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The meeting space at the Jessie Ball duPont Center has attracted more than 70 rental events since January.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 15, 201612:00 PM EST

Jessie Ball duPont Center Downtown exceeds first-year expectations

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

When the Jessie Ball duPont Fund announced in March 2013 it was buying the former Haydon Burns Public Library and planned to convert it into office space for nonprofits, the trustees were confident it was a good idea.

The center, Downtown at Adams and Ocean streets, opened June 25, 2015, and the first-year report card shows it made the honor roll.

“It has exceeded our expectations,” said Sherry Magill, president of the fund.

The fund purchased the building for $2 million and invested about $23 million for the conversion from an abandoned library to Class-A office space.

The space is leased exclusively to nonprofits at a per-square-foot rate below market cost to allow the organizations to devote more of their budgets to programs and services.

Before the building opened, it was estimated as many as 12 organizations would move in during the first year.

There are 19 tenants, including the duPont Fund, which relocated from a suite at Wells Fargo Center.

And tenants came knocking on the door.

The fund didn’t do traditional marketing to lease all but about 2,700 square feet of the 75,000 in the building.

It was strictly word of mouth and word spread quickly when local organizations learned there would be an opportunity to move Downtown and save some money on rent.

“People who work in the nonprofit community talk to each other,” Magill said.

A substantial portion of the renovation budget was for energy conservation.

The original 1965 windows were replaced with double-paned glass. Insulation throughout the building was improved. Solar water heaters and a rain collection system for irrigation were installed, along with energy-efficient lighting.

A new water chiller replaced the original equipment and the temperature in the building is constantly monitored to ensure comfort while using as little electricity as possible.

“You won’t see people here wearing sweaters in the summer, but they’re not sweating,” said Magill.

The utility costs for the first year were “way under budget,” she said, which helps the fund cover the building’s operating expenses even though tenants pay below-market rent.

The conservation report card from the federal government also puts the building on the honor roll.

The center earned the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Star” certification with a score of 99 points out of a possible 100, which makes it one of the most energy-efficient facilities in the country.

Even the popularity of the building has exceeded expectations.

The two-story space on the ground floor facing Adams Street was left open to create a community meeting venue large enough for hundreds of people to attend an event.

Magill said groups other than building tenants have rented the space for more than 70 events since January, which created a source of revenue that exceeded expectations.

Returning life to the old library, which was vacant for eight years before the fund purchased it, has yielded a benefit that wasn’t anticipated.

“The building is a magnet for people,” Magill said. “It makes me understand the importance of this building to people who grew up here. It seems everyone has a story.”

The only item on the report card that graded below A-plus is the retail space in the northeast corner of the first floor, which remains unoccupied.

“It can be tough going for a small restaurant. Downtown is a lunch crowd, not a night-time restaurant destination,” said Magill.

She said there probably would be enough demand in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors for above-average but below-market rate office space to allow a similar building to succeed as well, but that would be an investment for another landlord.

“We’re very happy with our $25 million project,” said Magill.

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