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Bill Garrison, president of Clay Florida Economic Development Corp., presents an update Wednesday on the agency's work. The program was attended by about 120 members of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. Photo by Caren Burmeister
Jax Daily Record Thursday, May. 25, 201712:00 PM EST

Beltway driving development to Clay

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Projects in works include offices, hotels, apartments retail and more
by: Caren Burmeister Contributing Writer

Three new commercial projects inspired by the First Coast Expressway, a beltway under construction that will connect Interstate 10 with I-95, are in the works to bring new jobs and capital investments to Clay County.

One is the Challenger Center, a business park on 740 acres along the expressway north of Blanding Boulevard, said Bill Garrison, president of the Clay Florida Economic Development Corp., a public-private program working to promote high-wage job growth.

The second project involves Fleet Readiness Center Southeast, the largest tenant command at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

The center in Orange Park initially will provide 70 engineering and maintenance jobs paying an average of about $95,000 a year, Garrison said.

The third, the unidentified “Phoenix Project” that has been in discussion for a month, could lead to “tens of millions of dollars” in capital investment in Clay County, Garrison said.

Garrison announced the projects Wednesday at a Northeast Florida Association of Realtors program and update on the expressway.

The multilane toll road is driving growth along the corridor through Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties.

The first segment, running from Blanding Boulevard through Clay County north to I-10 in Duval County, is scheduled for completion in early 2018.

Construction on the second section, which will stretch from Blanding Boulevard in Middleburg south through Green Cove Springs, is expected to start in 2019.

The expressway’s third segment, including a replacement for the Shands Bridge, will connect with I-95 in St. Johns County, just south of County Road 210. Funding is pending.

Here are more details about the three projects:

The Challenger Center

Clay County and the Clay County Utility Authority plan to start building the Atlantis Drive entrance road and install water and sewer in August, said Shawn Thomas, the engineer project manager. While the county and utility authority are sharing the $3 million infrastructure costs, the work will be bid together.

The project will operate as a taxing district that will reimburse the upfront costs as the project is completed.

Part of the Branan Field Master Plan, the Challenger Center will comprise a mix of office, professional, retail and light industry, Garrison said.

It will be near Oakleaf Plantation and less than a mile from Branan Field Village, a pending development with apartments, four hotels, retailers and restaurants, and professional and medical offices.

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast

The company recently signed a lease for the old Fortis College Building at 560 Wells Road, an 18,000-square-foot-center being renovated, Garrison said.

The company, which provides manufacturing, engineering and logistics support for aircraft and weapons systems, plans to move into the building in July.

The center will consolidate several offices around Jacksonville, Garrison said, and the company expects to employ more than 100 people within a year.

“It goes to show the military workforce here in Clay County. It helps get more high-wage jobs here. That’s the mission of the EDC,” Garrison said.

The “Phoenix Project”

Having the potential for a large capital investment, the unidentified company is considering a huge expansion of an existing business on Blanding Boulevard, Garrison said.

He wouldn’t identify the company or provide other details, citing the company’s request for confidentiality under a provision of the Florida Sunshine Law, which permits confidentiality while the company explores its location and business plans.

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