The Mormon church will soon be Florida’s largest private landowner.
The church made a deal to buy almost 400,000 acres of land in the state’s Panhandle region. A statement released by St. Joe Company, a Florida real estate firm, explained that the property purchased by the LDS church is mostly timberland, reports Reuters. The church “intends to maintain timber and agricultural uses of the land.”
The sales agreement was signed by the church’s company, AgReserves Inc. for $565 million and is subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals. However, the deal is expected to be finalized, likely in the first quarter of 2014. The Mormon church was already one of the state’s largest landowners, because it owns Deseret Ranches, a 290,000 acre cattle and citrus operation that straddles three Central Florida counties. Deseret has the largest cow-calf range in the nation with 44,000 head of cattle.
The Tampa Bay Times notes that AgReserves chairman Paul Genho explained that the company “has demonstrated its commitment to wise land stewardship and prudent resource management during more than 60 years of ranching and agricultural operations” in Florida. Genho added that the company intends to “apply that same commitment and expertise to managing the property we are acquiring in Florida’s Panhandle. St. Joe will retain any residential and commercial real estate in the area, along with resorts and leisure and leasing parcels.
When the purchase is complete, the Mormon church will own 672,834 acres of Florida, or about two percent of the state’s land mass. The total doesn’t include smaller church parcels for its temples in Orlando and South Florida. Almost all of the church’s land in Florida is in rural and agricultural use. However, the entity does have plans approved by Osceola County for development of a 19,000-acre section of the Deseret Ranches. The area is close to the route of the privately funded All Aboard Florida train between Orlando and Miami. The train will begin operations in 2015.