The Tampa Bay Business Journal article was written by By Ashley Gurbal Kritzer  –  Senior Reporter, Tampa Bay Business Journal

One of the most closely watched industrial properties in Florida has a new owner.

The 930-acre Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center in Winter Haven has been sold to Phoenix-based Tratt Properties LLC, principal Jonathan Tratt told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The property, home to a 400,000-square-foot warehouse recently purchased by Coca-Cola Florida, offers rail access serviced by CSX Corp. and is entitled for up to 8 million square feet of development.

Tratt said the purchase price is between $15 million and $20 million, though he declined to give a specific figure. His first priority, he said, is to begin the design of a million-square-foot warehouse, one that he’d like to have at least partially preleased before breaking ground in the third quarter.

That warehouse — and the ones that will follow — will be major job creators for Winter Haven, said Bruce Lyon, president of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council. The park is fully entitled and shovel ready, and construction on a new warehouse site could be underway within 30 days, Lyon said.

“From a cultural perspective, Winter Haven has embraced growth,” he said. “It’s not just the economic development council but the city itself — city government and the building division.”

The Business Journal first reported on March 26 that a sale of the park was in the final stages. A partnership led by veteran industrial developer and former CenterPoint Properties Trust CEO Mike Mullen purchased the land from the city of Winter Haven in 2014 and broke ground on a speculative 400,000-square-foot warehouse shortly after closing. Coca-Cola will move its distribution center from Lakeland to that warehouse and add a light manufacturing component.

Jim Ford, another former CenterPoint executive, has partnered with Tratt on this project. CBRE Group Inc. executive vice president David Murphy, who represented Mullen and his partners in the park’s sale, has been retained by Tratt to market it for lease.

While the property has sat dormant for years, real estate experts and economic development officials believe the industrial market has caught up with the original vision for the park.

“I think Mike’s vision was right on,” Tratt said, “but it might have been five to 10 years ahead of the curve.”

Tratt has watched the Central Florida industrial market evolve in real-time: When he purchased an Amazon.com-occupied warehouse in Lakeland in 2016 for $88 million, the average big deal looking for industrial space in the Interstate 4 corridor was around 100,000 square feet; today, the average large deal is closer to 500,000 square feet. (His firm also owns a Best Buy distribution center in Polk City and a CVS distribution center in Orlando, as well as properties throughout Texas, Arizona and Illinois.)

CBRE’s Murphy, who marketed the park for lease at its inception in 2014 and won the listing assignment again in 2020, agrees that the park’s time has come.

“I think the market is maturing in Florida from an industrial standpoint,” Murphy said, “and people are looking at the state and realizing they need to build out a full supply chain here.”

There’s interest in the park from food distributors, e-commerce companies and light manufacturing operations. Users who need cold storage — temperature-controlled warehouses — are also calling on Murphy.

By his estimate, the pandemic condensed five to seven years’ worth of evolution in the industrial market into one year, and that’s driving unprecedented demand for warehouse space.

“It’s a new market,” he said. “The combination of e-commerce and how quickly people want their goods today. The pandemic completely shifted how the market distributes product in our state, and that’s something that none of us saw coming even four or five years ago.”

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