The face of Nassau County, where Florida really begins, is about to change along Interstate 95.
Jacksonville-based Rayonier Inc. is laying out what it considers the first piece of the puzzle to start development of more than 2,900 high-profile acres at northeast I-95 and Florida A1A, just 20 miles north of Downtown Jacksonville.
That first piece, a public school, is expected to be the first of many projects among those 2,938 acres, part of the 4,202-acre East Nassau Employment Center.
The employment center eventually can accommodate 7.1 million square feet of office, commercial, medical and industrial uses as well as 4,038 residential units. It features a 30-day permitting process, utilities, rail service and incentives.
And the school and employment center are part of the much larger 24,000-acre East Nassau Community Planning Area, a long-term master-planned development also designed for a village center, regional center, residences and transportation. About half will be set aside for perpetual conservation easements.
The overall job projections for the area exceed 20,000.
“It will be the heart of the county,” said Laura DiBella, executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board. DiBella said the rest of the county is strong — the resort, historic and tourist areas of Amelia Island to the east and rural areas to the west — “but this will be a nucleus for us and having this school underway will only spur more development.”
Rayonier, a forest-services company, is a major Nassau County landowner.
Rayonier’s wholly owned subsidiaries own the property, including miles of bluffs along the St. Marys River.
Master-planning began in 2007 and after regulatory agencies signed off, Nassau County adopted the plan in 2011. The employment center plan was approved in 2013.
It could take more than 70 years to build-out the overall project with up to 24,000 residences and 11 million square feet of nonresidential uses, including office, light industrial, and commercial.
Rayonier said last week the first project in the employment center will be a Nassau County public elementary school and regional park on a mile-long road off of Florida A1A.
Rayonier spokesman Michael Bell, director of economic development, public affairs and communications, said the school is expected to open in fall 2017 with 600-800 students. The park opening is not yet determined.
There was no timeframe estimated for the build-out of the employment center, which is divided among designated northern, central and southern areas.
TerraPointe LLC, based in Fernandina Beach, is one of Rayonier’s real estate subsidiaries. Rayonier, TerraPointe and related entities own the employment center property. TerraPointe Services Inc. manages the master planning, permitting, sales and marketing.
The property also could produce revenue for the company as developers buy parcels for projects.
“Rayonier is fortunate to have very valuable strategic real estate assets in its portfolio, including the East Nassau Community Planning Area,” Bell said. “As it evolves over the coming decades, we expect these assets to increase in value and help us generate solid earnings for our shareholders.”
TerraPointe is seeking a long-term wetlands permit for a stormwater master plan from the St. Johns River Water Management District to plan for the property at a landscape level. The district received the application Nov. 7.
Bell said the permitting will ease development and “bring this very important employment center for Nassau County closer to market.”
“End users want to know how fast they can get their business up and running. Reducing permitting and time risk for end users is critical in the economic development of this and every other project,” he said.
JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot said the employment center will help Nassau County reach more of its economic development potential.
Nassau is one of seven counties that are members of JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development division of the JAX Chamber.
“This is a wonderful step forward for Nassau County. It will give them lots of site development opportunities in a very attractive location in the county,” Mallot said.
DiBella said she’s received inquiries from prospective companies, but declined to name them because of confidentiality requests.
However, she said she has heard from prospects that provide ancillary services related to an elementary school and from residential developers interested in providing housing near a school.
She also predicts a strong health care component in the employment center. “I would say central and west Nassau County is underserved from a health care standpoint, so probably one of my goals is to have a health care operation in that area. It would be very beneficial to the county at large.”
TerraPointe is considering, but has not yet decided, to move its headquarters there from Fernandina Beach, the historic Nassau County community that is closer to the coast.
Another decision will be the formal name for the East Nassau development.
“The name is yet to be determined and a very important element,” said Daniel Camp, director of project management at TerraPointe Services.
It’s important because the development will change the face of Florida east along I-95, encompassing two interchanges at U.S. 17 and Florida A1A. The Planning Area is designed to add another interchange.
TerraPointe also owns the Crawford Diamond Industrial Park in West Nassau County. That park, west along U.S. 301 and south of U.S. 1, between Interstates 95 and 10, encompasses 1,814 acres and is a certified megasite.
Crawford Diamond has been approved for up to 10.5 million square feet of industrial uses, including manufacturing, assembly, warehousing and distribution, as well as an intermodal inland port or logistics center. CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines cross at the property.
Rayonier Inc. owns or manages 2.6 million acres of timberland, and its real estate business owns about 200,000 acres for development along the I-95 corridor from Palm Coast north to the Savannah area.