By: Mark Gordon
Managing Editor/Business Observer
The jobs boom in the Tampa-St. Petersburg region is having an outsized impact on north Manatee County — good news for John Neal.
The president of Neal Land Ventures and son of prominent homebuilder Pat Neal, John Neal recently helped coordinate and close two land deals in north Manatee County that totaled more than $20 million. In both cases, Neal cites the need for more housing around St. Petersburg, just south of the Skyway Bridge, as a primary factor that motivated the land buyers.
Neal is also confident the housing market surge has more room to thrive, despite chatter from some industry analysts that it’s ripe for a correction. “We should always see cycles,” he says, “but I don’t believe we will have a big downturn.”
In one deal, Neal Land Ventures sold 445 acres for $15.4 million in North River Ranch, on the northwest quadrant of the Moccasin Wallow Road and U.S. 301 intersection in Parrish. National homebuilder D.R. Horton, in conjunction with Reeder Acquisition Partners, plans to build some 1,100 homes in the new master-planned community, expected to open in the first quarter of 2018. A high school in the community is already under construction, and an elementary school is in the planning stages.
A few days later Neal Land Ventures announced it closed on its second major deal: Kolter Land Acquisitions bought 268 acres on land south of Moccasin Wallow Road and west of U.S. 301 in Parrish. Kolter Land, a unit of West Palm Beach Kolter Group, paid $6.97 million for the land, zoned and entitled for 562 single-family homes. Kolter plans to develop the site for at least two national homebuilders.
There’s more to the burgeoning north Manatee County region than jobs in St. Pete, too. The area borders fast-growing south Hillsborough County — where Amazon built its 1.1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Ruskin in September 2014.
The north Manatee County region was in the spotlight for Amazonian reasons again, in mid-October. That’s when homebuilder Carlos Beruff, proffering 930 acres he owns in the region, bid on the opportunity to land the second Amazon headquarters. “The demand is there,” says Neal of underdeveloped north Manatee County. “I’ve always loved Parrish. It has a history you can remember.”
Neal grew up in the homebuilding industry, learning and watching Pat Neal help grow Lakewood Ranch-based Neal Communities into of the largest locally based homebuilders in Florida. The younger Neal was vice president of Neal Communities’ land acquisition division from 2004 to 2011.
Neal Land Ventures was founded in 2013. While it uses the Neal name, NLV isn’t a subsidiary or unit of Neal Communities. Instead, Neal Land Ventures is a separate business that sometimes sells land to Neal Communities. Neal Land Ventures, like a few other separate Neal entities, pays for centralized services at Neal Communities, such as accounting and human resources.
The focus at Neal Land Ventures is to be a full-service land acquisition firm. To John Neal, that means when it sells a parcel, the land is ready to build. “What builders want is fully entitled projects,” says Neal. “That’s not just zoning. It means everything necessary with the land so the builder can show up the next day with machines.”
Neal runs Neal Land Ventures with Brooke Pelsh-Dawson, a 17-year site development executive who previously worked for construction firms Gilbane and Zirkelbach, among other companies. “The important thing about Neal Land Ventures,” Neal says, “is we have homebuilding backgrounds.”
The firm is active outside north Manatee County. In one recent notable deal, for example, Neal Land Ventures bought 290 acres in Venice for $12.5 million. The acquisition was made through Pamlico Point Management LLC, an affiliate of companies related to Neal Land Ventures and Neal Communities, according to a statement.
But John Neal says he has no intentions — for now — to follow Neal Communities into Hillsborough County to the north and the Lee/Collier region to the south. Says Neal: “We have plenty to do right here.”