Disney paid $23 million Thursday for a 965 acres of Osceola County ranchlands southeast of Celebration.
The BK Ranch, located on Old Tampa Highway about a mile west of the Poinciana SunRail station, was envisioned for years a master-planned community to rival Celebration. It's entitled for 3,000 homes and 378,000 square feet of commercial and office space. The master plan also called for a future K-8 and high school and multiple parks.
Entitlement specialist IBI Group described it unique opportunity to developer a transit oriented community "that will be unique in the entire length of SunRail."
The property has been on the market for over a decade. The owners have spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it properly zoned and permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District.
Jerry McGratty, broker/ower of Westhampton Realty, was the court-appointed receiver for the property. He told GrowthSpotter it's very likely the plans will stay on a shelf because Disney was primarily interested in acquiring the land for "water management needs" and conservation.
"I do not believe they will ever develop it," he said. "I believe it will stay in the same pristine shape it has always been."
The purchasing entity was an affliate company led by several high-ranking Disney executives, including Senior VP of Resorts Thomas Mazloum and VP of Real Estate George Gross.
The transaction follows the same model as Disney's 2014 purchase of Mira Lago, a failed 3,000-acre residential development south of Poinciana, to mitigate wetland impacts as a result of new construction in the theme parks and resort areas.
John Classe, administrator for the Reedy Creek Improvement District, said he was aware of Disney's interest in the BK Ranch property but has not been involved in discussions about its future use as a mitigation bank.
"They take the lead on all that because the mitigation is for their development," Classe said. "We get involved later."
McGratty said the BK Ranch property has been under contract multiple times, including to a prospective horse racing track. An anti-gambling lobbying effort killed that deal.
Jacksonville-based GreenPointe Communities had a purchase contract in 2015 and hoped to combine the ranch with neighboring properties to create a large employment center. That plan was accepted by Osceola County, but GreenPointe ultimately backed out of the deal.
The county could end up being the loser in the deal because conservation use won't add any value to the tax base or bring riders to support SunRail.
"They wanted it developed, but it is what it is," McGratty said. "It's entitled. They've got the permits. We don't control what happens after we sell it."
The ranch shares its northern border with the nearly 2,000-acre Florida Mitigation Bank. The property to the west is owned by Kissimmee Utility Authority and the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Mattamy Homes is in permitting now for the Celebration Island Village, the last residential village in the Disney master-planned community. When it's completed, Island Village will add 1,310 more residential units to the community and extend Celebration Boulevard all the way to County Road 532, about two miles west of BK Ranch.