Sunday, November 10, 2013

Who's Buying Up Florida

If the Mormon church can complete a real estate deal they are working on, they will own nearly 2 percent of the state of Florida. This week they put forth plans to buy most of the real estate presently owned by the St. Joe Co. for more than a half-billion dollars. Completion of the deal will leave the Utah-based Mormon Church with 678,000 acres, more than any other private holding in Florida, according to widely shared but unconfirmed rankings of top landowners. Folks who follow these mega deals learned of the deal just this week from a corporate representative of Church of Latter Day Saints, which owns the nearly 295,000-acre Deseret Ranches in Central Florida. Besides their prior holdings in Florida, the Mormons also have a real estate and timber business, and have already built several communities along the Panhandle coast. According to the representative, AgReserves Inc., will buy an additional 382,834 acres – the majority of St. Joe’s timberlands – in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties for $565 million. AgReserves is a taxpaying company, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and will maintain the timber and agricultural uses of the Panhandle acreage. Owned by the Mormon Church for nearly 60 years, Deseret Ranches sprawls across Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties and propoerties like these are increasingly seen as critical to the region’s water supply, road and rail network and future development. AgReserves--as the operating company, has a good track record with regard to land stewardship and prudent resource management. According to Paul Genho, chairman of AgReserves. “We will apply that same commitment and expertise to managing the property we are acquiring in Florida’s panhandle.” Last week, Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order that created the East Central Florida Corridor Task Force to plan for roads, development and environmental protection in an area dominated by Deseret Ranches. Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was enthusiastic about the announced deal as long-term investment in the state’s timber and cattle business. No other metropolitan area in the state borders such a huge and potentially developable piece of property as Deseret Ranches, which covers a largely roadless and unpopulated area southeast of Orlando. With 44,000 head of cattle, the ranch property also is one of the nation’s largest producers of calves and manages thousands of acres of citrus groves, vegetable farms and timberlands. Orlando, Orange County and state water authorities have been planning for years to accommodate their growing populations by pumping water from Taylor Creek Reservoir within ranch boundaries. The seller, St. Joe Co. said the sale would help the company focus on its general real estate development. St. Joe still owns 184,000 acres after the sale. Dane Hahn is a real estate professional helping buyers and sellers in Charlotte and Sarasota counties. You can reach him at 941-681-0312, or by email at See him on the web at

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