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Cost to extend Sunlake Boulevard to T. Rowe Price site doubles



LAND O'LAKES — The cost of building a four-lane road critical to attracting financial firm T. Rowe Price could cost the county nearly $16-million — twice as much as officials originally estimated.

The price tag on the southern leg of Sunlake Boulevard spiked after county engineers worked a number of new factors — from flood plain mitigation to unsuitable soil in the area — into their estimates.

The revised estimates spell even worse news for other road projects, which could be delayed as money is shifted toward the Sunlake Boulevard extension connecting State Road 54 to Hillsborough County.

The road is key in luring T. Rowe, which says it will bring 1,600 high-wage jobs to Pasco. Officials have promised the firm $30-million in state and county incentives to relocate to Land O'Lakes.

The county's agreement with T. Rowe Price requires that the road be built, the first two lanes by 2010 and the third and fourth by 2015.

Pasco County, however, did not plan to pay for the road. That was supposed to be the responsibility of builders, Beazer and M/I Homes, who have plans to build roughly 900 homes south of the proposed T. Rowe Price office campus.

In exchange for that commitment, the home builders had won several financial concessions from the county. If the builders defaulted, the county assumed responsibility for finishing Sunlake Boulevard.

Another developer, Amprop, which is building a commercial project east of the proposed T. Rowe site, has said it remains committed to building the northern end of the road.

But last month the home builders told officials they could no longer afford to hold up their end of the development agreement, and commissioners agreed to move forward with a plan to build the road, which in April was estimated to cost $8.3-million.

To recoup the costs, the county would place a lien on properties along the road and levy special assessments on property owners.

The issue, with the higher price tag, was scheduled this week to come before commissioners, who must decide whether to set the assessment process in motion. But commissioners postponed the discussion until later this month.

County Administrator John Gallagher said Wednesday that representatives of Beazer and M/I Homes had asked for more time while they try to work with their bank. He said he did not know what kind of deal the home builders are hoping to set up.

The road issue marked the latest challenge in the county's efforts to land T. Rowe Price. The environmental group Citizens for Sanity has challenged a decision by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, to grant a permit at the site. That case is pending before an administrative judge, and a hearing is scheduled for June 23.

T. Rowe has had its own share of problems, however, as the recession forced it to lay off 288 workers nationwide. A company spokesman said last month that means the firm can't commit yet to a timetable for its expansion plans.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

By the numbers

$16M New estimated price to build a road to attract T. Rowe Price.

$8.3M Original estimated price of the road.

1,600 Number of high-wage jobs the company says it could bring to Pasco.

288 Number of workers T. Rowe Price recently had to lay off nationally.

Cost to extend Sunlake Boulevard to T. Rowe Price site doubles 05/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 10:20pm]
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