Charlotte County attracted plentiful new commercial developers and companies in 2023, continuing the county’s growth trend of the last several years. Most of the building activity is taking place within industrial areas surrounding Punta Gorda Airport, as much of the rest of the county’s land is zoned for residential use, and the land that is zoned commercial outside the airport area has insufficient acreage to support large-scale projects.
Had it not been for the three Mackle brothers—Elliot, Robert and Frank Mackle Jr.—who sold Charlotte County lots in the 1950s, the county might have had more land suitable for large commercial projects.
Author Jason Vuic, who grew up in Punta Gorda, explained Charlotte County’s development in a book he wrote and published in 2021, The Swamp Peddlers.
It tells how early developers, such as the Mackles’ General Development Corporation, purchased county land in the 1950s and ’60s, then received zoning approval for thousands of lots that were then advertised in national publications; one such ad read that for $10 down, a buyer could own a piece of “paradise.” The lots were sold for several hundred dollars, payable in installments.
The Mackles in particular marketed their lots as a retirement “paradise”—which is a significant reason why, for decades, the average age of the county’s residents was higher than those in surrounding counties: For many years, mostly retirees settled in the county.
Although some of those early lot owners never built on the land they purchased, and for many years until the recent housing boom, a number of the lots were never developed, the pattern had been set. The county was carved up into lots mostly measuring 80 feet by 125 feet.
At a recent Charlotte County Commissioners meeting, commissioners lamented that so much of the county had been divided into those residential lots, preventing commercial and industrial growth in areas outside the airport.
However, the early developers didn’t buy all the land in Charlotte County. “There’s an abundant quantity of vacant land still left in Charlotte County for the future, including approximately 5,000 available acres currently zoned commercial and industrial, some of which is shovel ready,” says Kay Tracy, business recruitment manager for the county’s Department of Economic Development.
Because of its location, the first big distributor—Cheney Brothers—arrived, and in 2015, completed a 345,000-square-foot facility off Piper Road across from Punta Gorda Airport, making it one of the largest buildings in Charlotte County. In 2021, it added an 82,000-square-foot expansion, bringing the total to more than 427,000 square feet.
The company initially brought 300 jobs to Charlotte County. And more businesses would follow Cheney Brothers’ lead, putting down stakes in industrial parks near the airport and bringing more job opportunities. A major selling point for distributors is that Charlotte County is two to three hours away from the Miami, Tampa and Orlando markets.
“Charlotte County has been welcoming a diverse range of businesses in 2023,” Tracy said in late November.
Welcome to the neighborhood
Fort Myers-based GCM Contracting Solutions—responsible for other projects including The Miromar International Design Center, Miromar Outlets and Gulf Coast Town Center—is building two large projects near the airport. One is for Zahra LLC: a three-story, 139,088-square-foot King of Vape office and warehouse on Duffie Drive.
The structure will have an air-conditioned warehouse totaling 116,340 square feet, and another 22,748 square feet of office space. Groundbreaking took place in August 2023, and completion is slated for the third quarter of 2024. The company expects to bring more than 100 jobs to Punta Gorda, a spokeswoman said. King of Vape has several store locations in Florida and an online business that sells vape-related products.
The second project, half a mile away on Piper Road, consists of two buildings on 5 acres for Jack and Glenda Balentine’s companies—Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida and Balentine Builder Services—that make custom countertops and cabinetry. The groundbreaking ceremony also was held in August 2023, and the structures are expected to be completed sometime in the third quarter of 2024.
The main building will total 51,250 square feet, with a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and 11,250 square feet of showroom and office space. The second 15,000-square-foot building will be used primarily for warehousing and distribution needs.
Along Piper Road and its side streets, construction is ongoing. FedEx has laid down a substantial footprint, to the tune of 250,000 square feet, Tracy said. The massive, 378,000-square-foot Florida Gulf Coast 75 Logistics Center at 9450 Piper Road, built on spec by Equus Capital Partners on the grounds of the Enterprise Charlotte Airport Park, got its first tenant in January—Texas-based Dakota Premium Hardwoods, which recently opened and employs about 25 people.
Dan Miller, executive vice president of Fort Myers-based Colliers International, which represents Equus, said the company chose to locate its Logistics Center in Punta Gorda because the location allows it to serve all of the state as a regional distribution center.
He called the Punta Gorda market the “epicenter” for distribution projects.
American Builders & Contractors Supply Co. Inc., a wholesale distributor of siding and roofing materials, was completed in early 2023; ground was broken on the 6-acre site last summer. Seagate Development Group was the builder; the operation is located at the Charlotte County Park of Commerce, adjacent to Punta Gorda Airport.
The pre-engineered metal building with a stucco facade accommodates a 53,200-square-foot warehouse and office area of more than 6,700 square feet. Some 2.5 acres have been set aside for future development.
More new players
Tracy said another company building headquarters in Charlotte County is Lane Valente Industries Inc., which has facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada. The firm provides construction services, remodels, design services, energy services and facility maintenance services for companies with one location or 1,000.
In August 2022, the company purchased a 10-acre parcel in Enterprise Charlotte Airport Park in Punta Gorda to build its 42,000-square-foot facility.
Vestas aircoil, a Denmark-based company that manufactures heat exchangers and various industrial engine air coolers, invested in a 25,000-square-foot facility near the airport on Woodlawn, which runs off Piper Road and isn’t far from the King of Vape facilities on Duffie Drive.
Since there are some 5,000 acres still available for commercial and industrial development, “Charlotte County is always in talks with potential companies, keeping our region ripe for development,” Tracy says.
Calling the county a “business nexus,” Tracy said Charlotte hosts both international and national companies.
“Many of the American-owned businesses here are engaged in international exports, highlighting the county’s global business footprint,” she says.
To entice more businesses, the county has a “competitive incentive program strategically designed to attract businesses by providing tailor-made opportunities,” Tracy explains.
“Charlotte County boasts a diverse manufacturing landscape, ranging from corporate giants like IDEX Corporation to innovative entrepreneurs, such as Arcadia Aerospace and Marden Industries. This diversity is a key strength, reflecting the county’s adaptability and business-friendly environment,” Tracy says.
“The addition of new and existing businesses in Charlotte County is a boon for residents. This business growth not only contributes to sales tax revenue, which funds vital community projects, but also enhances the overall quality of life, thereby attracting more opportunities for residents and businesses alike.”
The same local song
Many of the newer businesses have been advertising for workers, including Lane Valente Industries, which is seeking HVAC technicians and warehouse workers. Some industries, including air conditioning companies, have been competing with each other for skilled workers. But unskilled laborers are in demand, too.
But there’s a problem. Except for the highly paid skilled worker, most employees—including those earning average wages—simply cannot afford to rent in Charlotte County, where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Port Charlotte was $1,862 in July, according to rentcafe.com.
Private industry, with the support of local and state government, is working to develop creative solutions to provide affordable and workforce housing to supply workers for the new businesses coming to Charlotte County.
Finding new purpose
The town of Port Charlotte soon will have a center called Parkside Village, a mixture of residential and commercial entities, on the site of the Promenades Mall along U.S. 41.
In 2023, Promenades Mall’s new owner Jeff Morr announced plans to create a village on the mall’s site. The development would comprise 791 apartments, 600 hotel rooms and 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Building heights would climb to 150 feet.
Built in 1976, the original Promenades Mall comprises 230,000 square feet of retail, medical and office space. Winn-Dixie is an anchor store, and it will remain on the Parkside Village campus.
Economic Development Director Dave Gammon said Parkside Village will be walkable; some residents won’t have to drive to shop and go to work. He said its location is ideal, as it is located in the middle of Port Charlotte.
The 26.39-acre Parkside Village would be located in what used to be called the Medical District, as two of the county’s three hospitals—HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital and ShorePoint Health Port Charlotte—are located within walking distance of the mall, and are among the county’s largest employers.
Parkside Village was in its embryonic stage of development in late 2023.
Shopping malls nationwide are closing due to more shoppers purchasing online. Over the years, the Port Charlotte Town Center Mall in the Murdock section of town, built in 1989, has seen its anchor stores leaving, and Macy’s was among them when it closed in 2021.
Again, Charlotte County Commissioners stepped outside the box and listened as a development company pitched its plan for the former Macy’s site. Commissioners in September gave approval to developer Avery Port Charlotte LLC for its development plans.
The firm announced that the former Macy’s would be torn down, and in its place would be built a five-story residential building with 250 apartments.
The development, The Avery at Port Charlotte, would boast a clubhouse, resort-style pool, fitness center, business space and bike racks.
In addition to the Avery project, county zoning allows for an additional 472 units, for a total of 722 apartment units that could be built at other sections of the Town Center Mall.
However, while approval was made in 2023 for the project, buildout isn’t expected until March 2030. In the meantime, the county will continue to grapple with its lack of housing for prospective workers who need places to live—one of the side effects of its increasing growth.
Buyers flocking to Charlotte County despite insurance rates, taxes, storms
The residential real estate market, although no longer seeing bidding wars in which sellers were offered 100% or more of the listed price, is still attracting buyers from out of state.
Although inventory levels built in November for single-family homes whose median sale price was lower than the previous month, it is not a buyers’ market, according to Danny Nix Jr., who heads Realtors of Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port-DeSoto Inc.
Meanwhile, inventory levels for condos and townhomes also rose while the median sale price dipped from October’s levels.
Nix said there have been some sellers who got 100% of the original listing price, but it depends “on the price point currently.” Also, the market has not gone to the level of “buyers getting everything they are asking for,” which would make it a true buyers’ market, he said.
Factors impeding sales for some are insurance costs, which have almost tripled, Nix said. While some would-be buyers might have the funds to purchase a home, insurance premiums could give them pause.
For waterfront properties in flood zones, flood insurance is required on mortgaged homes, and depending on the home’s elevation, it could be costly. Then there are property taxes. In some areas of the county, waterfront properties with septic systems are being converted to a central sewer system, which comes with an assessment on the homeowner’s property. Taxes in general are going up, and a growing population has necessitated the expansion of the county’s infrastructure, water treatment facilities, emergency services and related equipment, first responders and public projects to accommodate the growth.
Nix said those needing a mortgage may want to wait until the federal interest rate is lowered and banks and lending sources lower their rates.
Nevertheless, with more than 1,000 people moving to Florida each day and new construction booming, higher prices aren’t dissuading those determined to live in the Sunshine State.
One sector not being affected by higher interest rates, insurance costs and property taxes is homes and condos priced over $1 million. Those who can afford a home in the millions are not worried about the costs the majority of homebuyers consider. For some recent buyers, their purchase of a home costing millions is being used as a second or vacation home. For others, it is an investment and not their primary residence.
One home on the Charlotte County side of Boca Grande on Gulf Shores Drive sold in April for $15 million. The more than 7,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, eight-bath home, which sits on 2.5 acres, was on the market for 39 days, and the buyer paid cash. The latest property taxes listed were $56,554.50.
Karen Danner, a real estate agent with Gulf to Bay Sotheby’s International Realty in Boca Grande, provided listings of other properties that sold in the millions in 2023.
A 1980 two-bed, two-bath, 1,350-square-foot condo at the beach on Gulf Shores Drive, also on the Charlotte County side of Boca Grande, sold in July for $2.216 million, down from its listing price of $2.475 million; in 2000, it sold for $650,000. The condo was on the market for 176 days, and the buyer paid cash. Taxes were listed at $19,749.64.
A 1,540-square-foot, three-bed, three-bathroom home in the Boca Grande Club Community sold for $2.295 million in August; its taxes are $18,697.83.
Other homes in Boca Grande sold for several million in 2023, but Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte and Englewood also have had home sales of over $1 million.
In November, a Punta Gorda Isles home on Saba Court sold for $1.675 million. The three-bed, three-bath, 3,076-square-foot home was built in 2000 and features several high-end upgrades.
In late November, a Punta Gorda Isles home on Sea Gull Court came on the market selling for $2.29 million. The three-bed, three-bath, 2,400-square-foot home was built in 2019.
Homes in the $300,000 range took longer to sell in the fourth quarter, but this is probably because of a larger inventory in that price category, Nix said.
November’s number of closed sales transactions for both single-family homes and condos was higher than in October, and also higher than in November 2022. For single-family homes in the county, there were 387 closed sales, up 58.6% from November 2022. The median sale price was $370,000, down 10.2% from the previous year, but higher than October’s median sale price of $380,000. Sellers received 95.4% of the original listed price, and more than 41.6% of all buyers of single-family homes paid cash.
In November, there were 43 new listings of homes for $1 million or more, which was up 104.8% from November 2022. November 2023 inventory showed there were 181 homes listed at $1 million or more, which was up 103.4% from the previous year.
There were more single-family homes sold in the $400,000 to $599,999 price range compared to all other price ranges in November.