1. Business

Move over, St. Joe, and make room for planned development the size of Rhode Island

Published May 16, 2012

Wake up and good morning. When the St. Joe Co., dominating real estate developer and land owner in the Florida Panhandle, decided to pull back and hibernate in the tough economy, nobody thought any mega-projects were forming in that part of the state.

howardleach.jpgWrong. State and local officials have approved a 562,000-acre master plan -- timberland roughly the size of Rhode Island -- encompassing gulf coast frontage touching five counties. It's not St. Joe's but rather a parcel owned by some high-profile business types and former diplomats. Their goal: 25,000 new homes and more than 10 million square feet of commercial and industrial office space.

The owners, identified in this small item in the Wall Street Journal, include Howard Leach (left), former U.S. ambassador to France, and Los Angeles investor Robert Day (right), who reportedly together bought the land in 1994 from Procter & Gamble. Now the ownership group's grown with the additions of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.

robert_day.gifLeach is a California billionaire who was appointed ambassador to France after a $400,000 donation to George W. Bush's presidential campaign. He's run multiple companies including one called Foley Timber and Land Company in Florida. Read more here.

Day, also a billionaire, founded Trust Co. of the West and sold a majority stake of it in 2001 to Societe Generale for $2.5 billion, according to this Forbes article.

It doesn't sound like this project is about to leap out of the ground. But none of these guys (Kissinger is, after all, turning 89 this month) are youngsters. And they just might give St. Joe some unexpected competition.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times