Development continues in Charlotte County

February 1st, 2024



Charlotte County attracted plentiful new commercial developers and companies in 2023, continuing the county’s growth trend of the last several years. Most of the building activity is taking place within industrial areas surrounding Punta Gorda Airport, as much of the rest of the county’s land is zoned for residential use, and the land that is zoned commercial outside the airport area has insufficient acreage to support large-scale projects.

Had it not been for the three Mackle brothers—Elliot, Robert and Frank Mackle Jr.—who sold Charlotte County lots in the 1950s, the county might have had more land suitable for large commercial projects.

Author Jason Vuic, who grew up in Punta Gorda, explained Charlotte County’s development in a book he wrote and published in 2021, The Swamp Peddlers.

It tells how early developers, such as the Mackles’ General Development Corporation, purchased county land in the 1950s and ’60s, then received zoning approval for thousands of lots that were then advertised in national publications; one such ad read that for $10 down, a buyer could own a piece of “paradise.” The lots were sold for several hundred dollars, payable in installments.

The Mackles in particular marketed their lots as a retirement “paradise”—which is a significant reason why, for decades, the average age of the county’s residents was higher than those in surrounding counties: For many years, mostly retirees settled in the county.

Although some of those early lot owners never built on the land they purchased, and for many years until the recent housing boom, a number of the lots were never developed, the pattern had been set. The county was carved up into lots mostly measuring 80 feet by 125 feet.

At a recent Charlotte County Commissioners meeting, commissioners lamented that so much of the county had been divided into those residential lots, preventing commercial and industrial growth in areas outside the airport.

However, the early developers didn’t buy all the land in Charlotte County. “There’s an abundant quantity of vacant land still left in Charlotte County for the future, including approximately 5,000 available acres currently zoned commercial and industrial, some of which is shovel ready,” says Kay Tracy, business recruitment manager for the county’s Department of Economic Development.

Because of its location, the first big distributor—Cheney Brothers—arrived, and in 2015, completed a 345,000-square-foot facility off Piper Road across from Punta Gorda Airport, making it one of the largest buildings in Charlotte County. In 2021, it added an 82,000-square-foot expansion, bringing the total to more than 427,000 square feet.

The company initially brought 300 jobs to Charlotte County. And more businesses would follow Cheney Brothers’ lead, putting down stakes in industrial parks near the airport and bringing more job opportunities. A major selling point for distributors is that Charlotte County is two to three hours away from the Miami, Tampa and Orlando markets.

“Charlotte County has been welcoming a diverse range of businesses in 2023,” Tracy said in late November.

Continue reading at Gulfshore Business.