Prioria Robotics moves into former GRU warehouse

An outside view of the Prioria Robotics office on Wednesday Feb. 13, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.

The city's redevelopment plans for a cluster of vacated Gainesville Regional Utilities buildings south of downtown have taken a step forward.

This week, Gainesville-bred technology firm Prioria Robotics moved into a renovated 22,000-square-foot former GRU warehouse along the 600 block of South Depot Avenue.

Before the move, Prioria, a manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, occupied 7,000-square-feet of space spread over three floors of the Wells Fargo building on North Main Street.

Prioria Chief Executive Officer Bryan da Frota said the bigger headquarters, with its larger area for manufacturing and room for expansion, played a significant role in the firm's decision to stay in Gainesville.

Work on the renovation of the empty, concrete-block building started last summer. The city's contractors had to — and did — hit a mid-February deadline to have the building ready for Prioria.

"We got the keys on Thursday. We got the CO (certificate of occupancy) on Friday, and away we went," da Frota said. "It's pretty amazing. That was a hard deadline for the city to meet."

The building's exterior is now painted a bright yellow, white and gray. Inside, the computers are set up at employee work stations, but the process of unpacking boxes from the move continues.

The city named the renovated warehouse the Catalyst Building because it is hoped to spark redevelopment in what is now known as the Power District. Five other vacated GRU buildings stand near the Prioria offices.

They are along a stretch of Southeast Depot Avenue that was repaved in recent years and a short distance east from the ongoing development of Depot Park.

"The fact that we have a business that was willing to go into the Power District is cool," City Commissioner and CRA chair Susan Bottcher said. "That area is in need of revitalization, and we hope that once Prioria is in there and chugging along, it shows it can be done and draws in other people."

The public investment in the building renovation was significant. Last summer, the City Commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner Todd Chase in dissent, to take about $2.6 million out of reserves to cover the costs for design, construction and general government's purchase of the building from GRU.

Chase said that, while he has concerns about accumulating debt, he would have preferred the city to finance the project instead of dipping into reserves.

"I still have reservations about spending so much money for one business, but I did support this project," Chase said. "We are all vested in their success at this point."

Chase said that, moving ahead, he would like to see private investment in the redevelopment of the Power District, with government "creating an environment that allows private business to flourish."

The site work and renovation for the Catalyst project was split into two phases, each with an initial budget of less than $1 million.

Charles Perry Partners Inc. was the general contractor on the first phase, Oelrich Construction on the second phase. Each company is on the CRA list of firms that have an annual contract for continuing services, which means they may be awarded bids under a certain cost — the threshold recently rose from $1 million to $2 million — without a bid process.

A change order on the second phase eventually pushed its budget to approximately $1.2 million.

Lynn Janoski, the finance director for the CRA, said the construction work is expected to come in under budget.

The city intends to recoup the money spent on renovation through lease payments. Prioria has signed an initial seven-year lease. Monthly payments are $23,375 during the first year and increase by 3 percent annually.

Prioria manufactures portable reconnaissance drones for military field personnel as well as drones for search and rescue work, surveying and other uses.

The company has about 35 employees and plans to add 40 more over the next three years, da Frota said.

Prioria has approval for a tax rebate of as much as $400,000 based on job creation. Through the Qualified Target Industry program, the state would pay out $320,000 of that incentive with the county and city each paying as much as $40,000.

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