Jacksonville lands the state's third network access point, but can it redefine the city?
By Clennon King
Jacksonville developer Park Beeler tried for eight years to sell his field of dreams -- plans for a high-tech center on 580 acres between the airport and I-95 -- to anyone who would listen. Through his company, Trinity Partners, he hoped to transform Jacksonville from an insurance center to a Silicon Beach of sorts.
Then last October, Beeler got the break he had been waiting for. He had run across an article about a Texas firm that had developed two successful high-tech complexes in Dallas and Fort Worth. He e-mailed TeraSpace Networks President Jim Trout, pitching
Trout, whose company is owned by the son of billionaire H. Ross Perot, wanted to know more. He visited the area and conducted market research for six months. In August, he joined Beeler and Gov. Jeb Bush in announcing TeraSpace's intentions to build the state's third network access point (NAP) at Jacksonville International Technology Center.
The $80-million facility -- the other two are in south Florida -- will serve as a hub for telecom traffic, offering communications carriers such as AOL/Time Warner more efficient data transmission.
Trout says Beeler's site made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. Historically, Jacksonville is out of the line of travel of most hurricanes. Also, the NAP's site is at one of the nation's major fiber-optic backbones at I-95 and I-10, giving tenants direct access to South American markets via Miami, Pacific rim countries via Los Angeles and Europe via New York. Trout says the Jacksonville Electric Authority also played a major role. The utility committed to supplying the backup power the NAP will need.
TeraSpace expects to break ground this month and be finished by the end of 2002. Beeler says he already has a multibillion-dollar telecommunications company ready to sign on as the NAP's first tenant, though he won't identify it. Trout predicts the NAP will redefine Jacksonville. "I suspect in time, you'll begin to see more engineering jobs coming here rather than simply call-center jobs," he says.
In the News
Fernandina Beach -- First National Bank has opened two mortgage-lending offices in Duval County since May, one in Baymeadows and one in Neptune Beach. The bank, which has about $60 million in assets, is based in Nassau County.
Gainesville-- Carrabba's Italian Grill, part of the Outback Steakhouse chain, will open its first restaurant in Gainesville in early 2002.
Jacksonville-- City auditors blasted the Duval County Housing Finance Authority, which distributes money for affordable housing, for sloppy record-keeping. While auditors found no misuse of funds, they say it was often difficult to track the status of loans the authority had made. The authority says it is correcting the problems.
The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission plans to turn the vacant Ford Motor Co. assembly plant into a $20-million cruise ship terminal. Plans also call for a hospitality training facility at the proposed ship terminal near the Mathews Bridge. Previous plans had called for construction of a new ship terminal at the Dames Point Bridge.
Jacksonville Port Authority's revenue is $6 million short of projections this year, but the authority's top two leaders each received raises of more than $16,000. Rick Ferrin and John Clark, vice president of the marine and aviation units, respectively, now make $163,000 a year. Marty Fiorentino, the authority board's chairman, says both are still underpaid.
Bank of America has closed its EquiCredit home mortgage divisions, leaving 1,200 Jacksonville employees uncertain about their jobs. The bank has buyers for two of EquiCredit's three units.
Venus Swimwear settled its trademark infringement lawsuit against California-based Pacific Sunwear, which was selling merchandise under the label "Venus Girl Trap." Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. In March, Hard Rock Cafe won an injunction against Pacific after Pacific launched a product line called "Hard Rap Cafe."
Fortune Insurance, a subsidiary of Jacksonville-based Fortune Financial, has canceled all 66,000 auto policies it holds with high-risk drivers. A judge ordered the cancellations after Fortune failed to maintain the surplus capital that Florida law requires of all insurance companies.
Midway Airlines has cut two of its five daily flights to Jacksonville after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The North Carolina-based airline has also laid off half of its workforce.
The Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Beach Club announced a $22-million renovation project, including a new 25,000-sq.-ft. spa, a 17,000-sq.-ft. ballroom and a parking garage.
Duval County School Superintendent John Fryer fired Transportation Director Gene Blackwood after weeks of busing problems that left some students stranded at school or never even picked up ["Bus Fracas," July 2001, www.FloridaTrend.com].
BJs Wholesale Club plans to open a regional distribution facility in Jacksonville, possibly as large as 500,000 square feet. The company did not disclose details.
The search for a new leader for the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission has hit a snag. The committee charged with finding a new chief reopened its search after two of the four finalists dropped out. The committee ruled out the remaining two.
Marion County -- J & B Developers Inc. will build Summerton South, a gated community of 80 half-acre lots. The development is a joint venture between Ocala developers John E. (Jef) Fabian and Sam Irvin. The first model home is expected to be completed by early 2002. Homes, ranging from 2,400 to 3,600 square feet, start at $250,000.