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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 23, 201012:00 PM EST

Hillwood officially on the clock

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by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

After more than a year of negotiations, the deal is complete.

The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved, 16-0, Hillwood as the master developer of Cecil Commerce Center in June, but the agreement, which includes more than 50 addendums and attachments, has been finalized.

“The clock has officially begun ticking,” said Lindsey Ballas, Jacksonville Economic Development Commission business development chief.

“It is a great milestone. We have final execution of the contract, which means Hillwood is officially on the clock to meet certain performance deadlines,” she said Wednesday.

Mayor John Peyton signed off on the agreement and is excited about the possibilities that can develop from it.

“Jacksonville is pleased to welcome Hillwood as master developer of Cecil Commerce Center,” said Peyton. “With Hillwood’s expertise and capital investment, we expect Cecil to realize its full potential for creating jobs and expanding the tax base.”

The cost to develop the 2,800 developable acres at the former military base was estimated at more than $1.3 billion. By naming Hillwood as the master developer, the City transfers the capital burden of developing the property to Hillwood, yet can still benefit from the job growth and expanded tax base that the project could offer.

The agreement includes protection of the City’s land interest at Cecil Commerce Center by allowing only Hillwood to purchase development sites and move forward with development on a project-by-project basis.

This prevents Hillwood from land banking the property acquired and if it failed to develop the property, the City would have the option to purchase the property back.

Hillwood will have minimum performance standards throughout the term of the agreement and through the performance standards and default provisions, the developer cannot tie up the property while not meeting the standards.

The City isn’t worried about Hillwood meeting performance goals, as it began efforts to meet standards before the agreement was finalized.

“They wanted to get a head start on the project,” said Ballas.

Hillwood has already begun establishing its presence onsite with offices for developing and marketing at the soon-to-be-named AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center.

AllianceFlorida will be the second expansion of the Alliance brand for Hillwood. The company reserves the Alliance brand for large-scale, long-term, public-private projects.

During the term of the master developer agreement, Hillwood predicts the development will add at least $425 million to the City’s tax base, and potentially more than $648 million as economic conditions improve.

“There were some things that had to get ironed out before both sides felt comfortable signing off on it,” said T. Preston Herold, vice president of Hillwood Investment Properties, who will relocate to Jacksonville to lead the development of AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center.

“We used time prior to finalizing the agreement to start to reach out to our customers, to hire a local listing agent, CB Richard Ellis, to start to develop our marketing materials and website and the pieces that are going to help us sell AllianceFlorida,” he said.

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