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Atlanta company to buy, develop Pasco industrial site

The inventive package includes a $3.7 million forgivable loan to Rooker Properties.

WESLEY CHAPEL — An Atlanta company plans to turn a former wastewater spray field into an industrial park between Interstate 75 and Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel.

Under separate agreements approved by Pasco County commissioners Tuesday in Dade City, Rooker Properties LLC will purchase approximately 99 acres of land owned by Pasco County’s Utilities Department and then use a $3.7 million county incentive to build at least 400,000 square feet of industrial and office space.

The project will be the largest-ever industrial space built on speculation in Pasco County, Rooker said.

County officials targeted the property for industrial development in 2017. It is near the intersection of Overpass and Old Pasco roads and north of Wesley Chapel Boulevard. The county later dubbed it the Overpass Business Park. In late 2018, the state announced a $3 million grant to the county to help with infrastructure costs.

"I thought it was such a golden piece of property that we could do so much more with than a spray field. It’s right next to the interstate,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano, an early proponent of turning the land over for industrial development.

County officials initially said they could become a landlords and lease the property, but preferred to sell it outright. Rooker, which had been studying a privately owned site northeast of the I-75 interchange with State Road 52, jumped in with an unsolicited offer in April to buy and develop the county land. Building in Pasco County is part of the company’s strategy to develop speculative industrial space in high-growth markets outside Georgia, including in Spartanburg, S.C., Nashville and Jacksonville.

"Tens of thousands of Pasco County residents leave the county each day for work, and we believe the labor fundamentals of this location will be well received by future tenants,'' said John Rooker, the company’s chief executive officer in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

Under the terms of the deal, Rooker will buy two parcels totaling approximately 99 acres, including wetlands, for nearly $3.6 million, or $50,000 an acre for the 72 acres that can be developed. The county will be able to tap the state grant to cover the nearly $2.85 million cost of removing wasterwater equipment, relocating utility lines, building drainage ponds and grading the property to make it development-ready.

Rooker will use a $3.7 million low-interest forgivable loan to help finance the $25.6 million project of building 400,000 square feet of industrial and office buildings. The loan is financed by the county’s Penny for Pasco sales tax.

The county projected the industrial space will lead to approximately 427 new full-time jobs, generating an annual payroll of $20.8 million. The property is considered a desirable location for industrial recruitment because of the planned construction of a new interstate exit at Overpass Road.

RELATED: Pasco offers loan for speculative office space

The new business park, to be called the North Tampa 75 Business Center, is indicative of the county’s strategy to help lure better-paying jobs to Pasco to stem the daily exodus of nearly half of its workforce to other counties. Officials also hope to curb the reliance on residential construction and the service sector as the backbone of the local economy.

RELATED: County aids industrial spec space with $7 million loan

One of the long-term drawbacks has been the unavailability of site-ready industrial locations and a shortage of so-called Class A office and industrial spec space. Toward that end, the county previously approved incentive packages for multiple industrial/office projects along the State Road 54 corridor.

Rooker describes itself as a full-service real estate development, design and construction management firm specializing in the areas of industrial, office and government. The family-owned company began in 1968 and has developed more the than 50 million square feet of industrial space across the Southeast.

"We are targeting markets across the Southeast that have demonstrated robust job growth, population growth and logistics fundamentals, and the Tampa market checks all of those boxes,'' John Rooker said.