EXCLUSIVE: Jabil will rebuild its existing St. Petersburg headquarters instead of heading to the Trop (w/ video)

ST. PETERSBURG — After three years of looking at options from moving in next to Tropicana Field to relocating to Singapore, Jabil executives said Monday the company’s headquarters aren’t going anywhere, but will be rebuilt and expanded on its existing site in St. Petersburg’s Gateway area.

Discussions about Jabil’s long-range plans have been unfolding for a decade, but CEO Mark Mondello told the Tampa Bay Times that the main work has taken place in the last few years.

Mondello said Jabil looked seriously at a 5-block site near Tropicana Field and also had discussions with state and city officials from outside Florida, some with “very aggressive proposals,” offering incentives to compete for the headquarters.

“When the day’s done, we’re a Tampa Bay area company, and maybe a derivative of that is we’re a St. Pete company,” he said. “We’ve entertained other conversations, but we as a management team and myself are really pleased we landed on St. Pete.”

The project will entail tearing down and rebuilding one two-story office building along Roosevelt Boulevard, north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. The replacement will be four stories. Two other buildings, including Jabil’s current main headquarters, will be thoroughly refurbished.

The project’s cost was not disclosed, but Mondello set a timeframe of 24 to 30 months for the build-out.

The decision brings to an end the idea that Jabil, one of the Tampa Bay area’s biggest public companies and an electronics manufacturer with 180,000 employees worldwide, would create a downtown headquarters that would turbocharge development along Central Avenue, expand the St. Petersburg’s central business district and infuse downtown with hundreds of well-paid tech workers.

FROM 2013: Jabil Circuit considers building headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg

“We looked downtown and those conversations kind of ebbed and flowed, and there just wasn’t a comfortable fit for a variety of different reasons,” Mondello said.

Among them, he acknowledged, was the uncertainty about the future home of the Tampa Bay Rays and, more to the point, how the rest of the Tropicana Field could be redeveloped.

“I don’t think where the Rays play played (a role) as much for us as not having a degree of control or understanding of who the neighbors could be,” Mondello said. “Was it going to be a park? Was it going to be apartments? Was it going to be more restaurants and bars? To everybody’s credit, nobody has a crystal ball at this moment, and we’ve got to get going on this project.”

That said, if Jabil had felt that a downtown campus or multi-story building would have been best for its employees, that’s probably where it would be headed, he said.

Instead, Mondello said the company sees rebuilding its current campus as the most cost-effective and desirable option, one that leaves the headquarters next to a large man-made lake with a wooded shore.

“We love the natural view of the lake,” he said. “We can’t re-create that. We think it’s a great location for employees (from) north county, Tampa, Sarasota, and our employees here live all over the area. Logistically for them it’s still really convenient. It’s still great access to downtown. As we bring in millennials and employees who love the atmosphere of living downtown, it’s an easy drive and some of them Uber to work.

“So after thinking through it, in terms of our culture, what we’re trying to express with the campus, this site made a whole lot of sense,” Mondello said.

Jabil executives did not disclose the amount of square footage in the project. The company has selected Gensler as the project architect and Skanska USA as construction manager.

Rebuilding and expanding the existing headquarters will allow Jabil, the Tampa Bay areas’s second-largest public company by revenue, to bring together about 2,000 employees now scattered across some eight different local sites, most of them in Pinellas County.

“For us, it starts with our people,” Mondello said. “We kind of look around the area today and we’ve grown and some of the work spaces that our people are in today are a bit sub-optimal. … The (current headquarters) building feels a bit dated, and it is.”

The new campus will place a premium on providing work spaces that facilitate face-to-face communication, inter-active work and cross-pollination between Jabil’s employees, who work with more than a dozen distinct markets for the company’s electronics, manufacturing and product management services.

It also will seek to create cohesive feel throughout the entire property.

“The way the buildings are laid out today, they feel like three different buildings, built in three different phases, built at three different times and there’s no synergies between the buildings whatsoever,” Mondello said.

Tearing down the buildings along Roosevelt will allow Jabil to create more green space for walking and other activities near the lake.

“I feel horrible when I look out of the building at 5, 5:30 and we have our people exercising out in the parking lot,” Mondello said.

In 2013, St. Petersburg officials said they had been discussing three potential headquarters locations with Jabil: Its current location on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, the property at Gandy and I-275, and a five-block area just east of Tropicana Field near downtown.

With the decision to rebuild the campus in its current location, Jabil will be left with a large site, centrally located near Gandy with more than 60 acres that are developed with infrastructure. Mondello said there is not yet a plan for that property, but it’s “most likely” that it will be put up for sale.

The site near the Trop had been envisioned as downtown’s largest commercial complex, with 360,000 square feet of Class A office space and parking. City officials offered to contribute $8 million for land acquisition as long as Jabil met goals for employment.

The Trop site is bounded by the stadium’s eastern edge, Eighth Street, First Avenue S and Fourth Avenue S. The site includes two vacant blocks owned by the city, plus private property that has been home to a U-Haul storage facility, AAA’s St. Petersburg office and the Winn-Dixie Plaza.

But being near the Trop is not the area’s first claim to fame. The site is often referred to as the Webb’s City area in memory of the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Unusual Drug Store” that once functioned as its own tourist attraction.

LOOKING BACK: A Final Sale for Webb’s City (Aug. 19, 1979)

Landing a corporate headquarters there, officials have said, would bind the area around the stadium and further turbocharge development along Central Avenue.

Jabil’s announcement comes at a time when the company is looking at making some big strategic investments to stay competitive in emerging fields like energy production, 5G wireless communications, robotics, data analytics and automotive technology, both in navigation and electric-drive propulsion.

RECENT COVERAGE: Jabil expects federal tax changes to give it flexibility on strategic investing

“More and more of our customers want nothing to do with manufacturing because it’s really, really hard,” Mondello told stockholders at the company’s annual meeting last month. So if we’re going to manufacture, we should be the best at it. And we’re not there yet.”

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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