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Gov. DeSantis, Cabinet approve new Florida emergency facility

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TALLAHASSEE - Florida is moving forward with plans to buy and retrofit a massive warehouse in Central Florida as a staging area to respond to hurricanes and other emergencies.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet on Wednesday approved buying more than half of the 74-acre Midpoint Florida Logistics Center in Auburndale with money set aside in the new state budget.

The next step is getting an appraisal of the 40-acre property and warehouse. The budget includes up to $75 million for the purchase, but Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton said is too early to project if the cost will reach that cap.

"It's out for appraisal, it's hard to say," Hamilton said after a Cabinet meeting.

Hamilton presented the plan to DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. DeSantis and the Cabinet members took part in the meeting by phone.

No timeline was immediately available from the state Division of Emergency Management on when the warehouse could be retrofitted and occupied.

Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie in April said the plan is to eventually merge into the new facility three smaller facilities that are used to stockpile disaster supplies, including one in Lakeland filled with personal protective equipment.

Owned by the Dallas-based real estate investment firm Dalfen Industrial, the center is a two-building, 896,799-square-foot industrial park immediately east of an Amazon distribution facility along Interstate 4.

Dalfen, under the name CH Realty IX-DAL I Lakeland Auburndale, L.P., paid $25.7 million for the land in November 2021 and then built a pair of warehouses that each exceed 400,000 square feet.

"This development has direct frontage on I-4, which will provide tenants access to over 7.9 million people in the broader Orlando/Tampa region," Dalfen said after its purchase of the property was announced.

Florida intends to retrofit a facility that has 422,199 square feet of warehouse space and 39,200 square feet of office space, according to information prepared for the Cabinet meeting. The location also includes areas for 400 trailers and 274 cars. The site is expected to provide docks for loading and unloading supplies and temporary living quarters.

The Legislature included $116 million for the project in the budget (HB 5001) that will take effect July 1. Up to $75 million is available to buy the property, with the remaining funds targeted to upgrade the site.

"Upon completion of a retrofit of the space, the warehouse will be fully air-conditioned and will include racking, dock equipment, material handling equipment, cold storage, a dedicated area for trailer storage and open floor space," Cabinet information said.

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