In an unprecedented chain of sales, six Downtown Jacksonville high-rise office buildings were sold the past year.
Totaling the proceeds, the six changed hands for almost $329 million, a significant investment in Downtown real estate.
Between Dec. 26, 2013, and December 2014, the Aetna Building and Riverplace Tower on the Southbank and the Wells Fargo Center, EverBank Center, 550 Water Street and the Bank of America Tower on the Northbank were bought.
Downtown office towers weren’t the only sales. Among others, the Regency Square Mall, built in 1967 to much retail fanfare as an enclosed suburban shopping center, was sold for just $13 million to a New York group that focuses on aging centers. It had slipped to a 38 percent occupancy rate.
While new management situated the one-story mall to concentrate retailers on the east side and recruit nontraditional tenants to the other, the center anchor did not renew its lease, raising questions about the future of the mall.
Belk will depart Regency Square in February for a location a few miles east, in an area of population and retail growth. Mall management intends to then shut off the vacant Belk space, effectively creating two malls unless a new tenant can be found that wants to serve as a pass-through.
Meanwhile, the area’s premier shopping center, St. Johns Town Center, added its third phase — a wing of stores anchored by Nordstrom, a luxury retailer and a further signal that Jacksonville customers are supportive of high-end merchandise.
On the corporate ledger, two of the biggest movements came by Adecco Group North America and GE Oil & Gas.
Adecco Group relocated its North American corporate headquarters to Jacksonville from Melville, N.Y. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. In 2012, Adecco Group bought Jacksonville-based MPS Group, whose CFO, Bob Crouch, became CEO of Adecco Group North America.
Another big move was known for months only as “Project Speed” but was unveiled as GE Oil & Gas, which is opening a 500-job manufacturing plant in Cecil Commerce Center. GE Oil & Gas will make Becker Control valves and Mooney regulators.
The company is leasing what was built as a speculative building, meaning that Cecil Commerce Center master developer Hillwood Investment Properties likely will build another spec warehouse to remain positioned for another major deal.
Another business event was the revelation of the number of employees Bank of America and Merrill Lynch employ in the area.
That figure has been closely held, but Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of the nation’s second-largest bank and the world’s 12th largest, said in October at a JAXUSA Partnership meeting that the company considers its 8,500 jobs in Jacksonville as an indicator of Northeast Florida’s importance to the company.
Because Bank of America has not specified its job count in the area, the revelation was met with great interest.
Bank of America has downsized corporately, as well as in Jacksonville, in the years since the 2008 financial crisis, but jobs more recently have been holding steady in the Northeast Florida market.
Of course, any move made by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan made news.
Khan and Jaguars President Mark Lamping continued to pledge interest in developing the Shipyards Downtown, while Khan also cut financial ties to the KYN business accelerator and filed suit against the owners of Edgewood Bakery over control of the Westside institution.
Khan, when asked at a World Affairs Council lunch in April about what he sees coming together for the city, said a vacuum exists that he doesn’t understand because the city has a lot going for it.
“A homeless guy in Detroit has more mojo than a millionaire in Jacksonville,” he famously uttered, sparking national hype and headlines.
By year-end, Khan increased his visibility by mooring his 312-foot yacht Kismet along the Northbank Downtown riverfront.