RENEWABLE ENERGY:

Cleantech park planned for Fla. 'eco city'

Construction crews could break ground as soon as 2012 on an alternative-energy industrial park in Destiny, Fla., a project hailed by its developer as America's first "eco-sustainable" city.

Dominion Development Partners, an affiliate of Richmond, Va.-based Lingerfelt Cos., has agreed to build the industrial park, Destiny's developer, Anthony Pugliese III, announced today. The park's initial 500-acre phase would include an incubator for renewable energy technologies, a distribution center and an academic village and training center.

Pugliese and his colleagues aim to attract companies that make and sell photovoltaics, biofuels and other "clean" technologies, noted Randy Johnson, chief operating officer of Land Company of Osceola County LLC, Destiny's developer.

"These are the companies whose pedigree for how they produce products is important," Johnson added. "They want to not just talk the talk but walk the walk of sustainability."

The industrial park -- and the 5,500 jobs its first phase is projected to create -- is the centerpiece of Destiny, which would rise from a 41,300-acre patch of Osceola County known as Yeehaw Junction. Originally known as Jackass Junction, Yeehaw was the site of a Civil War battle and is now a popular stop for Disney-bound tourists heading north on Florida's Turnpike.

Pugliese and his partners plan to preserve about 25,000 acres of the rural site, which is mostly sawgrass and pine trees today. The remaining land would be carved into lakes and canals -- to provide drainage and waterfront cachet for houses, apartments and offices.

Construction of Destiny's first phase is slated to begin in 2012, pending receipt of permits and additional financing. Johnson envisions a city with at least 80,000 homes, 200,000 residents, two airports, and a second R&D park for heavy industry.

"This will be a working person's community," Johnson said of the ARUP-designed city. "It's our plan to catch this new cleantech revolution as the economy recovers."

So far, one manufacturer has agreed to move to Destiny, but Johnson isn't saying who. University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University officials are also mulling whether to set up shop in the industrial park.

But some conservationists worry that Destiny, which is at the junction of the Florida Turnpike and state Route 60, will become nothing more than a commuter suburb of Orlando and Atlantic coast cities. Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida's advocacy director, is dubious of Destiny's plan for cultivating cleantech in a rural area.

"There's no commitment yet as to who the major job sources are going to be," he said.

Earlier this month, UF officials began planting jatropha, camelina and other biofuels crops in Destiny's "energy farm." Plans call for growing arundo donax, also known as the "giant reed," for cultivation.

The reed is high in energy content, but it is also a fast-growing invasive species in several states (Greenwire, Dec. 20, 2007).

Destiny is not the only eco-developer on the hunt for tenants.

Earlier this month, developer Syd Kitson, a former NFL lineman, announced plans to build an equally ambitious eco-city northwest of Fort Myers. Plans for "Babcock Ranch" call for 19,500 homes, 20,000 permanent jobs, open spaces and 75 megawatts of solar power (Greenwire, April 9).

Kitson and Johnson dismissed any talk of competition.

"Our demographic is different than Syd's," Johnson explained. "Our demographic is those who want to have a central distribution point in Florida."