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Florida's inland ports of call

Some of the state’s largest landowners are betting that “inland ports” are the future of Florida freight.

The companies — ranging from agribusinesses such as A. Duda & Sons and Plum Creek to railroad operators CSX and Florida East Coast Industries — are all investing time, money and land to develop massive logistics centers and transportation hubs in the interior of the state.

The projects are being driven by the belief that international trade through Florida will grow exponentially — and that limited space at the ports means that much of the cargo arriving in the state will have to be moved farther inland, where land is cheaper and more abundant, to be sorted and shipped. The companies, which own massive swaths of undeveloped land, hope the logistics hubs will spur further commercial and even residential development on surrounding properties.

The state has spent billions of dollars in recent years trying to improve connectivity among ports, highways and airports and to nurture the logistics industry. The public-sector investments include a $1-billion tunnel under Biscayne Bay linking PortMiami to I-395; a $426-million extension of the Selmon Expressway connecting the Port Tampa Bay with I-4, along with tax breaks for manufacturers and funding for logistics job-training programs.

One question is whether there will ultimately be enough freight to support all of the inland port projects.

“I really believe that the growth is going to be big for Florida and there’s probably enough to go around for just about everybody,” says Mark Morton, director of strategic real estate and business development for U.S. Sugar. “It’s really going to be market-driven — cost-and speed-to-market driven.”

Here is a look at seven of the biggest logistics projects under way across Florida:

South Florida Intermodal Logistics Center

Who: FLORIDA CRYSTALS

Where: Just west of Belle Glade in Palm Beach County

What: Florida Crystals envisions the 850-acre tract, currently used to grow sugar cane, as the site of up to 10 million square feet of predominantly industrial space and a 100-acre rail yard. The site is within Palm Beach County’s urban service area and a few hundred feet off U. S. Sugar’s short-line railroad. It is close to the intersection of U.S. 27 and State Road 80. The Florida Legislature appropriated $430,000 this year to help reopen a nearby Palm Beach County schools facility for use as a training center.

When: The company says it intends to time the project with the completion of the Panama Canal widening in 2016.

Competitive advantage: Florida Crystals Vice President Gaston Cantens says the company’s logistics center site stands out because it is closer to the ports of Miami and Everglades than some of its other potential competitors in the region.

Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center

Who: CSX

Where: Winter Haven

What: The first among the planned centers to open, CSX’s 318-acre intermodal center features five 3,000-foot loading tracks, two 10,000-foot arrival and departure tracks and three rail-mounted cranes that move containers from train to truck in a single lift. CSX expects the facility, which replaces one south of Orlando, to process up to 300,000 containers a year.

When: A 400,000-sq.-ft. spec building is being built. The logistics development is expected to be built out in about five years.

Competitive advantage: CSX says its location is ideally suited to serve the Orlando and Tampa markets. The company expects to serve south Florida as well, but doesn’t need to for the project to succeed. “We think we’re in a good spot,” says Bob O’Malley, a CSX vice president.

South Florida Logistics Center

Who: FLORIDA EAST COAST INDUSTRIES

Where: Miami What: Flagler Global Logistics, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, is planning up to 2 million square feet of industrial space in the 200-acre complex adjacent to Miami International Airport. The site includes an intermodal hub operated by sister company Florida East Coast Railway, which provides rail access to the ports of Miami, Everglades and Palm Beach. It’s also one mile from the Palmetto Expressway and five miles from Florida’s Turnpike.

When: Flagler Global Logistics expects to have about 600,000 square feet built by the end of the year.

Competitive advantage: “It’s probably unique in all the country because of its connectivity to land, sea and air. We can technically pull something into our site without ever touching a public road,” says FGL President and CEO Chris Scott.

North Florida Intermodal Park

Who: PLUM CREEK LAND CO.

Where: Columbia County, east of Lake City

What: Plum Creek has set aside more than 2,600 acres for its intermodal center, all of which already has the necessary landuse and zoning designations, says Allison Megrath, the company’s manager of real estate. That includes about 500 acres that the state has designated as a “catalyst site” and rural enterprise zone, making any business that builds there eligible for extra incentives. Plum Creek is finalizing a land swap with the U.S. Forestry Service that will give the site direct access to a CSX rail line. The site also has the possibility of connecting to a Norfolk Southern rail line. The site is adjacent to the Lake City Gateway Airport, a former Navy base with an 8,000-footlong runway, and it is included in the foreign trade zone for the Port of Jacksonville. The land is approved for up to 8 million square feet of industrial space, 100,000 square feet of commercial development and 300 units for workforce housing.

When: Plum Creek says it can develop a property for a manufacturer or other interested party within 12 months.

Competitive advantage: “We’re kind of out of the fray of the folks that are all kind of clustered” in south Florida, Megrath says. “So we really always kind of looked at this project as being significantly different than what’s happening in the rest of Florida.”

Crawford Diamond Industrial Center

Who: RAYONIER

Where: 16 miles northwest of Jacksonville

What: The 1,814-acre site has direct access to both CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines and has already been approved for up to 10.5 million square feet of industrial uses. It’s within 17 miles of major east-west and north-south highways (I-95 and I-10) and within 32 miles of two deepwater ports (Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach). The site is close to both a large potential workforce, as 700,000 people live within 50 miles of the park, and customer base, with 45 million people living within an eight-hour drive. Rayonier is also working with state transportation officials to design a new crossing over the CSX tracks off of U.S. Highway 301.

When: Rayonier says the site is ready and has begun working with Enterprise Florida and other economic development groups to market the center to potential clients.

Competitive advantage: “This is a home run for a major manufacturer that doesn’t want to be beholden to one railroad,” says Mike Bell, Rayonier’s director of economic development, public affairs and communications. “If you’re making a heavy product, the largest cost in that product is getting it to market. So they want to locate on rail, but they don’t want to be beholden to one.”

Americas Gateway Logistics Center

Who: A. DUDA & SONS/VIERA CO.

Where: Moore Haven

What: The project is master-planned on nearly 2,000 acres, with an initial phase of 800 acres, and has room for 18 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution space. The site has frontage along U.S. 27, a major freight route with capacity to spare, and State Road 78. The U.S. Sugarowned South Central Florida Express railroad runs for four miles adjacent to the southwestern edge of the site and connects to CSX and Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The center is within the service area of four seaports: Miami, Everglades, Palm Beach and Manatee. State and local governments are building the Gateway Logistics and Manufacturing Training Center next to the site, with a goal of beginning classes in January.

When: Duda says it has begun discussions with prospective tenants.

Competitive advantage: “Our site is especially attractive because of its already existing infrastructure and strong community and political support,” says Duda spokeswoman Susan Howard.

Airglades Airport

Who: U.S. SUGAR AND HILLIARD BROS.

Where: Clewiston

What: AIA, a joint venture between U.S. Sugar, Hilliard Bros. And Florida Cargo Fresh is in the process of buying an airport from Hendry County in hopes of developing a facility to handle overflows of international perishable cargo from Miami International Airport. The initial estimate to build the air cargo airport is $400 million to $500 million, including a 400,000-sq.-ft. refrigerated warehouse.

When: AIA President Fred Ford says “several unnamed rather large users of Miami (International Airport) are now sniffing around” Airglades, which is aiming to be open by the end of 2018.

Competitive advantage: Ford says Airglades offers a unique combination of big airport infrastructure, proximity to population and transportation hubs and undeveloped land free from urban encroachment that will make it ideal for companies shipping time-sensitive cargo such as flowers and fruit.