Housing Woes Hamper Florida Landowner

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The slump in the housing market is affecting the largest private landowner in Florida. The St. Joe Company plans to cut or transfer hundreds of jobs, and will push to sell more than 100,000 acres.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Fed's economic concerns stem from trouble in the housing sector. And here's yet another sign of trouble if you're thinking about real estate: The St. Joe Company has some land in Florida that it wants to sell you. That company is the single largest landowner in Florida. It plans to cut or transfer hundreds of jobs and will push to sell more than 100,000 acres.

NPR's Greg Allen has more.

GREG ALLEN: If you've ever flown over the Florida Panhandle on your way to Disney World, chances are you've been over St. Joe's land. A former paper company, St. Joe owns some 800,000 acres, mostly pine plantations in the state's Panhandle. Instead of using its land to make paper, 10 years ago St. Joe remade itself into one of the nation's largest developers.

Even before the downturn in the nation's housing market, though, St. Joe ran into trouble. Sales and profits have been down over most of the last year and a half. Those trends a year ago forced it out of the homebuilding business. Instead of building houses, St. Joe said it would design and promote communities, leaving the actual building to others.

This week, St. Joe's CEO Peter Rummell said the company was going further. It's laying off most of its workers and looking to sell off a good chunk of its land. Rummell said this was not a sign of a company in distress.

Mr. PETER RUMMELL (CEO, St. Joe): This is not a fire sale. We are not dumping stuff on the market, and we're not going to make stupid decisions, but there are things that we think have reached their height in the life cycle given rational pricing. And so some of that stuff we're going to harvest.

ALLEN: Company officials are confident that when the housing slump abates, the land the company has owned for generations will start gaining value again.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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