Entrepreneurs are reusing the old state prison | Business Observer
He has got everything. Barracks, kitchens, classrooms, lounges, a medical building and over 1,200 acres of property. What more could you ask for in a former maximum security prison?
This place – what was once the Hendry Correctional Institute – has so much to offer that a group of businessmen have breathed new life into it. They opened a training complex for the military, law enforcement and civilians at the Hendy County site, just east of the town of Immokalee in Collier County. They formed three companies based there: Tradecraft Range and Training Center, Force Center and Force IMI.
In the midst of the pandemic, they’ve had to get creative with marketing, including attracting new types of customers, but they have big plans for the property and are slowly rehabilitating it. A key? Focus on rehabilitation projects that will have the most immediate impact on income.
After the prison closed around 2012, the state sold the property to a real estate investor. The property is now owned by Naples investors Richard Mitchell and Robert White, under the South Florida Ops LLC, according to Hendry County property records.
Ryan Hillaker, Partner and President of Tradecraft Range and Training Center and Director of Business Development for Force Center, explains that Tradecraft Range and Training Center opened on the property in April 2019. “My goal was to create a shooting range for more experienced shooters, ”said Hillaker, who served in the Marines and worked in defense logistics.
Hillaker and a partner formed another partnership with Force Center, which opened on the property on March 1, 2020 – just before the pandemic-related closures began. Force Center provides training to law enforcement, the military, and other government entities. The third entity, Force IMI, is the internal training division. Now there are five partners with mutual business ownership, all leasing the property from the owner.
For Force Center, much of the expected income was based on military and police training. The pandemic has changed things. “Much of this training has been on a moratorium,” says Hillaker. Law enforcement budgets were shifted to operations, and there were obvious concerns about groups staying in open accommodations at the facility. Demand for law enforcement training is just starting to return, he said.
However, on the civilian side, the company is too efficient. Many indoor shooting ranges closed during parts of the pandemic and people searched for new places to go, finding out about Tradecraft. In recent months, firearms sales have increased alongside the demand for training.
This summer, a law enforcement demonstration day helped them demonstrate the facility, which can be used for a variety of training, from active marksmanship scenarios to skill to rifle marksmanship. through violence at work. Customers are also drawn from searches on Google, Tripadvisor and word of mouth. They planned to promote the facility at outdoor events, such as car shows and golf tournaments, where people might have a joint interest in guns. But the pandemic thwarted these plans. “It required us to be really creative and proactive,” says Hillaker.
“It would be over $ 50 million to recreate what we have on level ground. It is a solid construction. Concrete and steel last a long time. We really have the backbone of what we need out there. Ryan Hillaker, Force Center and Tradecraft Range and Training Center
The creative approach has been to call real estate agencies to promote their agent safety program and to host games, such as airsoft, a shooter that uses plastic projectiles. Hillaker says laser tag and airsoft weren’t on their radar before, but generated additional income. They also provided a good business lesson: be open to new sources of income and not be hampered by the initial strategy.
The team has also been busy assessing the renovation needs of the massive site. There is hurricane damage and leaky roofs. Hillaker says there are around 40 buildings on the property in various rehab states along with plenty of open space. The footprint is approximately 2 miles long and a quarter of a mile wide. The buildings include four barracks, each housing around 50 people. “We rehabilitated one,” Hillaker says. “We have the capacity to house a small military unit or a large law enforcement unit and keep them on property.”
For now, the plan is to figure out which projects can be monetized fastest and make the improvements that will lead to more business. “You just have to choose,” says Hillaker. “You could lose millions and millions in the blink of an eye.”
The partners have been cautious about investing in the property, he says, as they don’t know how long the income will be affected by the pandemic, but they have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. After the summer, Hillaker hopes law enforcement and military training will pick up the pace and the projected budget will approach $ 1 million.
Next on the list is to fix the property’s kitchens, so they can accommodate 50 to 100 people on site without having to call in catering. They also plan to add more classrooms. “Property is slowly but surely being brought up to better standards,” he says.
Starting with the infrastructure of a former prison was a major advantage. “It would take over $ 50 million to recreate what we have on level ground,” says Hillaker. “It’s a solid construction. Concrete and steel last a long time. We really have the backbone of what we need out there.