Mike Akins wants to build cars in Carrabelle.
At the June 1 Carrabelle city meeting, Akins, CEO of Speedster Motorcars of Clearwater, asked commissioners to consider leasing him the Hexaport factory building, vacated by Gulf Unmanned Systems Center (GUSC) in February.
The 65,000 square foot facility was constructed by the city with $1.5 million grant money in 2007 and leased to, Greensteel, a modular home construction company, for $10 a year. Greensteel declared bankruptcy in 2009 and the factory sat empty for five years until leased by GUSC in 2014.
Now Akins wants to move his business from the Tampa Bay area to Carrabelle. He said he plans to bring seven of his key employees with him, and also will hire in Franklin County, beginning with perhaps 18 employees total, with as many as 60 on salary by 2022.
Akins said he plans to train local workers to perform tasks like construction of molded fiberglass bodies and will begin workers at $18 an hour with the possibility of $25 per hour when training is completed.
Speedster Motorcars is in the business of building dreams. They construct replicas of classic automobiles including the Auburn Speedster from the 1930s; Z-Series Zephyr Coupes and Gullwing Mercedes. Akins and his crew also restore classic cars.
Akins said he would host car shows and auctions in Carrabelle four times a year if he locates his manufacturing site to Hexaport.
He said his current location is about 30,000 square feet including office space but he wants use of the entire Hexaport building.
Former Carrabelle Commissioner Charlotte Schneider, who works as a real estate agent, said she was excited about this aspect of Akins’s proposal. “It will bring more tourism to the county and that’s my thing,” she said.
Akins has been in the “replicar” business since the early 1970s. He said he constructs, on average, four cars a month. Speedster also sells do-it-yourself car kits and specialty auto parts. He said a new replica sells for about $140,000.
“We build 75 percent of our cars on site,” said Akins. He said the classic exterior sits on the chassis of an American-made car that will reach about 100 mph.
He said about half of his business is done with customers from overseas. “Having the airport nearby is a selling point for me,” said Akins. “Many of my clients have private planes and like to be able to fly in.”
He said his manufacturing business must be out of its current workshop by July 1.
Akins said that whether or not he leases Hexaport, he plans to move to the area. He said he and his wife first visited Carrabelle in 1989 and have returned many times.
“I really love this little town,” he said, adding that Clearwater has too much traffic and he prefers a more laid-back lifestyle.
At the meeting, he asked several times if it was possible to view the interior of Hexaport.
In a separate interview he said he already knew it would be necessary to tear out offices installed by GUSC because they block access to the loading docks but was not concerned about having to do other necessary changes to the structure.
Schneider said they hope to get access to Hexaport this week.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Brenda La Paz said she wants to change the name of the Hexaport building and determine the market value of a structure that size.
She asked City Attorney Dan Hartman to determine the value of the structure by square footage, and create a checklist and application for potential renters.
“We’ve had two experiences that were less than optimal and the hope is to have a totally different experience next time,” Hartman said. “Sitting empty is not a good option. Either we can go with one client or we can break (the space) into smaller spaces so we don’t put all our eggs in one basket.”
La Paz agreed. “Then you’re not relying on one tenant to pay the rent,” she said.
“They’re not exactly standing in line,” Commissioner Cal Allen said. “If we get a good deal we need to consider it.”