October 25, 2014

Commerce Center

Off the Dime

Jumpstarting Cecil

Cynthia Barnett | 9/1/2010

In 1988, a Texas commercial real estate company called Hillwood owned by Ross Perot Jr. began to promote and develop 17,000 acres of rural cattle land north of Fort Worth. Twenty years later, AllianceTexas is a thriving, mixed-use community anchored by a global logistics center. It has attracted 240 companies and $6.8 billion in private investment.

Hillwood Vice President Preston Herold
Hillwood Vice President Preston Herold will oversee development of Cecil Commerce Center.? [Photo: Debra Hale, Hillwood Dev. Co. LLP]

The success of AllianceTexas and AllianceCalifornia, a similar development of a former military base in San Bernardino, is the stuff of dreams for Jacksonville officials, who have tried for more than 10 years to fill the city’s Cecil Commerce Center, a converted Navy base off I-10. The city and its Aviation Authority obtained thousands of acres when the base closed in 1999; the city’s 4,400 acres remain largely empty.

Hillwood’s track record in Texas and California helped persuade the Jacksonville City Council this summer to award the company a 25-year contract as the master developer of what’s now called AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center. Hillwood Vice President Preston Herold, who lives in Dallas, has spent the past year navigating the politics of the deal. This month, he moves to Jacksonville for the bigger challenge: After local officials couldn’t find tenants when times were flush, he must lure major companies to the center during a period of economic uncertainty.

AllianceTexas
opened in 1988

Acres: 17,000
Companies: 240, 65 of which
are on the Fortune 500, Global 500 or Forbes largest private companies list
Jobs created: 28,000

AllianceCalifornia
opened in 2002

Acres: 2,000
Companies: 11, with five on the Fortune 500, Global 500 or Forbes largest private companies list
Jobs created: 4,000

Herold’s first order of business will be to open Hillwood’s marketing center on New World Avenue. Then, he’ll turn to the “prospects we’ve put on hold while we went through the city approval process. We’ll also be vigorously getting in front of our customers at other projects around the country to determine whether they have needs for distribution and manufacturing in the Southeast.”

Herold says two factors put him in a better position to close deals. One, the city never paid brokerage fees, so brokers never had much incentive to push clients to Cecil. “We love to pay brokerage fees,” he says, “and we love to pay them the day the sale closes.”

Two, potential tenants were wary of the political-approval process. “Dealing with the city was too uncertain,” Herold says. “No one can afford that. It’s the reason that in 11 years the city has done two deals.”

AllianceFlorida building rendering Rendering of the first building AllianceFlorida plans to construct

Tags: Northeast

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