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St. Petersburg is trying to attract a Fortune 500 company. Is it Foot Locker?

The city didn’t win the unnamed business yet, but incentives could give it a leading edge. For now, they’re calling it Project Athena.
St. Petersburg hopes to attract another Fortune 500 company with incentives that might include property tax exemptions.
St. Petersburg hopes to attract another Fortune 500 company with incentives that might include property tax exemptions. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2016) ]
Published Oct. 15
Updated Oct. 15

ST. PETERSBURG — A mystery company may move its global headquarters to St. Petersburg and would get subsidies if it does.

The City Council voted Thursday to provide $475,000 in financial incentives to a Fortune 500 company dubbed Project Athena. Among the conditions: The company would have to bring 300 new jobs to St. Petersburg, pay an average wage above $120,000 each year and contribute to the community.

Project Athena also asked for a property tax exemption, according to city documents. The City Council passed a resolution allowing the company to apply for an exemption later.

The company filed a request for economic development-related tax exemption, and county documents offer more clues to who the company could be.

The few details city officials have shared is that this Fortune 500 company is a retailer currently based in New York City with stores in 27 countries and $7.5 billion in reported revenue. About 92 percent of its sales come from outside of Florida.

Some in town have suggested the potential company could be Foot Locker, the shoe store chain.

Foot Locker operates stores in 27 countries and is based in New York City. It reported $7.5 billion in sales last year, according to corporate filings. The company is ranked No. 385 on Fortune Magazine’s list of the largest U.S. companies.

Officials with Foot Locker did not respond to emails requesting comment Friday.

St. Petersburg officials project the move would bring $25 million in corporate investment.

The city hasn’t landed the company yet, said J.P. DuBuque, chief executive of the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corp. County documents say the company is also courting New York and Atlanta.

“This is a competitive project,” DuBuque said. “We believe based upon our conversations with the company, that if this incentive package is approved we will be in a leadership position in winning this project.”

Dubuque said the incentive package is unique for its focus on workforce development.

Project Athena would also have to lease more than 100,000 square feet for its headquarters, according to city documents — not an easy feat with St. Petersburg offering less available office space than any community in the Tampa Bay region.

Office vacancy in St. Pete is 5.5 percent compared to 20 percent in Tampa, according to JLL, a commercial real estate firm. Much of the available space in Tampa is tied to new projects in Midtown, Water Street and Westshore.

The company intends to occupy a building more than 150,000 square feet, according to county documents, and pay $146,466 in property taxes per year. Those would be paid to the county even if the tax exemption is approved. The tax increase from any rise in property value would be subsidized, county records state.

“St. Petersburg has done well in positioning itself for the live-work-play environment,” said Lee Arnold, executive chairperson of Colliers International Florida, a commercial real estate firm. Incentives can make a big difference in attracting a company to relocate when competing with other cities, he said.

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Not only is St. Petersburg known for its waterfront, Arnold said, but it’s appealing because it’s close to schools like the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa where employers can find qualified workers.

If the company does relocate to St. Petersburg, it will join local Fortune 500 firms such as Jabil and Raymond James Financial.

The discussions come on the heels of an announcement last week that influential technology company Ark Investment is moving from New York City to St. Petersburg in November. Ark Investment also is working with St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to open a talent incubator in the Innovation District.

“We believe St. Pete wants to become the next Austin and attract tech companies and attract innovation,” Cathie Wood of Ark Investment said in a webinar Tuesday.

Wood said all levels of government in the Tampa Bay region work well together and praised what she called the high quality of life in St. Petersburg.