October 24, 2014

A Shared Vision?- Northeast- Dec. 2002

Bob Snell | 12/1/2002
John Hewins Jr.'s vision of St. Johns County includes a majestic view of the Matanzas River from the dining room of the Marsh Creek Country Club, which he manages. Not everyone in this upscale county south of Jacksonville enjoys the perks to which Marsh Creek members are accustomed. So two years ago, Hewins joined hundreds of residents in an effort he hopes will make St. Johns County a better -- and more affordable -- place to live.

St. Johns Vision, which Hewins chairs, recently published a 20-year strategic plan for the county. The 12-page document -- distributed as a supplement in the local newspaper -- is the result of dozens of meetings involving more than 700 participants. The St. Augustine & St. Johns Chamber of Commerce and the St. Johns County Commission provided seed money for the process.

After the top priority -- education -- the group lists expanding economic development as the second most pressing need, followed by developing infrastructure.

Growth management and the environment (contentious issues in this sprawling bedroom community) are lumped into the infrastructure category, reflecting the steering committee's desire for a cohesive approach that literally puts environmentalists and developers on the same page.

That doesn't sit well with Audubon of St. Johns Conservation Chairman Roger Van Ghent, who calls the decision not to single out the environment "asinine." "It makes the final product both disturbing and unrealistic," he says.

Hewins believes economic growth is key to the plan's success, since the county will need significantly more tax revenue to pay for a laundry list of projects. The group purposely avoided attaching a price tag on any of its recommendations.

While St. Johns is the state's third-wealthiest county, Hewins says the group spent hours discussing the plight of the 8% who live in poverty, as well as the hundreds of low- and middle-income workers who commute from Putnam and Flagler counties because they can't find affordable housing.

With the final document in hand, Hewins and members of the Vision Steering Committee have turned their attention to implementation. Besides hiring a full-time executive director, the group is organizing teams that will attack education, the economy, public safety, healthcare and dozens of other issues.

"We have so many new residents ... who relate more to Jacksonville, where they work, than to St. Johns County, where they live," says Hewins. "We need to change that, and I think this plan can play a big role."

IN THE NEWS

Alachua County -- Huayi Group of Shanghai, China, has purchased the assets of bankrupt Moltech Power Systems. Moltech's Alachua County facility will remain open and continue manufacturing rechargeable batteries and related power sources.

Alachua and Williston are reportedly in the running for a $55-million Wal-Mart distribution center. The plans face strong opposition in Alachua from residents concerned about traffic, noise and pollution in a community poised to pass a building moratorium.

Green Cove Springs -- The City Council again is considering selling the city-owned electric utility. Though the utility is a profit-maker, officials worry it won't be able to compete against larger providers in a future deregulated market. Clay Electric Cooperative has expressed interest.

Jacksonville -- Two Southside sites are competing to become the new home of Citibank's expanding operation. The company is negotiating with owners of Flagler Center, a 934-acre development off I-95, and with the Skinner family, owners of two parcels near Baymeadows Road and State Road 9A. Citibank expects to add 700 jobs in the next five years.

Ireland-based Unidare, a distributor of industrial and welding supplies, has signed a 10-year lease for a 72,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in the Westside Distribution Center north of I-10.

The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission has approved $850,000 in grants and tax credits to Raven Transport Holdings to buy and renovate a vacant truck maintenance building. The company plans to hire 100 over the next four years.

Beaver Street Fisheries is planning a $5-million addition to its plant, a move company officials say will eventually create up to 100 jobs.

Intrepid Capital Corp. has called off its merger with First Bank of Jacksonville. An attorney representing the family that owns First Bank says the owners want to sell because they have little banking experience. First Bank made news in the late '90s for its frequent battles with federal regulators.

JaxTerminal is buying a 287,000-sq.-ft. warehouse on Lane Avenue from Mount Airy, N.C.-based Insteel Industries. JaxTerminal, which owns a handful of area warehouses and truck terminals, will lease and manage the property.

Lake City -- Lake City Medical Center opened a nine-bed wing with private rooms for post-surgical patients. The addition completes the hospital's second floor. The center is considering adding two more floors.

Earl Tompkins, a retired postal worker and lifelong Lake City resident, donated $115,000 to Lake City Community College, the largest donation in school history.

Nassau County -- Exclusive White Oak Plantation in Yulee will soon become a little less so. Owners of the 6,000-acre spread where President Bill Clinton once vacationed are selling invitation-only memberships to about 200 top CEOs and celebrities. Lifetime memberships cost $125,000 to $150,000. In addition to fine dining, golf and tennis, White Oak boasts an animal conservatory that cares for some 60 species of endangered and threatened animals.

St. Augustine -- Florida East Coast Railway closed its regional long-haul trucking business, saying it intends to focus instead on an intermodal alliance with Norfolk Southern. The company will hire independent contractors when trucks are needed.

St. Johns County -- The county approved $1 million in incentives for Ring Power Corp., which is moving its headquarters from Jacksonville to a site near World Golf Village. Ring Power, one of the Southeast's largest Caterpillar equipment dealers, plans to open a 350,000-sq.-ft. complex in May 2004.

Tags: Northeast

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