Kitson & Partners recently closed on a deal to buy a rare chunk of ready-to-develop property in the middle of Florida’s most densely populated county.
Kitson, a residential and commercial real estate investment and development company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., paid a bank $7.9 million for the 60-acre parcel across the street from the Bay Pines Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Pinellas County, Fla., according to public sale records. Another $1.25 million is due on a balloon note on the land if certain contingencies are met, according to the property deed.
“We are really excited about really doing something great here, something productive and useful for the community and the city,” said Andy Carmody, a senior vice president at Kitson.
Kitson developers envision creating a community with a variety of land uses in addition to residential that might appeal to nearby 5,000 employees at the nearby VA hospital. Neighborhood retail, a hotel, and medical offices are all being considered as land-use options that might also serve the thousands of patients and their family members who visit Bay Pines each year.
Currently, the land has an extremely dense zoning that would allow 1,110 residential units composed of condominiums, apartments, and conventional townhomes, according to Carmody. But Kitson is now in the early stages of working with the city of Seminole and the county to re-zone the land. “We didn’t believe that in today’s market, that level of density was really viable on the site, nor did we think it was the best total use of the site,” Carmody explained.
Kitson hopes to begin construction on the project in 18 to 24 months.
This land in the middle of built-out central Pinellas County was assembled from a large mobile home park by a local developer, in a time-consuming, expensive and often emotionally wrought process as the state required owners to jump through a variety of regulatory hoops to vacate the often-elderly residents of that development.
“That is not something we would normally take on ourselves,” said Carmody. He said the former developer couldn’t complete the plan because of the market downturn, and then the bank called the note.
Carmody thinks Kitson can create an economically viable project on the land. “We are hopeful that, even though the market is still relatively depressed, that the quality of this property would still attract, even in a down market,” he said.
The land has a number of advantages. Not only is such a large swatch of open land a scarce thing in Pinellas County, this parcel's location is also prime. The land is across the street from the hospital, a mile and a half from Madeira Beach, halfway between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and a short bike ride to the popular Pinellas Trail, a former railway line that as been converted for pedestrian and bicycle use and runs the length of the county.
“Those are the kinds of things that have got us pretty excited about the site,” said Carmody. “We may be able to take a small step forward in creating everything you need in your own neighborhood, reducing the amount of driving you have to do, and a short distance from some fairly remarkable recreational amenities.”
The Bay Pines property is tiny compared with Kitson’s other big Florida project, the massive Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida.
In 2006, Kitson CEO Syd Kitson was able to broker a difficult deal that allowed him to buy the entire 91,000-acre ranch from the Babcock family–which had owned it for more nearly 100 years—and then immediately sell almost 74,000 environmentally sensitive acres of the ranch to Lee County and the state of Florida to be preserved from development.
The transaction left 17,000 acres for a town of 19,500 homes that Kitson plans as a sustainable community.
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines.