BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — One of Northwest Florida’s largest landowners was once focused on trees for it’s paper mills. But over the last 25 years the St. Joe company found a new business strategy – reshaping the Panhandle.

The centerpiece of the initial campaign involved the company successfully lobbying to move Bay County’s airport to West Bay. Its vision, which it shared with the public and the media at the time, was that a new airport, in the right place would lead to massive growth for the region. Company representatives at the time often compared the airport to a similar airport project in Bentonville, Arkansas, and suggested that Bentonville’s success would be replicated in Bay County.

READ MORE: The Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport: 10 years later

While Panama City Beach may not be Bentonville (the corporate home of Walmart) there has been tremendous growth and in the area. Much of that growth has been on land owned by St. Joe and through projects and partnerships spearheaded by the company.

Those projects include everything from industrial parks, high end residential neighborhoods, a hotel and even a mega gas station.

The company now has eight residential projects, including three mixed-use, in various stages of completion.  Some are located in areas that were hard hit by the hurricane. St. Joe corporate director of marketing Mike Kerrigan said St. Joe hopes to meet the housing demand and continue their work transforming the area.

“There were several projects that we had in our pipeline for a while and when Hurricane Michael hit in 2018, we made the decision to accelerate a lot of those projects to fill some needs in the marketplace,” Kerrigan said. “The hurricane severely damaged or destroyed a lot of housing, a lot of business space.”

St. Joe developed the Titus Park, Park Place and College Station communities in direct response to the housing shortage in Bay County. Kerrigan said those properties, situated along U.S. 231, are designed as single-family homes starting in the $200,000 price range for families living and working full-time in the area.

“We initiated development in 2019. In 2020, homes were completed and the first residents moved in. And between those three communities, they have the potential to grow to over 1,000 homes.”

In 2020, St. Joe also initiated the second phase of the high-end Breakfast Point community and are nearing completion of the Latitude Margaritaville Watersound community in Panama City Beach, which Kerrigan said are both geared more toward retirees or second homeowners.

Kerrigan said St. Joe is working to bring businesses into the community with salaries that compensate for the home prices of its residential projects.

“In any great community you need not only places to live but people need a place to go to work and conduct business,” Kerrigan said. “Hurricane Michael did destroy a lot of industrial space, office space, warehouse space throughout Bay County.”

St. Joe’s commercial projects include a third office building at Beckrich Office Park in Panama City Beach, a 20,000-square-foot office building at the Cedar Grove Commerce Park in Panama City, an office building at the Beach Commerce Park Flex in Panama City Beach, as well as a Capital City Bank, a Starbucks and a Busy Bee all on the beach, and five hospitality projects, most of which are in Panama City Beach.

Full list of St. Joe projects in response to Hurricane Michael

Residential Projects:
Hospitality Projects:
Commercial Projects:

*denotes project currently in active development or construction

“As we see businesses coming to Bay County, they have a place to conduct their business, the employees have places to live,” Kerrigan said.

One of the hotels St. Joe is building is set for Downtown Panama City, expecting to break ground this spring.

“We’ve seen a lot of other private business investment in Downtown Panama City over the last two years,” Kerrigan said. “We feel that our project on the Marina property can be one piece of that revitalization of downtown.”

Kerrigan added, “We know that what’s good for Bay County is good for the St. Joe Company and vice versa.”