The question to JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis was direct.
If Deutsche Bank wants to unify its expanding Southside Jacksonville operations, is there a push to move it Downtown?
Especially given that Davis had already referred to Deutsche Bank's opinion of the city by saying "Jacksonville has become the darling of the company"?
Davis, taking questions Tuesday from the International Council of Shopping Centers North Florida Idea Exchange participants, didn't provide a definitive yes or no.
The chamber's practice for any company looking at the area is "to show them Downtown first," Davis said.
"But if that is not where the market succeeds (for the company), we will help them" where it does.
After his presentation, Davis repeated that the first goal for any company — Deutsche Bank or not — is to see it come Downtown.
"If that doesn't work, we are going to meet the needs of the market and make sure we present the best place" for a project.
Davis noted that the Germany-based financial services company came to town in 2008 pledging 1,000 jobs and already has boosted that goal to 1,600 and indicates more.
Deutsche Bank is leasing the bulk of one Southside office park and additional space in another, and "they've been very successful" in South Jacksonville, Davis said.
Davis didn't discuss Deutsche Bank's consolidation site decisions beyond that, but he did talk about Downtown.
Downtown development, especially redevelopment of the Jacksonville Landing riverfront marketplace on the Northbank, is critical for the city's future economic success, he said.
He considers the Landing a community building and said the chamber should "be very helpful" Landing co-owner Toney Sleiman to redevelop it.
Sleiman's group proposes to tear down the 27-year-old retail center and rebuild a mixed-use project of stores, restaurants, offices, hotel rooms and workforce housing. The deal will need an undetermined amount of city financial help.
Davis further said that Laura Street links the Landing with Hemming Plaza, a City Hall-area public park that has generated criticism for its lack of positive uses and public hearings to program it.
"Both areas have potential for major changes," he said. "The JAX Chamber will be very involved in Downtown development."
Asked about the chamber's position on building a new convention center Downtown, Davis said the Landing needs to be successfully redeveloped first.
"Then you get the credibility to go out and show you can do it," he said. "I think the city has to see a win before we can swing for the fence."
Davis also said that deepening the St. Johns River channel so that larger ships can serve the port of Jacksonville was one of the most important issues in the city for economic development. He said that more shipping leads to more retail business.
And he said global business leader Shad Khan, who bought the Jacksonville Jaguars, was influential during the chamber's economic development visits in London when the Jaguars played there in October. It's worth noting that one of those visits involved Deutsche Bank. "These next five years are going to be transformational," Davis said.
Davis was the morning keynote speaker to the council's program at the Aloft Hotel in Tapestry Park. Almost 270 people were registered to attend.
The conference featured panel discussions about local market trends and tendencies in Northeast Florida, table discussions about specific topics and the "retailer runway" of companies marketing their concepts to the retail brokers, developers and bankers attending.
Among other event insights:
• Margol Commercial Realty Services President Drew Margol said the retail hot spots in Northeast Florida are St. Johns Town Center; the River City Marketplace in North Jacksonville; the Beaches; St. Johns County, especially when Bass Pro Shops opens; St. Augustine; and Downtown, particularly the Brooklyn area along Riverside Avenue and the potential for development at the Shipyards near the sports complex. "People want a reason to go Downtown," he said.
• Regency Centers Corp. Vice President Paul Maxwell said the hot retail markets in the next 12-24 months include Riverside, where Regency is developing the Shoppes on Riverside, and East San Marco, where Publix Super Markets Inc. intends to develop an anchor store. He also said the Sprouts supermarket and Wawa convenience-store chains are interested in the market.
• Regency Square Mall, which is losing tenants and has been for sale, could be put to a different use, such as leveling and reconstruction for other uses, including industrial purposes. "The zest for retail in Regency had left that market," Margol said, noting the growth in the Atlantic and Kernan boulevards market three miles east, where Sleiman Enterprises is developing shopping centers. Meanwhile, another source at the event said that Regency Square is under contract to a New York buyer who wants to maintain it as a shopping mall.
• Look for five to seven DQ Grill & Chill restaurants in Northeast Florida in the next three years featuring its new prototype.
• The area's second PDQ restaurant will open March 2 in Bartram Park.
• The RaceTrac opening at Beach and Forest boulevards will be the first of its 6,000-square-foot prototypes in the area featuring not only gas pumps and typical convenience fare, but also outdoor seating, Wi-Fi, an extended coffee bar, the "Swirl World" frozen yogurt area, hot meals and soon, made-to-order food, and more amenities. Also, four of six smaller RaceTrac stores will be remodeled to include some of those features.
• The Your Pie fast-casual pizza concept, which has a store in Tapestry Park, will add at least two more locations in metropolitan Jacksonville.
• 4 Rivers Smokehouse founder John Rivers, a Jacksonville native, said the company intends to open three to four more restaurants a year. It has three in the Orlando area and two others, including one in the Baymeadows area. An Orange Park location is on track, as are restaurants near the University of Central Florida and in Winter Park. There might be another location chosen in the Jacksonville area.
Colliers International North Florida Principal Jason Ryals, the planning committee chair for the event, told the group that Jacksonville is out of the recession.
"The Northeast Florida retail market is really starting to crank again," he said.