Publix Super Markets is planning to expand its information technology presence in downtown Lakeland by purchasing and upgrading the FedEx building and adding an estimated 100 new jobs in three years, according to Polk County documents. The Lakeland-based company is seeking $500,000 in local government incentives for the project and a partial exemption on ad valorem taxes related to its improvements on the property.
City of Lakeland officials were mum about the identity of the company on Friday when city commissioners were briefed on the incentives at their agenda study meeting. On Monday, commissioners will be asked to approve $250,000 in incentives that would not be paid until Publix documents that it has hired 100 new employees for the facility at an average salary of $93,526 a year, twice the current Polk County average.
MARCH 21 UPDATE: The Lakeland City Commission approved the incentives without discussion. The vote was 6-0; Commissioner Stephanie Madden did not attend the meeting.
The project has been dubbed Project Horizon by Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership that works on business expansion statewide. The organization often uses code names because many of its projects involve confidential negotiations.
LkldNow reported Saturday that Project Horizon involves an unidentified company looking at an unnamed building in downtown Lakeland where it plans to invest $50 million.
The confidentiality mentioned in the article surprised Polk County Commissioner Bill Braswell because the nature of the deal was discussed openly last Tuesday, when the County Commission approved its half of the $500,000 in requested Polk County Bonus Incentives.
“Did I miss something?” he asked in a comment he submitted to be published below the article. “This is no secret, it was discussed publicly. This is Publix buying the FedEx bldg and building a 40 million dollar data center. Many of the jobs starting at 100k plus.”
Indeed, a document presented to the County Commission on Tuesday identifies Project Horizon as Publix’ “IT office expansion.”
The Polk County Bonus Incentive program allows incentives to enterprises that are new to Polk or ones making major expansions. The level of incentives are based on salary levels. Project Horizon qualifies for $5,000 for each new job created since the average salary will be double the county’s average wage, according to county documents.
The $500,000 total would be split evenly between the county and the city. Polk County anticipates dividing the payment into five annual installments starting in 2025. The city of Lakeland anticipates three annual installments.
Publix also requested a 10-year exemption on 75% of the ad valorem taxes that would be paid on assessed value of its improvements to the facility at 333 E. Lemon Street; it also requested exemption of qualifying tangible personal property taxes. The exemption is allowed under a referendum for business-expansion referendum passed by Polk voters in 2012.
The tax exemptions were approved by the County Commission.
The ad valorem tax exemptions are estimated to cost the county $183,011 per year in lost revenue for 10 years. In all, county government is losing $3.522,845 in revenue this year due to business-expansion tax exemptions.
In its application for the tax exemptions, Publix said it would invest at least $15 million in property improvements and equipment purchases at the facility, which it considers an expansion of its corporate offices to expand its information technology staff.
Publix has increased its footprint downtown as its IT operations have expanded during the last decade. It already houses IT staff in multiple buildings, including leased space at the Ledger building on Lime Street, the Bank of America Building on Florida Avenue, and the former JC Penney building on Kentucky Avenue.
In its application to the county, Publix also said it is committed to local procurement, the use of local vendors “where practicable” and use of green technologies.
The 142,250-square-foot FedEx building was constructed in 1971 to house the Maas Brothers department store. The store was renamed Burdines in 1991 and closed in 1994. The building was purchased by Watkins Motor Lines, which was later acquired by FedEx. The building is assessed at $7.248 million by the Polk County Property Appraiser’s Office.
Lakeland city commissioners will consider the Project Horizon incentive request Monday at its 9 a.m. meeting at City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.