by Mike Sharkey
When Alfred I. duPont died in 1935 at 71 years old, he left a legacy of companies and buildings that still help define Jacksonville. He also left an estate valued at $40 million. In his last will and testament, duPont made it poignantly clear that his estate was to go to the care of sick children, thus the Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust was established and The Nemours Foundation was created.
According to Trust Chairman Hugh Durden, the Trust is worth about $5.5 billion today. Tuesday morning, the six Trustees, many from Nemour’s and Wolfson Children’s Hospital and several from local businesses gathered to break ground on the Foundation’s new headquarters building on Riverside Avenue.
Tucked on the river between the new EverBank Building and the St. Joe Building, the five-story building will serve as the headquarters for the Trust.
“I am excited as I can be,” said Hugh Durden, who is also a director at Nemour’s. “This is a testament to the duPonts and to Jacksonville. It will be a place that reflects his legacy.
“This building, this ceremony is all about Alfred I. duPont. He had a large impact on Jacksonville over the years.”
During the 1920s and ‘30s, duPont had arguably as much influence on Jacksonville as anyone. He either started or instigated the creation of the St. Joe Company, Florida National Bank and Florida East Coast Railroad.
“He survived the Depression when most banks did not,” said Durden. “All of those companies were or are household names. All sprang from Mr. duPont’s dedication to Jacksonville.”
Durden called duPont one of the most important entrepreneurs of the 20th century. He said the Trust has distributed more $1.7 billion to Nemour’s and helped hundreds of thousands of sick children.
David Gonino, chief investment officer of the Trust, said the search for the site for the new building began two years ago. He said cities like New York, London and Hong Kong may have been the logical choices, but “we chose Jacksonville because it was most important to the duPont family. This will be our home for the next 75 years.”
The five-story, environmentally-friendly building will include one floor of parking, a rooftop garden, skylights and a water reclamation system for irrigation.
“We believe we are creating a little jewel here and a landmark on the river for years to come,” said Gonino. “We have assembled a world-class team and we would not be here today without Mike Shalley, our project manager who dragged us from impossible to possible.”
Elkins Constructors, Inc. will build the new facility which was designed by architect Rose Zurawski of Gresham Smith & Partners. The land and construction will reflect a $20 million investment and the Trust plans to expand its staff dramatically.
Both Zurawski and Gordon Steadman, vice president of development for Elkins, agree the new 40,000 square-foot building will reflect the duPont family’s legacy and the Trust’s 70-year history.
“The building will be a Jacksonville landmark,” said Zurawski. “It will incorporate green features to enhance both the environment and the workplace.”
The building will have a glass-topped atrium and several elevated terrace gardens.
Steadman said he’s honored his company was chosen for the project.
“In addition to being a philanthropist, Mr. duPont truly industrialized the state of Florida and paved the way for many contemporary projects as an entrepreneur. We are honored to contribute to this Jacksonville landmark.”