Council votes to can Ocala tomato farm after spending $3.4M



A plan to build a hydroponic tomato farm at Ocala's airport never got off the ground. On Tuesday night the City Council voted to kill the project after spending $3.4 million on it.

Officials insist the tax money they spent would have been spent anyway to improve the city's business park. So even though tomatoes are out, they hope to bring something else in.

The 135 acres supposed to be covered with tomatoes will remain covered with weeds.

"Well, the city has a lot of coals in the fire right now. Losing these jobs, of course, is a disappointment," said Ocala City Manager Matthew Brower.

Brower said the American Fresh Farms project to grow hydroponic tomatoes and create 160 jobs on property at the airport has been canned.

In a split vote, the City Council refused to extend the deadline for the company to start construction on a pair of 1-million-square foot greenhouses.

"You built a new road; there's new infrastructure. That tax money was just tossed aside?" asked WFTV's Berndt Petersen.

"Absolutely not. That investment is a down payment on our future. The road is in place, the infrastructure is in place, for the next major project," said Brower.

The City Council had already granted the company two extensions on project deadlines that weren't met.
Brower advised one more extension, but the council majority would not have it.

"It's very challenging to get the credit and get investors so more time could have assisted them. However, I work for the council. They lead, I follow. In this case, they've spoken, and we'll follow," said Brower.

A company spokesman could not be reached for comment, but the company told the City Council there are other communities more eager to work with them.