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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Nov. 17, 202005:00 PM EST

JEA board approves land buy for “hardened” emergency headquarters

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The city-owned utility will purchase the site in LaVilla for $2.44 million from a private owner.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The JEA board of directors approved a 2.27-acre land buy in LaVilla for $2.44 million for the city-owned utility’s proposed “hardened” emergency headquarters that would withstand severe weather. 

The board voted 7-0 at its monthly meeting Nov. 17 to purchase the land from LaVilla Partners III LLLP. 

The hardened facility will supplement JEA’s seven-story, $64 million to $68 million headquarters under construction at 225 N. Pearl St. Downtown. 

The board agreed in May to consider a secondary 40,000-square-foot headquarters for an emergency operations center resilient to flooding and severe weather. It made that decision after reducing the scale of its planned corporate mid-rise office building.

JEA headquarters developer and landlord Ryan Companies US Inc. broke ground on the primary headquarters Oct. 22 and began site work in August.

Vice Chair Bobby Stein, who led the board’s effort with real estate firm CBRE to locate a suitable property for the hardened facility, said Nov. 17 options Downtown were limited.

“We’ve spent the last I don’t know how many months working through (the) price, but there were not a lot of opportunities if you want to be in a Downtown location,” Stein said.

The hardened facility will be built on two parcels separated by JEA’s Church Street Electric Substation, northwest of LaVilla School of the Arts. 

The “hardened” emergency headquarters is less than a mile from the new JEA headquarters and City Hall.

The site is bounded by Ashley, Johnson, Church and Duval streets.

According to a memo from interim CEO and Managing Director Paul McElroy, JEA negotiated the LaVilla Partners III asking price down by $720,000.

An independent appraisal contracted by JEA valued the 0.87-acre west parcel at $800,000 while the property owner had the site appraised at $1.16 million. The parties settled on the JEA appraisal.

The 1.4-acre east parcel was $1.375 million in JEA’s appraisal compared with a $2 million price sought by LaVilla Partners III. JEA has negotiated a $1.646 million purchase of that site.

Florida Division of Corporations records show LaVilla Partners III is managed by Ted Pappas, Mitchell Rothstein and Dennis McDonagh, all of Jacksonville.

JEA real estate and procurement officials are expected to release a request for design services for the hardened facility within the next 30 days but cost and construction timelines were not released as of Nov. 17.

Documents produced in May showed reducing the primary corporate headquarters size as well as other savings in its amended lease agreement with Ryan will reduce JEA’s gross rent by $27 million over the life of the lease. 

It’s unclear how the final cost of the hardened facility might impact those savings.

During his presentation Nov. 17, JEA Director of Real Estate Services Jordan Pope said the site was not in a city hurricane evacuation zone or in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year flood plain. 

Pope said both criteria were key in the site selection. The seller also owns an adjacent surface parking lot that it has agreed to let JEA use during emergency situations.

Pope told board member Leon Haley that utility officials considered other publicly owned sites.

Pope said officials evaluated land owned by JEA and the city in LaVilla and state-owned property north of State Street but decided the acquisition timeline was too long. 

The site also is less than a mile from the new JEA headquarters and City Hall.

“When working in gray sky conditions (severe weather), that proximity to the city’s Emergency Operations Center and other government buildings is really kind of a critical element,” Pope said. 

“We felt like, all things considered, this was really, given timeline and location, the prime location to site this hardened facility.” 

 

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