Wal-Mart Eyes Florida Farm for Development

Wal-Mart is considering building a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center north of Ocala, Fla., and one potential site is 100 acres of Noel Hickey's 320-acre Irish Acres farm. Hickey is a prominent owner, trainer, and breeder who races primarily in Illinois.

The Marion County board of county commissioners voted March 5 to send a letter to Wal-Mart executives to gauge their interest. The vote was 3-2.

"We are looking at the possibility of opening a distribution center in the Ocala area," said Daphne Davis Moore of Wal-Mart's department of community affairs. "There's just not anything definite at this time. We've focused our attention on Irish Acres as the primary site."

A number of county residents have expressed concern over the possibility of losing more green space.

"The proposal hasn't been accepted as of yet," said Randy Harris, chairman of the board of commissioners. "We've seen an increase in the number of farms in Marion County during the past 25 years. The proposed project isn't a challenge to the horse industry in Marion County."

If Wal-Mart builds the facility, it could mean 1,200 new jobs for Marion County, officials said.

In a statement, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, which represents the industry in such matters, said it would not take a position on such an issue until it receives word from its board of directors. "However, generally speaking, on local land-use issues such as this one, the board very seldom attempts to speak for our membership when there is such a diversity of opinion," the statement said.

The statement also said the FTBOA understands a farm owner's property rights, and the regulations that can impact the value of that property.