When the residential market was hot, Sunrise Homes planned to build more than 2,600 houses on 1,400 acres in the eastern corner of Plant City.
Now a Michigan developer wants to build a sprawling industrial park on the site at U.S. 92 and Park Road.
The 8.1-million-square-foot Lakeside Station project could be nearly eight times the size of the Westfield Brandon mall when completed.
But first, Schafer Development is asking government officials to designate the site as a "brownfield." That would give the developer a chance to seek state tax breaks on the decontamination and redevelopment of the land, which borders Coronet Industries' property and includes two former city and county landfills.
Schafer Development has not yet purchased the property, but company president Steve Schafer said its proximity to Interstate 4 is a major selling point.
Companies with warehouses or distribution centers at the site could supply markets in Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando, he said.
"Logistically, this is like the center of the target for Florida," Schafer said.
Plant City Manager David Sollenberger, who has met with developers, said the project could be a significant boost for the city.
"It will create a variety of jobs and add to the tax base and just be generally a great project," he said.
In addition to industrial space, Lakeside Station could also include some shops and residences.
County records show Lakeside Station LLC, a subsidiary of Sunrise, bought the land for $7.25-million last year.
Environmental concerns initially stalled Sunrise's plans to build homes on the property. But city commissioners ultimately approved new zoning for the land in 2004.
State environmental officials will determine whether the site meets brownfield criteria, Sollenberger said.
"There may be contamination, or there may not be a contamination," he said. "This is a safeguard for the developer."
Schafer said he hopes to close on the property and start construction early next year.
A development of regional impact order already allows construction of about 3.5-million square feet of industrial space on the property.
In order to build more, state, regional and city officials would need to approve a major modification to the development order. Through that public hearing process, the developer could be required to provide additional funding for roads and other infrastructure.
Ultimately, the Lakeside Station project could create at least 1,000 jobs - many of which would start at $11 per hour - according to the Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance.
That's about a 6.4 percent increase in Plant City's workforce, said Rebeca Searcey, a spokeswoman for the alliance.
Even as other real estate markets have slowed in Florida, Schafer said the industrial segment still has significant growth potential.
For many years distributors based in Atlanta sent supplies to Florida, he said, but growth and the rising cost of fuel have sparked a shift in the supply chain.
"This sector has been very strong, with a lot of activity, even in these tumultuous times," Schafer said.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.
Headquarters: Farmington Hills, Mich., with another office in Palm Beach Gardens
President: Steve Schafer
Web site: www.schafer-dev.com