With profits in the thoroughbred industry booming, few are leaving the business, but they are relocating. The pending sales of Bonnie Heath and Dudley farms are among the most high-profile shifts in Marion County. Bonnie Heath III and Scott Dudley, sons of original Ocala horsemen, plan to move their operations to less pricey acreage in the northern part of the county and to reap handsome profits even after relocation costs. Boca Raton developer Dick Seimens expects to buy the Heath and Dudley properties as well as adjacent Tartan Farm and create a $500 million development of 2,000 upscale homes, golf courses and retail space. Already, other development has wrapped around the farms. "It was getting undesirable for a horse farm, and the price was right," says Bonnie Heath III. He won't reveal sale figures, which won't be public until the closing expected early next year.
Bonnie Heath Sr. and Jack Dudley, Oklahoma oilmen, bought Marion County property in the 1950s to venture into the thoroughbred industry. When their horse, Needles, became Florida's first Kentucky Derby winner in 1956, it sired a new industry for the state. Since their sons have taken over, Dudley's Silver Charm won two legs of the Triple Crown in 1997 and Heath's Holy Bull was 1994 Horse of the Year. Famed trainer D. Wayne Lukas recently moved his operation from California to the area.
Dick Hancock, executive vice president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, says the county's 450 thoroughbred farms and training centers generate about $1.1 billion - and is growing. Clearwater businessman Satish Sanan last spring began establishing a breeding and training outfit here. Silverleaf, the horse farm Sanan brought in a $7.5 million deal, is relocating north in the county. Hancock says that while horse farms are migrating outside Ocala city limits, the industry will remain strong in the county and region. "There's no threat of us running out of land in the next 25 years," Hancock says.
Not everyone agrees. Assistant property appraiser Cathy Cavalier says agricultural operations, including horse farms, will continue their retreat to the more rural counties. "It's not profitable to sit on acreage when you could sell it to grow houses." - Jane Tanner
GAINESVILLE - The $60 million, 210,000-square-foot University of Florida Brain Institute opens this month to consolidate research and education on the brain and spine.
JACKSONVILLE - This winter the federal government likely will pony up three quarters of the $30 million needed to deepen the shipping channel, a 14-mile stretch of the St. Johns River, from 38 to 40 feet. Dredging would begin in 2000. The Jacksonville Port Authority may cover added costs of going to 41 feet. Each foot means a cargo ship can add another 300 containers. Rival ports in Miami, Charleston and Savannah are at 42 feet deep or more.
National Auto Finance Co. (Nasdaq-NAFIE) is moving its corporate headquarters here from Boca Raton and expects to have 350 employees within five years.
A 163-acre, 1.2 million-square-foot industrial park on the west side is slated for next spring. Orlando-based developer The Pizzuti Companies also has plans for 100,000 square feet of commercial space.
KBJ Architects Inc. is designing a $8.2 million emergency recovery center in Tallahassee to store state data during hurricanes or other crises. Also, KBJ is among four firms selected to bid on $200 million in upcoming Navy contracts.
Modis Professional Services (NYSE-MPS), formerly AccuStaff, sold its commercial staffing business Strategix Solutions to Amsterdam-based Randstad Holding, which has a U.S. base in Atlanta, for $850 million.
MARION COUNTY - The Florida Audubon Society has acquired the rights to build and operate The Refuge at Ocklawaha, adjacent to the Ocala National Forest, as a model for eco-tourism.
OCALA - Mark III Industries Inc., the nation's largest custom van and truck converter, is merging with former rival Indiana-based Glaval Corp., the second largest in the industry. The merged company, to be based in Ocala, will represent at least 35% of the industry and likely will mean expansion in Florida, where Mark III currently employs 680.
ST. AUGUSTINE - Florida East Coast Industries (NYSE-FLA) now carries data as well as freight along its 350-mile railroad right-of-way from Jacksonville to Miami. Recently Florida East Coast, 54% owned by St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE), took over 36 fiber optic links. Working with Tulsa-based Williams Network, which operates one of the largest fiber-optic networks in the U.S., Florida East Coast plans to lease and sell space.
STARKE - Shands HealthCare upgraded its hospital in Starke, replacing a 1956 hospital with a 28,000-square-foot, $5 million facility.
SUWANNEE COUNTY - With the county's 55-acre industrial park just off U.S. 90 nearly full, the county Development Authority plans to buy property for another industrial park.
UNION COUNTY- A moratorium on wastewater connections had stifled commercial and residential growth, but a recent $3.5 million expansion of an old plant has expanded property now available for development. Officials also lowered most zoning and planning fees 30% or more to accelerate growth.