Spotting a niche in a market 80 miles from home, Orlando-based St. Joe Commercial plans to invest between $50 million and $100 million over the next five years in buying up older properties that have outlived their usefulness in neighboring Tampa’s central business district and the Westshore area.

“Preliminary feasibility surveys indicate enormous opportunities in this area, particularly in the downtown area,” St. Joe Commercial vice president Frank W. Herring Jr. tells “While a strong niche exists in the rehabilitation and restoration of historic buildings, we plan to focus on opportunities that offer larger scales.”

For example, Herring notes typical suburban office facilities developed 25 to 30 years ago are no longer workable. “Opportunities to acquire and redevelop them abound,” Herring says. “Over the next decade, we see the biggest commercial development opportunities in the creative recycling of such older properties.”

The developer also sees other trends developing. “The robust economy is creating strong demand not only for new commercial space, but for new ideas,” Herring says. “Twentieth-century development parameters that treated ground-level parking lots as value-enhancing amenities will see their value decline in the new millennium.”

He also expects to see more mixed-use development that combines exceptional office facilities with shared training and conference centers that offer extensive amenities for workers.

In Tampa’s Westshore market, for example, Herring notes “the phenomenal rate of growth in high-tech employment means growing competition for the best engineers and programmers.”

At about 40 million sf, the developer calls Westshore “one of the largest suburban office markets in Florida.” He says this market has every factor needed to make it a successful high-tech center.

“In every Silicon Valley in the United States, companies are learning that a good working environment is a key factor in hiring and retaining the best employees,” Herring says. “Such amenities as on-site day care centers and exercise/fitness facilities are de rigueur in most markets. Close-in dining, entertainment and personal services, especially integrated into a mixed-use development plan, can add tremendous value to office facilities.”

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