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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jan. 25, 202106:10 PM EST

JaxPort still interested in owning, redeveloping St. Johns River Power Park

Authority CEO Eric Green says JEA CEO Jay Stowe agreed to reopen talks about the property’s future.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Jacksonville Port Authority officials still are interested in buying and redeveloping the St. Johns River Power Park and surrounding parcels, despite JEA’s decision Jan. 21 to halt its search for a master developer for the property.

At the JaxPort board of directors meeting Jan. 25, CEO Eric Green said he called JEA CEO Jay Stowe after the utility’s decision to stop the request for qualifications. He said Stowe agreed to reopen talks about the 2,000-acre North Jacksonville property’s future.

The property is the site of a demolished coal-fired power plant, the St. Johns River Coal Terminal and other parcels.

Green said Stowe began considering the future of the property after he assumed the top executive role at JEA on Nov. 30. 

“I think it led Jay (Stowe) to say let’s slow it down a little bit and see if there’s something we can put together that’s a lot better but also (see) how we can work with the port authority,” Green said. 

The St. Johns River Power Park and surrounding parcels in North Jacksonville.

“It’s an important piece of property and it does everything that the city would like to see it do,” Green said. “That is it creates jobs.”

JEA spokesperson Simone Garvey-Ewan said in a Jan. 22 email that Stowe plans to talk with JaxPort and other community leaders about the power park site.

The renewed discussion comes after the two independent authorities stopped coordination on the property in September. 

JaxPort board Chair Jamie Shelton said in a Sept. 21 letter to the JEA board that the port authority would like the site for redevelopment but was not interested in engaging in the joint RFQ recommended by former interim JEA CEO Paul McElroy.

What JaxPort wants

During the Jan. 25 meeting, representatives from JaxPort’s contracted engineering partner, Jacobs, outlined the response the port planned to submit showing its ability to redevelop the power park.

Jacobs Building and Infrastructure Principal Hollie Schmidt

Jacobs Building and Infrastructure Principal Hollie Schmidt said the port authority sees a “mixed-used program” for the site to increase cargo volume, create jobs and open a portion of the surrounding wetlands for public recreation.

JaxPort said its access to federal, state and local government financing, as well as private capital market money, put the organization in a unique position to pay for the redevelopment. 

JaxPort board Chair Jamie Shelton said whether or not the port authority eventually purchases the property or enters a partnership with JEA, it will have influence over the property because of its regulatory authority of maritime access to the St. Johns River.

“We only have an interest because of its proximity to the water. If not, we wouldn’t even be here and talking about it today,” Shelton said.

JaxPort board Chair Jamie Shelton.

The property has access to the St. Johns River via a 25-acre parcel at Blount Island Marine Terminal formerly used by JEA to unload coal for the power plant. The majority of the property sits northwest of Blount Island. 

The Jacobs team and Shelton said that current and former JaxPort tenants have expressed interest in the power park site. 

Shelton said in an interview after the meeting he could not name the shippers or carriers that Green and his executive team have engaged.

City Council member and JaxPort liaison Ron Salem said he was in favor of JEA halting the RFQ.

Salem said he supported JEA’s effort to solicit international maritime interest in the power park property, but only because JaxPort leaders assured him they would submit a bid. 

Although he sees JaxPort as the property’s likely future operator, he wants the site appraised to find its fair market price. 

“I would prefer that the city entity get the opportunity at a fair price — they should not get a discount by any means,” Salem said. “I was assured by Mr. Green that was the case.” 

Shelton said he agrees that JEA or the port authority should do a private market appraisal of the property. Shelton said there likely would be a capital investment threshold for the port, but that evaluation has not been done.

City Council member and JaxPort liaison Ron Salem .

“We’re not some for-profit organization looking to make millions of dollars or redeveloping and flipping this out. We’re looking at it from the standpoint that we think it’s the best use for the taxpayers and the city for us to be involved in it. And we hope it works out that way,” Shelton said. 

Shelton expects environmental cleanup from the site’s decommissioned coal-fired power plant likely will take years. He expects those costs to affect both development and the purchase price.

JEA imploded the decommissioned 1,264-megawatt generating plant in 2019 and expects the demolition to be complete early this year.

JEA estimated in its RFQ that 1,100 of the 2,000 acres can be developed. Recreational opportunities and conservation on the surrounding wetlands were a component of the Jacobs bid. 

JaxPort also has not ruled out a partnership, long-term lease or another type of ownership arrangement with JEA.

“I wouldn’t shut the door on any type of opportunity presented to us from the owner of the land if that was something that made sense to us or the city of Jacksonville,” Shelton said. 

JEA’s due diligence

JEA is performing due diligence to prepare the site for redevelopment or a sale, according to Garvey-Ewan. 

“JEA will pursue the recommended entitlements for the property prior to the release of the SJRPP property for development or a potential sales transaction — additional title, survey, permitting and inspection work,” Garvey-Ewan said.

Stowe and JEA’s internal procurement team are exploring opportunities for the site, Garvey-Ewan said. 

“The mission is to release the SJRPP property for development or a potential sales transaction only if it results in the highest-and-best use for the community,” the email states. “JEA will explore if this includes maritime use or another opportunity.”

The request for qualifications was rescinded based on recommendations from a third-party consultant. JEA did not identify the consultant in the Jan. 22 email. 

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