TALLEVAST -- A real estate investment company has closed on a land deal in southern Manatee County that could light up the pot industry in Florida.
Cannabis-Rx announced Thursday that it acquired three buildings on 9.26 acres formerly owned by boat manufacturers Genmar and Wellcraft. The buildings total 209,000 square feet of commercial space at 7150 15th St. E., near Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
"If there's a compelling reason, we could put a licensed marijuana operation in the building in the form of a partnership with them and collect a premium on rent, we could certainly entertain that," said Llorn Kylo, chief executive officer of Cannabis-Rx, in a telephone interview Friday. The publicly traded company both buys and renovates distressed assets and acquires buildings in light industrial/commercial areas that could host a licensed cannabis operator, grow house, dispensary or distributor.
However, it's most likely that the building will be renovated and resold before voters have their say in November whether to legalize medical marijuana, Kylo said.
"I'm aware that Florida has legalized cannabis on the ballot, but I think that by the time this comes through, we could have dome something different with that property."
Attractive real estate possibilities in Alaska, California, Oregon and Rhode Island where recreational use could be approved are more attractive, he said.
He still left the option on the table for a cannabis-friendly tenant in Manatee County.
"Given the current push to legalize and regulate medicinal marijuana in Florida, we believe this well-located property would serve as an ideal location for a licensed grow facility and/or distribution center," Kylo said. "Regardless of what happens in the state, we are confident in our ability to maximize the value of the asset."
The company bought the property Jan. 29 through Praetorian Capital LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary, for $1.26 million, according to property records.
Cannabis-Rx was formerly named Longview Real Estate and based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Genmar ceased its production operations at the plant in 2008 and sold the building to Sarasota Real Property, a company managed by Beverly Hills Platinum Equity attorney Eva Kalawski, for $6.5 million in 2010, according to property records. Genmar acquired the warehouses from another boat manufacturer, Wellcraft, in 1994, according to property records. A set of other boat manufacturing buildings nearby owned by Wellcraft in Tallevast were sold in 2012 by a Cape Coral company, JRL Ventures for $2.6 million. Medallion Home moved into Wellcraft's former office headquarters this month at 1651 Whitfield Ave, after buying the building in late 2012 for $532,000.
Cannabis-Rx filed to begin restoration work on the buildings on March 31, according to land records.
Cannabis-Rx owns 35 properties across Florida, Illinois, California and Washington and hopes to either re-sell or lease them to entities that grow or sell marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, where legal. Cannabis-Rx does not grow or sell marijuana itself.
Court records show it wouldn't be the first time marijuana was grown in that neighborhood. Two men were charged in 2012 for growing marijuana plants as high as five feet at a neighboring warehouse at 7060 15th St. E,
The possibility of legally growing pot in Florida is becoming more likely. Florida voters will decide whether to approve medicinal use of marijuana in a November referendum. A recent Public Policy Poll showed a 65 percent approval rate. The referendum needs 60 percent approval for it to pass.
Robert and Cathy Jordan of Parrish are leading the charge for the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act in the Florida Senate, pushing for approval and regulation of medical marijuana. The couple is hesitant about outside companies coming into Florida as part of the "green rush" to cash in on marijuana legalization.
"It's modern day carpetbagging," Robert Jordan said.
The Jordans are aware of companies making this a practice, but a provision in Senate Bill 1030 calls for up to four grow houses/distribution centers for low-THC marijuana and some companies could be out of luck depending on the restrictions by the state. A company like Cannabis-Rx could be playing their cards right given the 200,000 square feet of space it picked up in Manatee County, he said.
The competition for one of the four licenses would not deter Cannabis-Rx, Kylo said, because other types of businesses could go in that space.
Cathy Jordan, who uses marijuana to cope with Lou Gherig's disease, would prefer that Florida farmers be allowed to do the growing to support more local jobs.
"I've always been in this to make Floridians money," she said. "If we're living in Florida and have Florida farmland, why are not Florida farmers making the money?"
Aside from grow houses for medicinal marijuana, companies would see better profits from cultivating hemp, which is used in fabrics, cosmetics and food productions, the Jordans said.Overall, marijuana is proving to be a big business when legalized and regulated by government, Robert Jordan said, and moves like those by Cannabis-Rx are following that trend.
Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabitino, whose district includes the warehouses, has not heard of Cannabis-Rx and has not met with the company.
She sounded apprehensive about similar companies coming in to build grow houses if the marijuana referendum passes.
"They are gambling for it passing," DiSabitino said.
She said she's concerned that the medical marijuana operations could turn into a problem like the local pill mill problems where fraudulent prescriptions fed the local Oxycontin market. Opponents have keyed in on the part of the proposal where people can be prescribed for "other conditions."
DiSabatino said she would like to have the county work on an ordinance that could prevent the marijuana-related businesses from being in certain areas.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.