use plan to make it more attractive to developers.
"It's important the (land use plan) stay the way it is. But I am hopeful. Turkey Creek said they want to make it work and I take them at their word."
Unlike Imperium, which boasted the completed project would create up to 11,000 jobs, Davis is more cautious.
"We are in the early stages now, but I think when completely built out the number of jobs could be significant," Davis said.
The initial phase of the project, a waste-to-energy power plant, could create 200 to 300 jobs, said Davis. Building the plant, expected to take three years, also would mean construction jobs, Davis said.
While Burt won't put a timeline on the project, the veteran real estate developer remains confident.
"I've been in the development business for 20 years, and if you judge the chance of success on interest alone, this has a great chance to get done. We believe the project has merit and is financial viable, but we have to take it one step at a time."
Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]