Pasco OKs financial perks for Raymond James campus
NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco County commissioners today unanimously approved a multimillion-dollar slate of incentives to lure Raymond James Financial – and the promise of hundreds of new jobs – to Wiregrass Ranch. "This is a special day," commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said. "Don't forget it." The incentive package includes road improvements, tax breaks and other financial perks totaling an estimated $10 million. Of that amount, $4.5 million would go toward road upgrades that officials said also would benefit the public. For example, Wiregrass Ranch Boulevard will be a major north-south connector between state roads 54 and 56.Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said the remaining $5.5 million in incentives would be spread out over 17 years. "That averages out to about $324,000 a year," Goldstein said. The state also will chip in $4 million to build the main access road for the 65-acre site. In exchange, the St. Petersburg-based Raymond James agreed to build two 100,000-square-foot offices and bring 750 jobs. The brokerage and investment banking firm also wants to reserve up to 1 million square feet of office space for future expansion at the Pasco site, documents state. "They have options to buy another 90 acres," Goldstein said. Wiregrass Ranch owner and developer Don Porter said road construction would start in June, after Raymond James closes on the property. "All of the roads have been designed and permitted by the county," he said. The county agreed to waive water and sewer connection fees for the office buildings and also appointed a "rapid response team" to address any issues that arise during construction. Raymond James will spend the next nine months completing environmental and geotechnical studies on the site, spokesman Steve Hollister said. "Should that review result in the purchase of the property, construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2012, with occupancy of the first completed building expected in 2013," he wrote in an email. The second building would be completed by 2020, according to the agreement. Pasco officials contend the project will boost the county's tax rolls by about $40 million and spark development along S.R. 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she's excited at the prospect of Raymond James coming to Pasco. "These are rough economic times and I believe Pasco is doing everything it can to attract industry," she said Monday. "I believe we are open for business and we are trying to bring opportunities home." Mulieri said a key factor in helping accomplish that has been improvements in the transportation network in Wesley Chapel, such as the S.R. 56 extension. Raymond James officials have said they are preparing for growth and want to relocate some offices away from the St. Petersburg campus, which is in a hurricane evacuation zone. Wiregrass Ranch, a 5,000-acre former cattle ranch, has evolved into an economic engine of central Pasco. It is home to the Shops at Wiregrass mall and Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, which opens next year. Pasco-Hernando Community College will break ground next year on a new campus there. Raymond James is the second major financial firm to relocate to Pasco. Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price will move its Tampa offices to a 90-acre site on S.R. 54, although construction of that office complex has been delayed because of the sluggish economy. State Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, helped secure the $4 million from the state for the road upgrades and called the Raymond James announcement a "game changer" for Pasco. "I believe that attracting a renowned company like Raymond James to Pasco will undoubtedly spur others to locate to our developing financial epicenter," he said.
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