Jacksonville University President Tim Cost chummed the waters, as he called it, Monday as he met with area commercial brokers, builders and designers.
He was churning up interest in Arlington, where JU has assembled 200 waterfront acres, and Cost has his eyes on more land in the area.
“I yearn to see Arlington appropriately supported,” Cost said after telling members of the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association about JU’s investment in its campus.
He hopes others see the potential return on investment in the aging commercial neighborhoods of one of the city’s first suburbs after completion of the Mathews Bridge in 1953. The bridge connected Downtown to what was essentially rural land ripe for executive and workforce housing, shopping centers and schools.
As development began stretching east and south, Arlington’s population growth slowed. Now, Cost and others involved in revitalizing the area, which is just minutes from Downtown, want to see it restored to its community roots and relevant to the community.
“I do believe Arlington presents an unusually attractive opportunity right now,” Cost said.
In an interview after his presentation, Cost pulled about a dozen business cards from his pocket from NAIOP members to illustrate the interest. He had handed out 20 to 30 of his own.
About 110 members and guests attended the meeting at noon at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. Some members said they hadn’t been in Arlington in decades but intended to check it out. One investor said he was going to take a look at what was available and maybe get into the market before prices rise.
“I spent the last hour looking at maps to understand it better,” said Christian Harden, principal and senior vice president of the commercial brokerage team at NAI Hallmark Partners.
Harden, speaking Monday afternoon after the event, considers the JU area of Arlington a good opportunity for investment. “There are people looking at it, and I think he is on the right path,” he said.
Harden also considers it wise to improve the area for the benefit of the out-of-state students attending the private college.
Fostering a better environment might entice those students to stay in Jacksonville upon graduation.
He also expects that once development starts, it will spur more.
NAIOP chapter President Teresa Durand-Stuebben, vice president of business development for Auld & White Constructors LLC, also is interested.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on that area,” she said.
Durand-Stuebben said Cost’s presentation was “quite invigorating and I am confident that with his level of passion and determination – and I would emphasize determination – he can make it happen,” she said.
Cost is a 1981 JU graduate who returned from leadership in Fortune 100 companies to take the helm of the university four years ago. JU’s leadership has invested in upgrading buildings, dorms, student housing, technology and the university’s nationwide profile.
Cost, who played baseball for the JU Dolphins, often told the story about how he used to train by running through the neighborhoods around the university and how he wanted the communities to once again thrive.
Cost talked about JU as an economic-development driver — the jobs, graduates, the $32 million in campus investment since he arrived, the acquisition of land and plans to buy more.
It can do more, he said, but that requires community focus. “There’s simply no way that a university like ours can be the relevant economic player for you unless we fix what’s going on in Arlington,” he said.
Locally, he has involved community, city and agency leaders to come together for the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area, Complete Streets Program and related efforts to make the Arlington community at and around JU a better place for residents.
JU is at 2800 University Blvd., where Merrill Road ends. The public-private efforts focus there, with a proposed roundabout to replace traffic lights, calm traffic and provide a collegiate entrance to the campus.
Those efforts, which are being designed, planned and funded, then stretch along Merrill Road east and along University Boulevard south of the campus.
Cost said JU comprised about 200 riverfront acres when he arrived four years. JU bought 40 acres south and works closely with the buyer, a JU supporter and former student, of 55 acres north of it.
That’s where new student housing was built and a 120-bed skilled nursing center is under development that will work with the JU Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences.
Based on that and more plans, Cost is encouraged. “I am absolutely convinced Arlington’s going to work,” he said, pledging that JU is staying there.
“I’m telling you, Jacksonville University is going to keep buying land, and it’s going to keep looking at additional space,” he said, as well as expanding its programs. He also talked about internal plans for the development of its waterfront campus.
Cost encouraged interest from NAIOP members. “We are open to listen to good ideas,” he said.
“Everybody will personally gain,” Durand-Stuebben said. “They have come together and are willing to work together on this for the greater good of the community.”