|By Kevin Bouffard, The Ledger, Lakeland,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 17, 2009 --FORT MEADE -- The Florida real estate booms of recent decades tended to bypass southwestern Polk County, but that could change now that the Mosaic Co. is showing an interest in commercial development on nearly 200,000 acres of reclaimed phosphate land it owns in the area.
Mosaic, the last remaining phosphate company in Polk, has announced plans to build a luxury resort facility on more than 16,000 acres of reclaimed mine land west of Fort Meade.
The resort project signals a major turning point toward greater development of Mosaic's land for recreational, commercial and residential uses, said Parker Keen, the company's assistant vice president for land management.
While the U.S. economy today isn't supporting many new developments of this scope, he noted, the company projects that will change by the time the resort opens, perhaps as early as 2013.
"You want to open a facility in an emerging market. We want to be the newest and best thing to emerge when the market reopens," Keen said.
Phosphate industry observers have wondered for many years why the companies have done little to take advantage of the profit potential in developing its southwestern Polk properties after mining ceased and the land was reclaimed.
"You just have to (look) backwards to see people never thought that area of the county would be developed," said Mark Jackson, director of tourism and sports marketing for the Central Florida Development Council in Bartow. "At the very least, it's an economic stimulus in that part of the county."
While Polk has many developments on former phosphate lands, such as Oakbridge, Bridgewater and Christina in Lakeland and ImperiaLakes near Mulberry, those happened after the companies sold the lands to private developers. The Mosaic resort, not yet named, would be developed and owned by the company.
The resort project remains in the planning stage and changes almost daily, Keen said. However, he estimated the resort would represent a $50 million to $80 million investment in the community.
Not all of that investment might come out of Mosaic's wallet, said Dave Townsend, Mosaic's director of public affairs. The company is looking for investment partners as well as a management company that would handle day-to-day operations.
Perhaps the project's most important impact in Southwest Polk would be the 250 to 280 full-time jobs it would create, according to Keen's estimate.
"There's been so many jobs lost in the mining community, and this is a way for the phosphate companies to bring some of those jobs back," said Amee Bailey, a senior planner for the Polk County Growth Management Department, which is reviewing the Mosaic proposal. "I think it's a significant change and it's a positive change (for Southwest Polk). I think it will be well received in the community."
Mosaic has not publicized the resort development until now because it was more a plan than a reality, Keen and Townsend said.
While the resort still needs approval from county and state officials, the company feels confident enough about its business plan to discuss it publicly, they said. If approved, Mosaic hopes to open it by 2013.
The proposed resort would sit on a 16,535-acre site bounded by the Polk-Hardee county line on the south, Fort Green Road to the West, State Road 630 West along most of the northern perimeter and District Line Road along most of the east
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