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ORLANDO-Another sign hotel and restaurant markets continue to soften is the planned Dec. 1 shutdown of Marriott Distribution Services’ $5 million, 126,500-sf plant at the 733-acre Christopher C. Ford Industrial Park, operated by Lake County government near Groveland, FL, 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando.

Marriott is also scaling down or consolidating operations at its nine other distribution centers around the country, area brokers in a position to know tell GlobeSt.com. The other Florida center is at Port St. Lucie, FL on the state’s southeast coast.

Area brokers tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity Marriott has four years remaining at the Lake County park on a 10-year lease held by Orlando building owner Robert Mantovani. Mantovani has constructed some of the largest warehouses in Central Florida for national tenants.

Marriott bought the Lake County land in 1996 at the rock-bottom price of $141,000 or $14,100 per acre (32 cents per sf), according to Lake County real estate records.

The county gave Marriott a $175,000 economic incentives package based on new job creations. At the time, Alvin Jackson, former assistant county manager, called the arrival of Marriott to the park, “one of our crown jewels.”

The park generates a half million dollars annual in tax revenue to the county and offers jobs to 800 workers, including 103 at the Marriott plant.

The Marriott warehouse stocked 5,000 food items daily for next-day delivery to restaurants and hotels in a 300-mile radius. The warehouse liked to call itself “the FedEx of food,” referring to the Memphis, TN-based overnight national courier service.

Marriott officials couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline. But Lake County staffers familiar with the park’s operations and tenants tell GlobeSt.com the economy, and not the park, is directly responsible for Marriott’s pullout.

“The park is in good shape with about 200 acres still to be developed,” a staffer says.

Marriott’s exit follows Toyota Marine Sports’ departure and layoff of 53 workers in 2001. The division of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. also blamed the economy and a declining demand for watercraft products.

The 10-year-old industrial park has shown a strong growth curve, attracting national retailers and competing fiercely with higher-priced industrial complexes in Orlando, Lake brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

The park’s strongest selling lever is the price of its dirt–$35,000 per acre or 80 cents per sf. Comparable Orlando land goes for $80,000 per acre to $100,000 per acre ($1.84 per sf to $2.30 per sf).

Among the 20 owners of distribution centers at the park are Circuit City with 514,000 sf on 30 acres with plans to expand the structure by 192,000 sf on an adjoining 13.1-acre pad; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, 294,000 sf and a staff of 37; Home Depot, 123,000 sf on 32 acres; Sprint North Supply, 182,860 sf on 20.6 acres; Domino’s Pizza, 40,000 sf on 11 acres with a staff of 78; American Hotel Register, 40,000 sf on 19.87 acres; and Hi-Tech America Development Corp., 70,000 sf on 30 acres.

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