Park of Commerce development dead, but land might be tied up for awhile
By Sherri C. Ranta
Rockefeller Group Development Corp.'s contract with the City of Homestead to develop the Park of Commerce is dead, but two proposals could keep the land tied to the company for another year.
Douglas Development Group and Central Florida Equipment have submitted plans to develop speculative projects in the city-owned industrial park under a contract with Rockefeller, said Edgar C. Jones, director of Rockefeller's Florida operations.
"They entered into a contract with us to purchase the land, subject to getting approvals," he said. "We were the only group they could deal with in order to purchase the property. We have a year to get all that accomplished."
Homestead City Manager Curt Ivy said the two proposals, encompassing about 30 acres, were submitted the day before the contract was to expire and could be negotiated for up to a year because of clauses in Rockefeller's deal with the city.
Both proposals are speculative, he said, and are not expected to be approved. City officials have rejected a proposal submitted by Douglas.
Rockefeller's ties with the city were severed in April after the city failed to renew the company's 1999 development contract for the 280-acre park. The company failed to meet development requirements of 200,000 square feet every two years.
The deteriorating economy, aggravated by 9/11 and exacerbated by the war in Iraq, Rockefeller officials said, hurt the park's chances for immediate success. Rockefeller continues to operate industrial parks and foreign trade zones in New Jersey and St. Louis and Palm Beach Park of Commerce in northwestern Palm Beach County.
Mr. Ivy said city officials are not happy with what they see as Rockefeller's play to tie up land in the park and take a parting shot at the city for not renewing the contract.
"I think, one, they're trying to make back some of the money they put in and, two, in doing it, I think they took a shot at us," he said. "They knew what we were looking for. They want to speculate and not build. We want to build - they know that."
Rockefeller officials said earlier this year that they have invested almost $1 million to develop and market the park - including a $15,000 annual fee for rights to use the federal license for a foreign trade zone and costs to develop the park's master plan. The fee was paid to the Vision Council, South Dade's economic-development agency.
Douglas' proposal for the Rockefeller site called for 250,000 square feet of speculative development on four pieces of land for retail, office, flexible and dock-height warehouse space.
The city rejected the proposal, Mr. Ivy said, because retail is not included in the master plan for the park. The proposal called for retail at the entrance to the park, he said, which delays any other potential development for the site.
Central Florida Equipment is looking to develop and build a facility for lease or sale, said Jeff Williamson of JB Williamson and Co., a Miami firm that specializes in commercial and industrial real-estate development.
City officials said they are concerned that Central Florida Equipment, which is extending the county's bus way south to Homestead, will use the park to dump fill from the bus way. The bus way will be on the land formerly used by Florida East Coast Rail Way. The land could have high levels of arsenic, city officials say.
"We're not planning on bringing any contaminated fill into the park," Mr. Williamson said. "Central Florida wants to build an asset for themselves. We don't want to use it for a dumping or staging group. We want it to be a quality business."
Since the contract with Rockefeller ended, Homestead Planning and Economic Development Administrator Charles LaPradd said the city has received numerous development proposals for the park.
"We would like the opportunity to market the entire park, but unfortunately, we don't have that luxury at this time, he said.
City officials have asked for an appraisal of the park and expect the value to have climbed since the contract with Rockefeller was signed in 1999. At that time, city officials agreed to sell the land to Rockefeller for about $4 per square foot.
"We will set that in motion," said Mr. LaPradd. "We are contractually obligated with the set price with Rockefeller established three years ago, but a lot of things have changed in regard to the property."