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JACKSONVILLE, FL-Riding out difficult economic times, locally based St. Joe Co. has posted third-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $42.2 million or 50 cents per diluted share. That performance compares with $42.4 million or 49 cents per diluted share earned in the comparable 2000 period.

Excluding conservation land sales, net EBITDA was $33 million or 39 cents per share compared with $27.1 million or 31 cents per share for the same quarter last year.

Net income, however, was down. The $16 million or 19 cents per share was off from $20.8 million or 24 cents recorded last year.

Arvida Realty Services, a St. Joe subsidiary that handles residential and commercial, is expected to contribute strong fourth-quarter results in the residential category, Peter S. Rummell, St. Joe’s chairman/CEO, says in a prepared statement.

“In the last three weeks of the third quarter (ended Sept. 30), there were delays in the closing of a small number of transactions at our residential, commercial and land divisions,” says Rummell, the former president of Walt Disney World’s former imagineering department.

The St. Joe chairman explains how the company is able to withstand severe downturns in the economy.

“St. Joe is uniquely positioned,” he says in his statement. “We’re not like most other real estate companies. Our greatest asset, our 1930s-priced land holdings, is carried at a very low cost.”

He says, “When we do develop, our goal is to tightly phase horizontal infrastructure to match market demand and, for the most part, vertical development is initiated only on a contractual basis.”

Rummell says the company’s nearly one million acres of low basis land in Florida are “a real advantage for St. Joe and its shareholders in any economic environment.”

The St. Joe executive is confident the company’s resort communities being developed by Arvida Community Development in the Florida Panhandle and other parts of the state will pay off in the near future.

In Central Florida, Arvida’s 1,859-acre, mixed-use Victoria Park development in DeLand, FL, located between Orlando and Daytona Beach, closed on three residential contracts and seven home sites in the third quarter. An additional nine homes and seven lots are under contract at an average price of $190,600 for the homes and $71,000 for the lots.

Victoria Park is planned for 4,000 homes, an 18-hole golf course and a mix of recreational amenities. Earnings are expected to begin in 2002 and continue for at least 10 years, Rummell says.

“While we cannot know what the full effects of the horrific events of Sept. 11 will be on our business, we continue to monitor the market closely,” he says. “We are very fortunate that Northwest Florida has traditionally been a drive-in market closer to the feeder markets of the Southeast and Midwest than other areas of Florida.”

Rummell says he thinks this factor “will be a plus” for St. Joe, “at least in the short term.” Still, he acknowledges he has seen evidence of reduced traffic in the state.

“While there are pockets of Florida where the economy has slowed, on the whole, the state’s economic base is diversified and continues to grow.” Rummell calls Florida “the number one location for Baby Boomers on the move.”

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