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Sysco drops plans for Zephyrhills distribution center

ZEPHYRHILLS — A planned food distribution center that would have employed 250 people in Zephyrhills has been scuttled.

Houston-based Sysco Food Services decided not to build the facility, even though it won approval for nearly $5 million in city and county incentives several years ago.

"We're certainly disappointed," said county commissioner Ted Schrader. "That would've been a great employer for east Pasco."

At the time, the incentives package was unprecedented for Zephyrhills and the deal was seen as a major economic development victory for Pasco's housing- and retail-based economy.

Because construction never began on the project, no incentive money changed hands.

Sysco had planned to build the project on a 64-acre parcel near the Zephyrhills airport. It bought the land in September 2008 for $4.3 million. A commercial real estate firm listed the property late last month for $5.5 million.

A Sysco spokesman said the company planned for the facility to handle expected growth in Florida. The sputtering economy upended that growth forecast, and the company decided it could handle its customers with existing distribution centers.

"Unfortunately, that's a by-product of a bad economy," said former commissioner Michael Cox, who helped broker the incentives deal in 2007. "They're in the food business, and people don't go out to eat as much as they do when times are good."

The company had planned to spend $60 million on the 393,000-square-foot facility. Average wages would have been about $55,000 a year.

Early warning signs about the project came in early 2008, when commissioners voted to withhold incentive payments until jobs were filled. At the time, the facility had been delayed and the company refused to say whether it was committed to the project.

Schrader said it might be hard to find another business for the site anytime soon. Tucked next to a rail line, the parcel is ideal for a commercial project but not well suited for retail traffic.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Sysco drops plans for Zephyrhills distribution center 11/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 7:15pm]
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