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T. Rowe Price scraps building plan

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Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM

— T. Rowe Price and its 1,600 high-paying jobs won’t be coming to Pasco County. Not anytime soon. Probably not ever.

Bill Benintende, spokesman for the financial services giant, reiterated comments CEO James A.C. Kennedy made during the recent annual meeting in Baltimore — that it has scrapped plans to build a corporate campus on State Road 54.

“Things have changed, and what we’re doing now is moving forward with efforts to renew our lease at the current site in Tampa,” he said. “Our operating model suggests to us that we no longer need to expand there. We do not expect to develop the Pasco land.”

The news is a blow to county officials, who assumed the project was delayed.

“Nobody has come to us,” County Administrator Michele Baker said. “You’re telling me something I don’t know.”

Pasco Economic Development Council President John Hagen echoed those comments. “As far as we knew, they always said they were going to come here,” Hagen said. “I think we had a setback because we anticipated that they would be constructing the project by now.”

T. Rowe Price bought the 72-acre parcel in 2009 for $13.5 million. Real Estate Director Mark Ruhe told local officials the company planned to build a regional campus with three buildings totaling 450,000 square feet. It would have had parking decks and other amenities for employees, such as a cafeteria, on-site training facility, a health club and outdoor green space.

The company planned to relocate its 400 Tampa employees to Pasco and eventually add 1,200 more.

The state and county had pledged $30 million in subsidies and plans to improve the road network around the Suncoast Parkway. The Florida Department of Transportation will spend $18.2 million to widen S.R. 54 from four lanes to six between the Suncoast and U.S. 41 next year.

“It’s very sad,” Baker said, but she stressed that any financial incentives the county promised would not have been paid until the jobs actually materialized. The first building was originally slated to open this year.

“We all thought they were coming,” Baker said. “The Long Lake Ranch developer built a road on good faith. A lot of people are making business decisions based on that belief.”

Benintende said the company’s business model has changed since 2009, as a result of the global recession and changes in how employees interact with their clients. “More of our investment clients are doing business online, and that’s having an effect on how we do business,” he said. “At this time, we do not expect to construct the buildings, but we do still own the land, so that hasn’t changed.”

He said T. Rowe Price hasn’t listed the site for sale and isn’t entertaining offers for it. “We have no immediate plans for the property,” he said.

During a speech in 2011, Ruhe told local neighborhood leaders the company is “not afraid to buy land and hold it for a long amount of time.” But that’s the last thing county officials want to hear now.

“If they have no plans to use it, I would hope they would let us put it to work to bring some jobs to Pasco County,” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said.

Richard Gehring, the county’s growth management administrator, said he and former County Administrator John Gallagher met with representatives from T. Rowe Price a year ago concerning the project. At the time, company officials assured them the project was still moving forward, but he hasn’t spoken to anyone since that meeting.

The Ryan Companies, based in Minneapolis, was slated to be the developer but no longer lists the project on the company’s Web page. Southeast Division President Doug Dieck said the company took it off the site because it had grown stagnant. Ryan built the Rasmussen College Sunlake campus and a nearby charter school, but T. Rowe Price would have been its largest project in the county.

“It’s a missed opportunity, but hopefully not the last chapter,” Dieck said. “Some projects you pursue for years, and when you get them they start right away. Some you pursue for a month, and then you win the contract and it never happens. You just roll with it the best you can.”

Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she had hoped Pasco could position itself as a hub for the financial services sector.

The T. Rowe Price deal in 2009 also helped Pasco land a future Raymond James Financial campus at Wiregrass Ranch two years later. But that project has been hung up in permitting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for more than a year. Raymond James still hasn’t closed on the property.

“Unlike the Raymond James folks, T. Rowe Price actually bought the property,” Commissioner Ted Schrader said. “Pasco County has admittedly struggled to have these major job creators actually construct the buildings. It’s not up to me to tell a corporation what to do with their property. They’re still paying taxes on it, but it’s not doing anybody any good to have a vacant piece of property there.”

Hagen agreed. “I will say the site is viable,” he said. “It’s a great site, and if they decide to put it back on the market, we’ll find someone to go there.”

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