October 3, 2022

Around the State- Northeast- Feb. 2000

Jane Tanner | 2/1/2000
Changing of the Guard
A former Naval air station could help growth on the city's west side.

by Jane Tanner

When the Navy began considering closing the Cecil Field Naval Air Station in 1993, former Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin hired Herb McCarthy, a retired deputy assistant secretary of defense, to help the drive to keep the base open. That effort failed, but Austin's successor, John Delaney, thought enough of McCarthy to entrust him with a new task -- turning the giant facility on the city's west side into a business hub.

Last fall, the Jacksonville Port Authority took over 35% of the 27-square-mile base, renamed Cecil Commerce Center. This summer, the city will take title to another 13 square miles, or 8,300 acres. The rest is for public parks.

McCarthy, a native of Boston who climbed the federal civil service ladder under seven U.S. presidents, is trying to focus the former base on a mix of aviation and distribution business, especially just-in-time inventory operations. McCarthy and city officials envision big distribution centers taking advantage of nearby interstates, the railroad and seaport. This excites McCarthy, who describes himself as a logistics man. At one point in his career, he was responsible for $140 million in federal purchases; during the Gulf War he laid the groundwork for getting equipment and materials to the Middle East. "Aviation is the big star, but it's only going to go so far," he says of the former base.

The business center has a number of assets stemming from its previous life. Already, Northrop Grumman and Boeing have aircraft repair operations here. Aviation software and support firm Logistics Services International, the first private firm to sign a lease, expects its 115-person workforce at Cecil to grow to 200 this year. The Navy's aircraft repair depot moved 360 jobs here, and Florida Community College at Jacksonville is creating a center to train workers in aircraft repair.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman's Field Support Services subsidiary, a payroll and benefits administrator, moved its headquarters from Long Island to Cecil and has spent about $1 million to transform a base bowling alley into tony offices. California-based real estate developer The Internext Group was inspecting former officer housing for conversion into an over-55 residential community.

The transition to civilian use won't be seamless. About 70% of the offices and other buildings must be demolished. Some are riddled with asbestos; most don't meet code. Others just aren't suited for civilian life, such as the former nuclear weapons compound.

The city estimates it will cost $15 million just to clear sites; needed roadwork and infrastructure improvements will be extra. The state recently agreed to chip in $9 million to clear old buildings and fix some roads.

The Jacksonville Port Authority expects to oversee $29 million in capital improvements during the next five years to upgrade its portion. JPA's property is centered on the base's four runways, where Northrop Grumman and Boeing operate. One day, the runways will be used for air freight, but not commercial airlines.

For Jacksonville, the business park should spark growth on the west side, which has lagged other parts of the rapidly growing city. McCarthy maintains that a successful civilian facility will have greater economic impact on the local community than the base did. He says the "biggest hurdle is time."

In the News

Jacksonville -- After languishing for nearly a decade, the First Coast Technology Park adjacent to the University of North Florida is signing up tenants. CSX subsidiary Customized Transportation, which helps manufacturers use just-in-time delivery, plans to build a new headquarters there this spring. The St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) showed interest in buying about 25 acres for offices. Tech park officials hope to find a firm that could link with Enterprise North Florida to create a business incubator on site.

With 67% growth in container trade since 1993 and continued increases expected, the Jacksonville Port Authority will add two container cranes this month. Two cranes were added in December, and the port now has 14.

New office buildings continue to rise on the city's congested south end. Ohio real estate firm Miller-Valentine Group plans to finish the second office building at the 95 Corporate Center office park next fall. Acosta-PMI, a food sales and brokerage firm, will occupy two-thirds of the 90,000-sq.-ft. building.

First Coast Systems, which creates computer systems for hospitals, was purchased by Keane Inc. of Boston, a billion-dollar consulting firm, which will operate First Coast as a branch.

Brooks Health System, a medical rehabilitation provider, is on a growth spree. The company plans to buy three outpatient rehabilitation centers in north Florida and south Georgia this quarter. At the end of last year, Brooks bought an outpatient therapy center between Orlando and Daytona along with a therapy service that provides rehab for three Tampa Bay area hospitals.

Florida lawmakers this spring were expected to approve a $400,000 grant for restoration of a 1913 building designed by famed architect Henry Klutho. The Klutho Building is at the center of an inner-city revitalization effort.

Atlantic Marine and Dry Dock was awarded a $68-million, five-year contract to repair Mayport-based Navy ships. Atlantic Marine originally won the job in 1998, but losing bidder Virginia-based Metro Machines filed a protest and put the work on hold. The Jacksonville Port Authority had supported Metro Machines' bid. The port had a deal to lend Metro dry dock space while the Virginia firm would have repaired a terminal. This winter the Navy planned to haul from Norfolk to Jacksonville a huge floating dry dock that Atlantic Marine will need for its work on the contract.

Nassau County -- Yulee International Tradeplex is expanding. Last year it grew from two to four companies. This year, Coastline Plastic, a PVC pipe maker, is poised for growth after its acquisition by Victaulic of America, a Pennsylvania firm that makes fire prevention sprinkler systems. Another firm at the Tradeplex, Banner Impressions, which makes trade show banners, is building a 75,000-sq.-ft. facility and eventually will relocate all of its production lines from Massachusetts to Yulee.

Zassi Medical Evolutions, a high-tech startup that designs medical equipment, signed a licensing agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb subsidiary ConvaTec. Financing from the alliance will help Zassi to complete development of a system that will restore continence to people who have to use an ostomy bag.

Ocala -- Merillat Industries plans to begin mass production of kitchen and bath cabinets at a new facility that is under construction here. Michigan-based Merillat is building a $20-million, 245,000-sq.-ft. facility and plans to create the equivalent of 350 full-time positions.

Putnam County -- St. Petersburg-based Renker Eich Parks Architects, a firm specializing in historic preservation, will restore Interlachen Hall, a town hall built in 1892. The town received a $200,000 grant for the work and has applied for another for $195,000. Other preservation projects by Renker Eich Parks include the Old City Hall at Tarpon Springs, the Citrus County Courthouse and Roesch House, headquarters for the Florida Historical Society.

After the Palatka City Commission asked to amend its comprehensive plan to include a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council and Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) volleyed back their concerns about the traffic the store would draw and harm to roadways. The DCA asked Wal-Mart engineers to provide more information and alternative plans for the proposed 225,000-sq.-ft. store.

St. Johns County -- The St. Johns River Water Management District will make its largest land purchase ever if a deal to buy 21,931 acres in a fast-growing part of the county goes through. The $20.1-million deal with the W.W. Cummer Trust is contingent on a comprehensive plan amendment allowing higher density residential development on 4,000 acres the trust owns adjacent to the property assigned for the environmental preservation.

Late last year, Gov. Jeb Bush made it clear he wanted to see more women and minorities included on lists of potential judges submitted to him. He even told Florida's 11 Judicial Nominating Commissions to make sure they weren't overlooking qualified women or minorities. But, in at least one case last year, when a qualified minority candidate was submitted to Bush, he selected someone else. Bush appointed Jacksonville attorney Waddell Wallace III to fill the newly created judgeship for the 4th Judicial Circuit, which consists of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. Insiders say the Bush administration had been leaning toward Jacksonville attorney Denise Watson, but ultimately selected Wallace after heavy lobbying from members of his law firm, Smith, Hulsey & Busey, including House Speaker John Thrasher. Wallace, 46, has practiced commercial litigation for 20 years. A graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, he served as editor in chief of the Florida Law Review. He's a former president of the Jacksonville Bar Association and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Inc.

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