From Florida Real Estate Journal (www.FREJ.net), 02/16/07
Baker County has been a hot topic of conversation in recent months with the
openings of several high-profile businesses, including a Walt-Mart
Supercenter and a manufacturing facility. Northeast Florida real estate
experts expect the buzz to continue, labeling Baker County as Jacksonvilleıs
next bedroom community and industrial hotspot due to the increasing cost of
land in Duval County.
³I donıt think there is any doubt that Baker County is in the beginning
phases of developers looking for square footage to build in that area,² said
Jeff Evans, a broker with Colliers Dickinson in Jacksonville.
Evans is marketing property in the area and, like other brokers in his
office, has heard of many developers seeking property in Baker County.
³Our office is working for a number of groups looking for residential and
commercial land. Baker County is definitely on the radar screen for national
and local developers,² he said.
Many have already found it, with Wal-Mart leading the charge. In late
January, Wal-Mart staged a grand opening of its first Wal-Mart Supercenter
in Macclenny at 9218 S. SR 228. The 161,755sf store brought 240 new jobs to
Baker County and augments a strong distribution and retail presence it has
already maintained in the area.
Meanwhile, Hanson Roof Tile of South Florida opened a 120,000sf
manufacturing facility in nearby Sanderson and expected to begin full
production at the plant by January, according to a third-quarter report from
Online reports in the Baker County Standard indicate additional retail will
be coming online, including a new hotel, outlet stores, restaurants and
retail centers. A release from Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. indicated it had
partnered with Birmingham-based Wellspot Medical Clinics Inc. to open a
freestanding walk-in medical clinic at the Winn-Dixie at SR 121 near I-10 in
Hobart Joost Jr., senior vice president of Colliers Dickinson and 2007 NAIOP
of Florida member, said he has heard of several South Florida developers who
have been looking around Baker County for large tracts of residential land
for developments of regional impact, or DRIs, as well as those seeking
industrial-zoned property. Baker County appears to be an area where there is
no shortage of commercial activity.
There are several other factors working in Baker Countyıs favor for growth,
according to local experts and market reports. One is its projected
population growth. The county, which in 2005 was home to 24,136 people, is
expected to grow 7.2% by 2010 < a rate slightly higher than that of the
areaıs biggest population center, Duval County, according to statistics from
the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Duval County is expected to grow at a
rate of 7.1% between 2005 and 2010.
Evans and other real estate experts in Northeast Florida point to the
increasing costs of industrial and residential property and lack of
developable land in Duval County as a primary impetus for the mounting
interest in Baker County real estate. According to CB Richard Ellis
research, the availability of Jacksonville industrial space fell from 17.7%
in the fourth quarter of 2005 to 11.1% in the fourth quarter of 2006 <
indicating an increasing need for space.
³Industrial land values close to the port in Jacksonville have tripled
during the past five years, affordable industrial land is extremely
difficult to come by,² said Joost.
Industrial land prices around the port are increasing because the city has
begun to attract a wider interest from logistics, manufacturing and
distribution companies. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. announced a 30-year lease
agreement with Jaxport to provide container ship service to Asia. Other big
announcements include the shipping lines Nordana Line Inc. and Atlantic
Container Line both beginning service from the port. In November, Jaxport
announced it had a 13% increase in the number of vehicles it handled through
the port during its 2006 fiscal year, making it one of the nationıs largest
³We are very proud to be one of the largest and most successful vehicle
ports in the nation,² said Roy Schleicher, senior director of trade
development and marketing in a recent release. ³This success is attributable
to the combination of our outstanding auto processors and manufacturers,
ocean carriers, experienced labor force and the exceptional facilities
available here in Jacksonville.²
As these large companies have planned their openings, a surge of interest
from additional national firms has been felt in real estate circles. There
have been mounting requests for mega-sites of 500,000sf or more < sites that
are few and far between in Northeast Florida. One of the few area
developable pieces for large tenants is Cecil Commerce Center, where
Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC announced plans this June for
a 1 msf, $44 million distribution and logistics center, according to the
city of Jacksonville.
³Unless you want to build new industrial space in the ocean, youıre going to
have to go up 95 into Nassau County where all land values have appreciated
substantially < or go west out I-10 to Baker County,² Joost said.
Because land prices have been rising across Duval County for residential and
commercial projects, these firms and developers are beginning to take a
harder look at Baker County, Evans said.
³Once the rooftops come to Baker County, then the retail and office will
come,² Evans said. ³But the industrial component wonıt be driven by the
number of rooftops but by the number of vested and concurrent developable
acres. Thatıs what weıre lacking in Duval County.²
Baker County officials are so inundated with interest that they have not
assembled any collateral material touting the area. In an e-mail, Baker
County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Ginger Barber said
they have so many interested developers looking at the county that they
donıt need to do a lot of promotion.
³Theyıll have to figure out a way to deal with the growth and the
infrastructure now that this entire new spotlight is on them. Baker County
reminds me of Mandarin 25 years ago,² Joost said. ³But theyıve got good
people running things. Theyıre in good hands.²