On the Mark: Finding jobs in existing projects

MARK STRAIN

It may not be the best of times to bring a new development on-line, but there are some signs of life out there for existing previously approved projects. In some ways the sour economy actually benefitted many of the older projects by making it nearly impossible to justify newer development. Financing is a hurdle no matter what stage development is in, but to finance something already approved is a lot less risky than attempting to start from scratch.

For years there has been a deficit of industrially zoned land in Collier County; land that could be used for manufacturing, warehousing and other high intensity services. Various studies have expressed concern that without more land zoned for such labor intensive uses, stable long term employment could suffer. Not only do such regional uses require larger tracts of land, they also need more efficient access to main roadways. Tucking a large employment or manufacturing facility off-the-beaten path can have impacts on both the available work force and trucking access.

One of the noted industrial hubs in Collier County has been in the vicinity of Collier Boulevard (County Road 951) and Interstate 75. That area also is the terminus of Davis Boulevard, providing direct access to Naples and the coastal area. There are dozens of high intensity land uses already approved for this prime location, although most have not yet broken ground and some of the more commercialized uses that have started are lying dormant with half-finished building shells.

To the north of I-75 is a project that was started in 1988 as a DRI (Development of Regional Impact) that is zoned primarily industrial. The project is called City Gate and besides the industrial uses allowed there are some areas with frontage on County Road 951 that were zoned to accommodate gas stations and hotels. The project is sandwiched between County Road 951 to the west, I-75 to the south and the landfill to the east. To the north across the main Golden Gate canal begins Estates zoning. Within the site, but not part of the project’s industrial area, there currently exists one of the county’s largest primary water treatment plants.

This project has been steadily working its way forward for the past 6 years to address concerns dealing with environmental issues. They have resolved those issues at a cost of nearly $2.5 million and with another $1.2 million to finish they are now able to build out the bulk of the project. They have pre-paid impact fees estimated at nearly $6.5 million. Roads are installed, more are being built and the connections to 951 are complete. They have the zoning for a wide variety of manufacturing and warehousing up to approximately 2 million square feet and are on a schedule that will build out in 7 years.

So why is all this important? This project is a DRI, as a result of their regional impact when originally approved they were required to submit a variety of studies and documentation estimating what the impacts would be on our local area. When we hear of impacts we most commonly think of roads, water, sewer or needs similar to those. There are other impacts and one of those is the labor market. DRI’s are required to show what impact they will have on employment.

According to the studies they were required to submit, the City Gate project will create 9,325 jobs; 4,460 will be construction jobs and 4,865 will be permanent jobs. Like many developments already approved in Collier County, this project has been a sleeping asset for job creation. The idea of a nearly 300-acre industrial center, strategically located and providing opportunities for many different types of businesses with a variety of sizes has the flexibility to develop quickly given the right opportunities.

Now that this project’s environmental challenges are over and with some promotional work, maybe this project and others like it can help turn the unemployment statistics around.

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