LAND O'LAKES — On Wednesday, it became official: Investment firm T. Rowe Price owns property in Pasco County.
The Baltimore-based company paid $13.5 million for 94 acres off State Road 54, taking its most concrete step yet toward building an office complex envisioned to bring 1,600 jobs to Pasco County over the next decade.
T. Rowe has said Pasco County is one of five sites it is considering for the relocation of its Tampa regional office. But the company has lined up nearly $30 million in state and county incentives and has obtained its water district permit for the Land O'Lakes site.
The purchase of the land, which is part of what is known as Long Lake Ranch and is owned by the Geraci family, makes Pasco an even surer bet.
"I'm stoked," said Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox.
He said his reaction was tempered by the fact that T. Rowe has not committed to building the project. Still, he said, "We'll get there."
State Sen. Mike Fasano was equally optimistic. "I have a good feeling they will break ground sometime in the future," he said.
If it moves to Pasco, T. Rowe says it would transfer the 425 jobs from its Tampa operations center and create 1,200 more. The average salary would be more than $47,000.
The firm's relocation would mark a major coup for Pasco, which is seeking to reverse its decades-long status as a bedroom community.
County Administrator John Gallagher said that after representatives of T. Rowe and developer Amprop first met with him and other top officials more than a year ago, his feeling had been that Pasco could be on the verge of luring one of its first big catches: A project that added not houses, but higher paying jobs.
"We'd been on the hunt for a big project for 20 years," he said. "It just made all of us go, 'Hey, have we finally made it? Are we finally on the verge of turning a residential community, at least part of it, into a business center?'"
"I think we're finally coming to an age of doing business with business."
Late last month, commissioners signed off on a document that extended several deadlines on the project. One of those extensions gives T. Rowe until December 2015 — rather than the original deadline of December 2013 — to finish its first building and still remain eligible for the first $1 million of the county's economic development grant.
Back in April, T. Rowe announced it was shedding 288 jobs nationwide as a result of the market losses that had already forced layoffs throughout the financial services sector.
Company spokeswoman Heather McDonold on Wednesday acknowledged the delays that the losses would create in Pasco.
"Given that the market and business environment has changed dramatically over the past year, the timeline for our expansion plans has become less certain, and we are unable to commit to a specific timetable for the start of construction," she said in a statement.
County Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the land deal represented a critical step in the county's vision of State Road 54.
"That's really an important gateway," she said, "and T. Rowe Price is going to be an important anchor."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.