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- 2013 - December - 16th -

45 years and 40 friends: Charter ‘world famous lunch’ still strong

By Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

On Christmas Eve back in 1968, when Downtown real estate and financial executives put in a full day's work despite the holiday, three associates of The Charter Co. met for lunch.

Jerry Jacquot, Pat Thornton and Frost Weaver ventured three blocks from the Jacksonville-based company's headquarters to Nicola's, a Main Street Italian restaurant strong in character and cuisine.

It was so much fun they decided to do it again. The next year, about eight or 10 attended, including Heyward Cantrell, now president of Cantrell Real Estate Inc.

"A lot of real young guys who were just getting started in the business," said Cantrell describing the group, all in their 20s.

As of last week, they've met annually for 45 years.

Charter is gone, having filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1984. Its offices at Laura and Forsyth streets are now part of the vacant Laura Street Trio and its later office tower now houses JEA.

The restaurant is gone; they say the site is a parking lot.

However, the group has grown, from the original three to 40.

Their primary link is The Charter Co., the legendary Jacksonville-based oil, insurance, finance and real estate company that spawned business leaders who continue to run financial, real estate, development, investment and other companies.

"Most everyone here is in real estate development," Jacquot said Thursday at the "World Famous Christmas Lunch."

Jacquot is president of The Development Group Inc., whose chairman is Thornton.

Another link is the Barnett-Winston Co., which 14 Charter associates left to join in 1973.

And further links are the close relationships among the group members. Many have run businesses together over the years.

The room included developers and brokers and investors and others who've plied the trade for decades.

Among them: Cantrell, Thornton; Phil Phillips, Gary Silverfield, Jim Citrano, Jim Griffith, Curtis Loftin, Jack Davis, Logan Holz, Bill Nicholson, Win Gartner, Ed Vandergriff.

And Pete Fraser; Newmark Grubb Phoenix Realty Group leaders John Richardson and Ladson Montgomery; J.J. Conners; and David Hillegas.

There also are fathers and sons, including Jacquot and son Joe, a senior vice president with Lender Processing Services; Tom King and son Fitch, president of Morgar Realty Inc.; and Thornton and sons, including Patrick, a principal of Hallmark Partners, the developer of the 220 Riverside project.

"We all do business together," said Cantrell.

Some members have retired, many are active. They've lost a few over the years as well.

Some of the younger members seek advice from the seasoned veterans, who've survived the steep real estate cycles from the troubled 1970s to the 1981-82 recession to the mid-2000s crash that resulted in the 2007-09 recession.

The group met this year at Bella Vita Italian Restaurant in Baymeadows, although it's celebrated across town over the years.

Among those were lunches in clubhouses of the apartments Jacquot and Thornton developed and on The Haskell Co. boat when Vandergriff worked there.

"Over the past several years we have had the Christmas lunch at Village Walk apartments," said the Nov. 18 memo from Jacquot to the group.

"However, this past summer, while we were not paying attention, Alfie sold the apartments," he said, referring to member Alfie Means.

The Development Group developed Village Walk a decade ago and sold it in July for $30 million.

Over pizza, salad, bread, soft drinks, beer, wine and more, the informal gathering featured talk and cellphone photos about shop, families, vacations, health and memories.

There was the time Jacquot called the group's favorite waitress at Nicola's to book the event and she abruptly hung up.

On a subsequent call, she apologized, explaining "a man had a gun on me" during a robbery during the previous call.

They gather annually for the friendship and the updates as well.

At least one member, Loftin, owner of Beacon Realty Services Inc., has run every Gate River Run since it began. The annual 15K began in 1978. He's training for the next.

Those in the room have developed or financed businesses, office parks, industrial centers, apartment complexes, housing communities and buildings and land throughout the area and beyond.

"A lot of these people have their fingerprints all over real estate in this country," Jerry Jacquot said.

"We all compete in the real estate world," said Cantrell.

"But we stay friends at the same time."

Goldman retiring from FDOT

Mike Goldman, the media face and voice of the Florida Department of Transportation in Jacksonville, filed papers to retire from the organization Jan. 30.

"After 20 years working with the FDOT in this position, it's time for somebody younger with a little more hair to take over," said Goldman, 67.

"I plan to do some work on writing, research projects, getting involved with a couple of volunteer organizations, and if the right fit comes about, doing some consulting. I need to stay active," he said.

Goldman came to Jacksonville in 1978 to work for The Florida Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal after working for the United Press International news service in Tallahassee from 1974-78.

He left the Times-Union in 1985 for the JAX Chamber as director of Downtown development from 1985-89 and then served as a consultant to FDOT on the new Acosta Bridge project before formally joining the state payroll in 1993.

kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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