Mormon Church Largest Private Landowner in Florida With 670,000 Acres

The Mormon Church, which already owns about 290,000 acres of land in Florida, is set to become the state's biggest private landowner with a new deal to buy nearly 383,000 acres spread over nine counties for $565 million.

A Mormon Church's "tax-paying affiliate," AgReserves, Inc., "intends to maintain timber and agricultural uses of the lands," Florida's real estate firm St. Joe Company says in a statement, announcing the deal.

The land to be sold includes the majority of the firm's timberlands in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.

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The deal, which was unanimously approved by the firm's board of directors as well as by the church's company, is "subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals, and the approval of the shareholders of the Company," the statement adds.

The sale is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014.

AgReserves, which has investment farms and ranches around the world, apparently follows the Mormon teaching which calls for readiness in facing adversaries.

"We have felt that good farms, over a long period, represent a safe investment where the assets of the Church may be preserved and enhanced, while at the same time they are available as an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need," former president of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, says on the AgReserves website.

"AgReserves has demonstrated its commitment to wise land stewardship and prudent resource management during more than 60 years of ranching and agricultural operations in east-central Florida," Paul Genho, chairman of the AgReserves board, told reporters. "We will apply that same commitment and expertise to managing the property we are acquiring in Florida's Panhandle. We look to the long term in everything we do."

The Mormon Church has owned Deseret Ranches, a 290,000 cattle and citrus operation straddling three counties in Central Florida, for over six decades, according to Reuters.

The new deal brings the Mormon Church's Florida holdings to 672,834 acres, which is about 2 percent of the state's land mass. This excludes smaller church parcels for its Orlando and South Florida temples and other interests.

The Church of Latter Day Saints also plans to develop a 19,000-acre section of the Deseret Ranches, which is about 10 miles from Orlando International Airport and near the route of the All Aboard Florida privately funded train between Orlando and Miami planned for a 2015 launch.

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