After he bought the former Glades Correctional Institute, Henry Rionda Jr.’s first move was to tear down the razor wire that was the most visible feature of the 212-acre property.
The guard towers and barracks remain for now, but Rionda has been transforming the former prison into Glades Gateway, a business park that aims to lure warehouses and factories.
Minus the fence, Belle Glade boasts a friendlier vibe to visitors coming into town on State Road 80, Rionda said.
“Just by taking the barbed wire down and mowing and cleaning it up, you’re already starting to change the perception of the property,” he said.
Rionda, who runs construction firm Rio-Bak of Wellington, led a group of investors who last year paid the state $1.2 million for the closed prison. That’s a bargain compared to commercial property in coastal Palm Beach County.
“It was a good price,” Rionda said. “It’s going to take a lot of work to get the property the way we want it.”
His next project: demolishing the prison barracks.
Glades Gateway already has landed a number of tenants. Vegetable grower TKM Bengard leased 30,000 square feet of warehouse space, Orsenigo Farms took 10,000 feet and Precision Land Leveling has 7,500 square feet. A sod farmer also has moved operations to the former prison.
Belle Glade recently annexed the property, and City Manager Lomax Harrelle hopes Glades Gateway eventually replaces the 300 jobs the region lost when the state prison closed.
“Oh my goodness, that was a hit to the area,” Harrelle said. “Our employment is almost 100 percent agriculture, which is five or six months out of the year. We’re trying to get year-round employment.”
The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County has been pitching the property to potential tenants. The rail line through the property is a big selling point, said Kelly Smallridge, head of the Business Development Board.
“We’ve been marketing it hard,” Smallridge said. “It’s a great location.”