St. Joe Land finds a new use for its vast, undervalued forests.
By Julie S. Bettinger
When the St. Joe Co. tried to auction off some of its vast timberland holdings in 1999, bids came in lower than expected, so executives decided to pull the property -- up to 800,000 acres -- off the market. The experience had a silver lining, says Chairman and CEO Peter Rummell: "We started getting calls from people saying, 'Let me tell you about the 100 acres I've always wanted.' "
Lost in the woods, it seems, was a niche market appealing to those who wanted their very own cabin in the woods -- something Rummell's company had in abundance.
St. Joe Land set about identifying about a dozen forest properties -- potentially encompassing a total of 40,000 acres -- near freshwater lakes and rivers between Walton and Wakulla counties to create what it calls RiverCamps.
The RiverCamps developments will feature cabins on 10- to 40-acre tracts with access to outdoor sports, including fishing, hunting, boating, hiking and horseback riding. All property owners will have access to a common "grand cabin" lodge and caretaker-type services provided by RiverCamps staff. Lots are expected to be available for sale next spring.
Though still in the dream phase, some of the features considered for the developments include a giant treehouse for kids, a treetop observation area for adults, a pool that will look more like a spring, a boathouse and even a chapel in the woods.
"It's meant to be very natural," says Will Butler, vice president of land destination. "RiverCamps is about getting back to the roots."
The pioneering concept is said to be Rummell's brainchild, and he is going to great extremes to make it a success. He recruited Scott Sanders from Walt Disney Imagineering to help with development and several northwest Florida natives, including Todd Sperry, formerly of Sperry Construction, to oversee the projects.
Until now, St. Joe has emphasized development on its coastline property in the Panhandle, but Rummell says the key to the company's long-term success is packaging rural holdings in a way that fits consumer demand. Admittedly, marketing the woods will take a little more effort than the company's coastal properties, but Rummell says he expects to attract young retirees, empty-nesters and busy executives looking for a getaway. "It will probably be a second-home alternative to the condominium in Sarasota, Destin or someplace else."
In the News
Chipley -- The city of Chipley received a $56,236 Rural Infrastructure Fund grant to expand sewer, water and gas lines in the Chipley Industrial Park and $463,000 from the state's Economic Development Transportation Fund to improve roads.
Tallahassee-based Sandco plans to move its Alabama facility to a 10-acre site in the Chipley Industrial Park, creating 40 jobs.
Hosford -- Georgia-Pacific is building a 389,600-sq.-ft. oriented strand board plant in Liberty County. Florida's One-Stop Center in Blountstown has been handling hiring for the construction phase. The company hasn't provided an opening date or employment projections.
Okaloosa Island -- Okaloosa County has broken ground on its new Emerald Coast Conference Center, a 70,000-sq.-ft. multipurpose facility expected to cost $15.5 million. The center is scheduled to open January 2003.
Panhandle -- The merger of O'Sullivan Hicks Patton of Pensacola and Creel Bryan & Gallagher of Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Niceville has created northwest Florida's largest accounting firm. At 149 employees, the new O'Sullivan Creel LLP is the second-largest accounting firm based in Florida.
Pensacola -- Doug Kinsinger, who was president of the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce for four years, has left to head up the Greater Topeka (Kansas) Chamber of Commerce. Evon Emerson, founder of Emerson Enterprises, is interim president of the Pensacola chamber.
AmSouth is building a $7-million call center that is expected to employ 250. The 35,000-sq.-ft. center in Marcus Pointe Commerce Park is scheduled to open in February.
Tallahassee -- Peek Traffic Systems, which employs 110, has closed its Tallahassee manufacturing plant, consolidating operations in Sarasota. Peek manufactures traffic signal controllers and traffic monitoring cameras.
Florida State University's research funding hit a record high. The $130.2 million it received was 11% higher than last year's $116.9 million. The majority, $83.7 million, came from the federal government.
Add two more restaurants to the rash of closings in the capital city. Steak and Ale, which has been in Tallahassee for 27 years, has closed because of "below-average" sales, affecting 40 workers. Semolina International Pasta Restaurant also closed.
White City -- Gulf County Shipbuilding put the finishing touches on its first ship -- the giant 400,000-pound Nekton Rorqual -- at the end of the summer. The ship is equipped with two 800-horsepower motors.