Review of book, Green Empire

Discussion in 'Real Estate' started by Paula, Feb 26, 2005.

  1. Paula

    Paula Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2005
    Messages:
    3,744
    Likes Received:
    220
    Location:
    Michigan but someday in SoWal as well
    I just started reading "Green Empire: The St Joe Company and the Remaking of FLorida's Panhandle" about St. Joe's development of the Panhandle, including the South Walton area. I'm only on chapter 1, but can you tell me if the book is a really honest view of St. Joe? I bought the book because I read about it on this site (thanks!) and love 30A. I figured it would help me understand the history, present, and future of the area since we recently bought property in the area.

    Do the authors of the book have any personal interest or connections to support or not support St. Joe's? Are they pretty much unbiased? It's a good book so far and I want to know whether I'm getting a partial story or pretty much a balanced story.

    Thanks!
     
  2. kurt

    kurt Admin Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Messages:
    7,220
    Likes Received:
    3,746
    Location:
    SoWal
  3. Paula

    Paula Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2005
    Messages:
    3,744
    Likes Received:
    220
    Location:
    Michigan but someday in SoWal as well
    I read about the book on this forum and so far think it's excellent. It gives a perspective on the way the area used to be (all of the panhandle, but the first chapter is all about S. Walton and the development there -- so far, a good review considering development is going to happen and cautious optimism for the future) and the impact of development on the panhandle's future. It is written by two women who live in Panama City. As long as it's a balanced book, I'd recommend it.

    I have "The Way We Were" but not the other one. I was actually trying to figure out where to get more copies of the book to leave at our places for people to read-- so thanks! I found my copy on ebay when I was just browsing around there for things from Florida.
     
  4. lenzoe

    lenzoe Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2004
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    102
    Location:
    Atlanta/Seagrove
    I've been working my way through this one too. I'd say the authors have a traditional academic bias which is skeptical on big development with good reason. I think they are associated with one of the major universities.

    The big message of the book is that things are never gonna be the same again ... which I think I could have figured out myself. But the background it gives on St. Joe, how it got its holdings and transformed itself into a development powerhouse, details behind the airport proposal and prospects for the future are all pretty fascinating.

    We've got the other books Kurt recommended too and those are great. One of them had a description of the life of family that operated the 331 drawbridge until it was no longer a drawbridge.

    Another book I'd recommend is called "Building on Sand" which gives a cautionary tale and questions the sanity of gulf-front development over the long haul.
     
  5. lenzoe

    lenzoe Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2004
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    102
    Location:
    Atlanta/Seagrove
    By the way, we picked all of these books up at the Seaside bookstore. That's one good little bookstore. We always end up finding something different and interesting whenever we visit, which is pretty often.
     
  6. Paula

    Paula Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2005
    Messages:
    3,744
    Likes Received:
    220
    Location:
    Michigan but someday in SoWal as well
    I thought the book promoted very cautious optimism. It did make me want to invest in St. Joe's (as a shareholder) because it seems they have a long-term plan that will take at least a decade (if not more) to play out and they're working on all of Northwest Florida. The biggest risks it seems to me are (1) the environment which they seem better than others at protecting, (2) any potential unethical behavior at the top that could cause big problems (these are happening with many companies these days so it's hard to know which executives/boards of directors are involved in funny business, (3) their ability to keep a reputation as designing communities for people with different incomes (right now it seems like they focus on high-end), (4) the demographic changes (how many people will be able to afford very expensive housing if that's what they focus on, (5) their ability to add infrastructure to "the great northwest" as they like to call it. Even with all those concerns, I'm likely to invest in St. Joes soon based on what I've seen in the local area, my reading of the book, and a little (just a little) online research. Any opinions? They've done very well over the past few years. Do you see any other risks?
     
  7. Cil

    Cil Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2004
    Messages:
    1,492
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    Amelia Island, FL
    I read the book. IMHO Paula's review is right on.
    Especially agree with points 3, 4 and 5.
    Anyone ever see the John Sayles movie, Sunshine State? It is a bit too long, but for me its themes resonate a bit with Green Empire, in terms of the way SoWal used to be, and the way it might be in the future.
     
  8. Paula

    Paula Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2005
    Messages:
    3,744
    Likes Received:
    220
    Location:
    Michigan but someday in SoWal as well
    I have the movie Sunshine State but haven't watched it yet. I'll watch it soon based on your recommendation. Maybe on my next visit to the cottage...
     
  9. beachmouse

    beachmouse Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2004
    Messages:
    3,499
    Likes Received:
    727
    Location:
    Bluewater Bay, FL
    Sunshine State very much hits home if you live in the area. Lots of little touches to the movie that make it fell like the writer and director really did their homework.

    For #3, St. Joe is building more middle class and moderate income housing in others areas, just not Walton County. Hopefully at some point they'll join up with Sandestin and work on some service industry employee housing issues that are only getting worse here.

    I wish St. Joe well. Development's going to happen, and they seem to be making more of an effort to do it right and well than most developers would. They're just not my cuppa. We end up in Grayton Beach pretty much every Sunday in the summer because it's a real place, quirks, warts, nice dogs and all. But we'll very rarely go east from there because Watercolor and Seaside are just a little too movie set for our tastes. (and yeah, I think there's a whole deeper irony with Seaside getting used for Truman Show)
     
  10. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2004
    Messages:
    31,648
    Likes Received:
    1,771

    South Walton is the "Truman Show" and everyone is watching.
     
  11. Cil

    Cil Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2004
    Messages:
    1,492
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    Amelia Island, FL
    It's good to know that there is some lower income housing, the whole situation reminds me quite a bit of Aspen. People commute there from outlying areas.

    heh
    Beachmouse, I know what you mean. They look charming but there is a bit of a synthetic feel to those places. (BTW, are dogs not welcome there?)
    I guess I look at the situation two different ways.
    I appreciate that some folks simply want to get away from everything.
    Maybe I am wrong, but I would think people would like a teeny bit of infrastructure.
    I am used to living in a community where we walk a lot; I don't necessarily get into a car every single time I leave the house.
    We checked out the entire area two years ago. We liked Grayton the best. :)
    But we also liked PSJ and Apalachicola.
     
  12. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2004
    Messages:
    31,648
    Likes Received:
    1,771
    WaterColor's park is definitely dog friendly. They have a couple of doggy poop stations with clean up bags and doggy poop trash can. (Remember not to eat the herbs -- my dogs like to pee on the Rosemary.)
     
  13. beachmouse

    beachmouse Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2004
    Messages:
    3,499
    Likes Received:
    727
    Location:
    Bluewater Bay, FL
    Lots of people who work service industry here year round do have some very long commutes. I've heard of people who work at Seaside, and live in Alabama. Though that's kind of an extreme example there are still many folks commuting from Crestview, DeFuniak, Bruce, etc. It's not an ideal situation, but it is workable.

    What they need to really address is the seasonal worker situation. The Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Bulgarian, etc. college kids are going to keep coming here even though the housing situation is horrendous because they just can't make that kind of money back home. And those kids have no cars so you can't just expect them to find a place inland and drive in every day.

    Sandestin is doing the right thing by developing dormitories for seasonal workers, but a lot of smaller businesses that end up relying on the college kids just don't have the resources to tackle the issue.
     
  14. lenzoe

    lenzoe Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2004
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    102
    Location:
    Atlanta/Seagrove
    I think that depends on whether you agree that what's good for St. Joe's is good for Florida.

    St. Joe's PR department wants you to believe that the company is in partnership with Florida and is developing in the best interests of the public. So far they've done very nice, very high-end developments and they are working on infrastructure issues that will spur more development for them, and as a side-effect will benefit the existing populations in those areas -- as long as you define benefit as having greater access to certain services like air travel, education, better roadways, medical facilities, improving economic development, and a nearby Publix store.

    But St. Joe's is a corporation and corporations by definition have to look out for what's best for their bottom line. Sometimes that's in agreement with what the general public wants and needs. Sometimes it will not be, I guarantee you.

    I don't know a lot about the company, but from what I've seen, its only asset is its massive real estate holdings in NW Florida, and its business now is development. The way it's planning to unlock the value of those holdings is by developing. Lots of land, lots of places to develop. Those two facts together, in the long run, are not motivators to restrain development or to promote serious conservation. Increasing, unchecked sprawl was one of the risks the book mentioned.

    If you define benefit as wide-open, pristine, protected forests and wetlands and little traffic with populations in concentrated areas to preserve that land, you might have a different view than optimism. Fatalism is a word that comes to mind. One thing I often hear in reference to St. Joe's is that development is going to happen, somebody's going to develop it, and St. Joe's seems to be better at it than most.

    Perhaps. But if that's the starting point for the discussion, then the ending point isn't hard to predict -- pretty much exactly what has already happened in South Florida. I think the people of NorthWest Florida really do still have a choice in the matter, but not for much longer.

    As to whether the company is a good investment or not -- no idea. Stock prices depend not just on how the company does but on how well people expect the company to do. For now, I'm sticking with real estate, which in my opinion is easier to understand.
     
  15. kurt

    kurt Admin Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Messages:
    7,220
    Likes Received:
    3,746
    Location:
    SoWal
    Impressive post lenzoe. :clap_1:
     
  16. beachmouse

    beachmouse Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2004
    Messages:
    3,499
    Likes Received:
    727
    Location:
    Bluewater Bay, FL
    I guess I prefer realist to fatalist in some ways. People are going to keep wanting to move down here, and many of them will end up living out that dream. Every day, there are more than a thousand brand new Floridians, and they need to live/work/recreate somewhere. And for some of them that somewhere is here.

    There are things St. Joe has done that I'm not crazy about, but at least they seem willing to try to create something sustainable and are working with the state to permanently set aside a lot of acreage for conservation purposes.
     
  17. kurt

    kurt Admin Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Messages:
    7,220
    Likes Received:
    3,746
    Location:
    SoWal
    Old guy playing golf in the movie "Sunshine State": "Nature is overrated".
     
  18. Cil

    Cil Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2004
    Messages:
    1,492
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    Amelia Island, FL
    Yeah, that rich old golfing guy is Alan King--well cast. I remember him saying that.
    Another thing I remember him saying is that what Florida developers do is put "nature on a leash."
    As the Green Empire develops and changes over time, I guess it remains to be seen what the final cost will be in terms of both environmental as well as social issues.
    The Empire has certainly come a long way from $11 an acre.
     
  19. SlowMovin

    SlowMovin Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2005
    Messages:
    485
    Likes Received:
    42
    We don't have that now. The only pristine, protected forests are the state ones. St. Joe is developing land it owns which, by definition, is not protected (not particularly pristine, either, since much of it was logged repeatedly over the years and is now simply re-planted pines).
     
  20. Paula

    Paula Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2005
    Messages:
    3,744
    Likes Received:
    220
    Location:
    Michigan but someday in SoWal as well
    I read the book and saw the movie Sunshine State (good but slow movie -- was fine to watch on an airplane on DVD). Development in the panhandle ("great northwest of Florida" as it has been renamed by St. Joe) will not going to stop for sure, but discussion groups like this and voters and the press can have some influence as we saw from the recent brown sand issue. St. Joe seems very concerned about their image and what the press says about them. They like to win and publicize environmental awards.
     

Share This Page