January 23, 2022

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Business The Problem Solver

Marijuana distributor renovates Mach III

Many construction projects all across Marion County are in full swing, with a marijuana distributor launching a $20 million renovation of the old Mach III, while the old Kmart Distribution Center sold for $126.5 million.

Also, a hearing about plans for a large residential development near SummerGlen was pushed a second time to later in the year so the developer can work with Marion County engineers to resolve traffic issues along County Road 484 near the Interstate 75 interchange.

Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP), said the business boom is simply due to “location, location, location” of Ocala and Marion County in the state.

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Green Thumb launches renovation

A&A Demolition and Excavation launched its demolition of several old Mark III buildings recently for Green Thumb Industries, Inc., which is spending $20 million to redevelop part of the facility to launch medical marijuana distribution.

The plan for the property, which sold for $4.7 million in March 2019 and contains 11 buildings on site, is to grow, process and distribute marijuana to 35 of Green Thumb’s dispensaries across Florida. The project will create about 100 jobs, officials have said.

Green Thumb, a Chicago-based company, has medical marijuana cultivation, distribution and retail facilities in 12 states.

The company maintains it promotes “well-being through the power of cannabis” and gives “back to the communities in which it serves,” its website states.

Green Thumb manufactures and distributes branded cannabis products, including Beboe, Dogwalkers, Dr. Solomon’s, incredibles, Rythm and The Feel.

The company, established in 2014, also owns and operates retail cannabis stores called Rise. Green Thumb employs over 2,300 people across the country, its website touts.

Sheilley said that Green Thumb chose Marion County for the same reason so many other business, such as Amazon, FedEx and AutoZone, have: location.

The demolition has been ongoing for several months on the 30-acre site, located west of Interstate 75 along the 5400 block of Northwest 44th Avenue. A new I-75 interchange is planned nearby at Northwest 49th Street.

The interchange is being constructed to serve the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park on the east side of the interstate. However, recent announcements show that the west side of I-75 is now becoming home to even more distribution centers.

As part of Green Thumb’s operation, marijuana will be grown indoors, then moved to a processing facility and packaged for distribution.

Florida voters approved medical marijuana in 2016. A doctor’s prescription is required to purchase the drug.

Green Thumb’s retail locations operate under the name Rise. It has locations in Oviedo, Pinellas Park, Bonita Springs, Deerfield Beach and Hallandale Beach. It can open another 30 locations under its current license.

Marion County is home to several marijuana dispensaries. The first opened in December 2018.

Florida’s largest warehouse sells again

In November 2019, the old Kmart Distribution Center sold for a whopping $70 million to the Reich Brothers, based in White Plains, New York. The property was immediately leased back to Transformco and, later, Costco.

Just recently, or about 18 months after that sell, one of Florida’s largest warehouses sold again. This time it sold for $126.5 million.

Sheilley said Friday that “industrial real estate is so hot people want to buy into it.”

“It’s (Marion County) a great place for investment for growth and return,” he noted. “I think the other piece is it really speaks to the value that is being seen in this market. You can invest and you know you’re going to be able to find a tenant.”

IP Capital Partners, of Boca Raton, and Torchlight Investors, of New York, paid $126.5 million for what is now called the Florida Keystone Distribution Center, a 1.9 million-square-foot warehouse at 655 SW 52nd Ave., Ocala.

Cushman & Wakefield, an Atlanta-based commercial real estate firm, arranged the sale and secured $102 million in financing on behalf of the buyers. Reich Brothers, the sellers, specialize in repurposing underutilized industrial assets, a release noted.

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Florida Keystone Distribution Center, which was constructed in 1990, is located on 169 acres south of State Road 40 and east of Southwest 60th Avenue, about two miles west of Interstate 75.

The warehouse is leased by Costco-Innovel and Transformco. Innovel is a logistics provider that Costco acquired last year from Sears’ holding company. Sheilley said that both Costco and Transformco will remain, for now, as tenants.

Originally the warehouse was acquired in a bankruptcy sale of the Kmart and Sears Holdings property. The new company became known as Transformco, or the “new Sears,” and kept more than 400 Sears stores open, as well as the local facility.

As part of the overall bankruptcy sale, the Ocala distribution center officially sold for $58.4 million, according to sale records.

Marion County is becoming nationally known as a distribution hub. Warehousing companies such as Amazon, Chewy, AutoZone, FedEx and Dollar Tree have established distribution centers in the county.

Once Dollar Tree’s expansion is completed in the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park, located off County Road 484, Marion County will be home to two of the largest warehouses in all of Florida.

Sheilley said the investment means Ocala is now a place where businesses want to be and investors known they can lease their product pretty quickly.

“Now I will tell you that when the Dollar Tree expansion’s done, we’re going to be one of the very few communities to have multiple facilities with more than a million-and-a-half square feet,” he noted.

Development plans still on hold

Meanwhile, a land owner who wants to build an 800-plus-home family community in southwest Marion was given another two months to tweak plans before the controversial development appears before the Marion County Commission. 

The commission agreed Tuesday to shift the final hearing for the proposed development, which would be adjacent to the north of SummerGlen, first to August and then September. 

The new community, located east of the sprawling Marion Oaks community and west of Interstate 75, would be located on Southwest 20th Avenue Road, a section of roadway that is lined with mostly small cattle ranches and mid-size horse farms.

Just south of these rural farms is the 221-acre parcel that is poised to become the new home family development. It would be next door to SummerGlen, which is located 2.2 miles south of County Road 484.

David Tillman, of Tillman & Associates, LLC, who represented the land owner at Tuesday’s commission meeting, said the delay was needed so his client could work on transportation improvements.

In late April, dozens of SummerGlen residents attended a meeting of the Marion County Planning & Zoning Commission to ask that the family development be denied.

Those residents said they moved to SummerGlen because the drive to their 1,000-home community is rural and scenic. Along the west side of Southwest 20th Avenue Road, from CR 484 to SummerGlen, drivers see cows, horses and donkeys.

Despite dozens of complaints from SummerGlen residents, and a denial recommendation from Marion County Growth Services staff, the proposed development was recommended for approval in April by the Planning & Zoning board on a 3-2 vote. 

County staff said they were concerned about access points, open space and traffic woes. After Tillman assured that those issues would be addressed, the zoning board recommended approval.

The new development must get final approval form the Marion County Commission.

Robert Saltzman, a SummerGlen resident, asked county commissioners on Tuesday whether “we are entitled to know why” the hearing was moved.

“We are trying to alert the community as to what is going on,” Saltzman said.

Saltzman also noted that along Southwest 20th Avenue Road that there are billboards that state the property has been approved. In reality, the billboards were erected based on a prior development approval that has since expired.

“He did purchase those billboards, put them up after the expiration date of his previous (planned development) and he did not realize that it was expiring,” Tillman said of the builder. 

Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or email him at joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.

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