BRADENTON -- The area's most recognizable employer appears likely to extend its stay for quite a while.
Tropicana Manufacturing Co. Inc. has filed a new master site plan with Manatee County that opens the door to streamlined redevelopment of the entire 186-acre campus, including about 1.67 million square feet of additional building space.
Although the juice giant has announced no immediate expansion plans, the revised blueprints filed with the county show the manufacturer is committed to Bradenton for the long run, with probable growth to come, officials said.
"The key for us is the pre-approval really makes the Bradenton facility more competitive when we go to put projects in the ground," said
Steve Lezman, director of government affairs for Tropicana.
Tropicana has asked the county for a complete re-examination of its headquarters at 850 13th Ave. E. in Bradenton, with a master plan application submitted earlier this month.
The broad changes would allow the company to forego another regulatory site plan every time it wants to redevelop or add a new building, instead only needing to acquire the necessary permits -- a much speedier process.
The site includes some pockets of vacant land, but the majority of the property is blanketed by existing structures and pavement.
The proposed master plan allows Tropicana to both rehab all of the 2.33 million square feet of current building space and add another 1.67 million square feet at any time in the future to meet its maximum 4 million-square-foot allocation.
Aside from a new contractor parking and prefabrication yard, the company has not proposed any new development east of 15th Street, records show. Tropicana officials declined to elaborate this week on any future plans.
The need for an expedited building process became apparent last summer, when Tropicana's plastic bottling conversion project took longer to permit than expected.
The $4 million bottling facility is designed to accommodate filling lines and blow machines in the company's switch from its former carton containers, Lezman said.
Having the master plan pre-approved can shave several weeks off of the regulatory review time for a major construction project, according to the county.
Tropicana received its current general development plan through approval of the Manatee County Commission in August 2004.
The new master plan is still pending final review from the county, with any critical comments due by Oct. 3. It will eventually be voted on by the county commission.
"Tropicana has adapted to the redevelopment mode," said Miles Gentry, case manager for the county's building department. "The company may demolish existing structures and redevelop that land, so the company has the entire site available for improvements, not just the existing vacant areas."
Tropicana is one of Manatee largest employers, with about 1,200 workers staffed at its Bradenton headquarters.
Founded in 1953, Tropicana is the largest purchaser of oranges in Florida, processing 60 million boxes a season, or 1.2 million oranges each day between November and mid-June.
But all has not been rosy for the juicer of late.
Tropicana has seen its sales squeezed by the recession as consumers turn to more value-oriented brands, a trend that has the company unveiling new-look bottles and marketing efforts to keep pace.
Division managers met this summer with the local workers in groups at the Bradenton plant to discuss potential cuts, which included 12 immediate layoffs and the possibility of more to come later this year.
Since 2008, the facility's workforce has slowly shrunk by at least 200 jobs, records show.
The company also is among a handful of industry giants now battling a series of lawsuits concerned with the amount of processing that goes into a product labeled as "100 percent natural."
Parent company PepsiCo Inc., the world's largest snack-food maker, reported $16.46 billion in net revenue, down 2 percent from the same quarter a year ago. During that time, the company's net income has slid 21 percent to $1.5 billion, according to its latest quarterly report filed July 25.
Despite the recent speed bumps, area officials said Tropicana is the single most important company to drive the manufacturing industry's success in Manatee and Sarasota.
"Any time you have an employer of that magnitude, holding that much real estate, it's going to have a positive economic impact," said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Area Manufacturers Association. "With an anchor like that, it makes it easier to sell this as a manufacturing friendly destination."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman