Bass Pro Shops, the only announced anchor for a proposed northern St. Johns County development along Interstate 95, should find it easier to reel in the site.
On Tuesday, the St. Johns County Commission approved the Durbin Urban Services Area, which encompasses 1,624 acres east and west of I-95, south of Race Track Road.
According to a county official, the agreement approved Tuesday eases the way for Bass Pro Shops.
“It means this would be the landing pad for them to come in and rezone and get construction plans approved and build,” said Darrell Locklear, assistant administrator of operational services for St. Johns County.
Jacksonville-based Gate Petroleum Co. owns the property through Durbin Creek National LLC.
Think of the size of the property as several editions of the St. Johns Town Center, which is the popular 240-acre retail, commercial and multifamily lifestyle center in Duval County at Butler Boulevard and the I-295 East Beltway.
The project includes Gate’s donation of right-of-way for the extension of Florida 9B and an interchange.
“The combination of the 9B extension with the intensive commercial land use at a new interchange is going to bring the type of development that our residents are looking for,” Locklear said.
He said the county has a dense population in the northwest and northeast, including the Nocatee communities.
“We believe this will be a draw for the region,” he said.
Durbin is designed to be developed in four five-year phases that eventually will total 2.4 million square feet of shopping-center retail space, almost 2.8 million square feet of office space, 350 hotel rooms and 999 multifamily units.
Gate has not determined the extent of its development of the property, but is expected to sell some of the parcels to other companies. The Durbin property still would need zoning approvals as plans evolve for individual tracts.
A 2-year wait
Bass Pro Shops is attracted by the Florida Department of Transportation’s move forward with the Florida 9B project as well as Gate’s donation of up to 23 acres for the retailer’s site.
That road project will provide a connection to the site eyed by the retailer.
Bass Pro Shops announced on Christmas Eve 2012 it would open a 104,000-square-foot Outdoor World west along I-95 near the new Florida 9B interchange.
It specified a 40-acre area south of Race Track Road, which includes the use of a 14-acre lake that would be managed for trophy bass and youth and community events.
Bass Pro Shops said the store would open in the second quarter of 2014 subject to completion of the interchange and supporting road system.
Bass Pro Shops, based in Springfield, Mo., could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.
The nationwide destination retailer typically seeks economic incentives and would need to deal with St. Johns County for those. Locklear doesn’t believe Bass Pro Shops had made a formal request to the county.
The company has sought incentives in other locations because it is a destination retailer that brings in tourists as well as local shoppers.
While Florida 9B wouldn’t be completed until 2018, Locklear said Bass Pro Shops does not have to wait for that.
“They have told us as long as there is plan in place for 9B, that is what they are looking for and may move ahead of 9B being constructed,” he said, adding that it was a verbal conversation.
Ken Wilson, vice president of Gate Petroleum, said Bass Pro Shops has been in touch regularly with Gate.
He said Gate would convey the property for the Bass Pro Shops development when the retailer commits to construction.
Wilson also is president of GL National Inc., the real estate division of Gate Petroleum.
Florida 9B a pivotal project
The Florida Department of Transportation’s sr9b.com website reports a project development and environmental study is underway for the third phase of Florida 9B.
That phase will begin west of I-95 and extend about 1.5 miles south to connect with County Road 2209, which is St. Johns Parkway, in the Durbin property.
Construction is funded to begin as early as late this year, the website said.
Wilson said the approval criteria of the Durbin Urban Services Area were established in 2011 legislation supported by Gov. Rick Scott and approved by the Florida Legislature.
The act allows a large development area to be exempt from the Development of Regional Impact process if it provides economic benefits to the local community.
The current Durbin property taxes total $9,144 a year as timberland under managed silva culture practices. Based on the outlined developments over 20 years, it is calculated to generate $449.6 million in property, sales and bed taxes.
“That’s a good indication of why the county is in favor of it,” Wilson said.
Gate also provided a map that shows very little large retail and commercial development within the northern St. Johns County area. However, southeastern and southwestern Duval County is populated with major retailers including Walmart, Sears, Costco, Target and many more.
The only St. Johns County Walmart Supercenter is in St. Augustine, miles south of the Gate site. “It illustrates the kind of demand for retail services that exist in St. Johns County,” Wilson said.
He said the development represents “one of the biggest commercial projects to come to North Florida in a long time.”
Moreover, he said the county stated the Durbin project comprises about 67 percent of all of the “intensive commercial land use” in St. Johns County.
Yet, it won’t happen overnight.
“We have a good bit of interest, but we don’t have any immediate plans,” Wilson said. He said Gate was not in negotiations with any buyers.
Also, the property could be renamed as development proceeds. The name might not remain Durbin, based on who buys the land.
Gate continues to recognize The Cummer Land Trust, which sold the property to Gate in 2004, by naming the Cummer Parkway East and Cummer Parkway West roadways.