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Huge chunk of Highlands, DeSoto for sale

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 11:10 AM
TAMPA -

A company linked to former state Sen. JD Alexander plans to sell about 65,000 acres of land in Highlands and DeSoto counties, much of it citrus groves and cattle pastures.

The land is in the path identified by the state Department of Transportation as a "future corridor" for the Heartland Parkway, a highway that would run north and south from just east of Fort Myers to Lakeland.

The idea for the toll road is criticized by some area residents who say it could contribute to sprawl, and it's supported by others who say the parkway will be needed to serve future development.

Alexander, formerly the chairman of the powerful Senate budget committee, has denied pushing to include the highway in Department of Transportation planning, as some other legislators have suggested.

Alexander didn't return calls for comment Tuesday.

The company, Atlantic Blue Group, said in a written announcement that it has engaged a commercial real estate services firm to manage the sale.

It will sell Blue Head Ranch, Blue Head Farms and Tri-County Grove, described by a company spokesman as extending about 17 miles along the border of Highlands and DeSoto counties.

The land being sold includes the planned Bluehead Ranch development on about 40,500 acres of the ranch just south of State Road 70 in Highlands County.

Atlantic Blue and a related company, Alico Inc., grew out of the agricultural empire built by Alexander's grandfather, legendary Central Florida citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin. Alexander is CEO of Alico and former CEO of Atlantic Blue, which is the majority stockholder in Alico.

David Koon, current Atlantic Blue CEO, said in the announcement that the sale is motivated by "the current business climate, along with recent changes in tax law."

Alico said in a written announcement that it has been told by Atlantic Blue that it intends "to explore the potential sale of substantially all of their assets during the 2013 calendar year" and pursue sale of its Alico stock.

Alico said it was told that's because of changes in tax laws on sales of assets by corporations such as Atlantic Blue.

The Department of Transportation's "future corridors" program, initiated by former Gov. Jeb Bush, identified corridors for a network of future toll roads crisscrossing undeveloped areas of Florida to serve development in those areas.


wmarch@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7761

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