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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 5, 201706:50 AM EST

Pilot Express in works near I-295, port

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Refueling station and convenience store smaller than typical Pilot Travel centers.

Travelers along Interstate 295 north of Jacksonville might soon have access to a Pilot Express, part of the Pilot Travel J company.

Pilot Travel J, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, caters to commuters, truckers and the neighborhood with fuel, food outlets, retail goods, a tire center and other amenities.

The Pilot Express appears to be smaller than the typical Pilot Travel centers.

Pilot Travel J is considering a 6,248-square-foot convenience store and fueling center on 5.64 acres at 3515 Zoo Parkway, west of I-295.

Plans filed with the Jacksonville Planning Commission show more than 50 spaces for cars and 29 truck spaces.

Pilot Flying J provided no additional information.

“As a private company, Pilot Flying J does not disclose details of its new business developments,” said an email from spokeswoman Stephanie Myers.

The Zoo Parkway property is owned by Duval Partners LLC and the applicant is Connelly & Wicker Inc.

The Jacksonville Planning Commission approved a minor modification Nov. 9 with conditions, including lighting levels, to the property’s Planned Unit Development.

The PUD was approved in 2007 for warehousing, commercial space and a hotel, but the development didn’t take place and the land remains idle, the Planning and Development Department report states.

Duval Partners LLC and Pilot Travel Centers LLC also seek an administrative deviation from the city’s zoning code to increase the maximum number of off-street parking spaces from 37 to 56.

Pilot Travel J says on its website that its more than 750 Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers in 44 states serve more than 1.2 million customers daily. 

They offer services to the public and truckers, including fuel, food, showers and laundry facilities. 

Recently opened stores in Rochester, Indiana, and Clovis, New Mexico, created 45 and 55 jobs. Those offer 10-12 fueling positions and five to six diesel lanes.

Pilot Flying J operates three centers in Northeast Florida — in Northwest Jacksonville at 4075 Jones Branch Blvd., at 1050 U.S. 301 S. in Baldwin and 1625 County Road 210 W. in St. Johns County.

The Jones Branch Boulevard location includes Arby’s, Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon as well as its PJ Fresh banner of pizza, soup, salads, sandwiches and hot dogs.

Pilot opened the Jones Branch Road location, at southwest I-295 and Pritchard Road, on June 6, 2016, adding 70 jobs. 

It comprises an almost 13,000-square-foot retail building along with 10 fueling positions and eight diesel lanes with high-speed pumps.

It was Pilot Flying J’s 26th location in Florida.

The company is positioned to expand.

In October, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. agreed to buy a 38.6 percent equity stake in the company, while the Haslam family will continue to own 50.1 percent.

The company has more than $20 billion in revenue and more than 27,000 employees, according to a news release.

In 2023, Berkshire Hathaway, led by CEO Warren Buffet, will become the majority shareholder with the Haslam family retaining 20 percent ownership.

Jim Haslam founded the company in 1958.

His son, Cleveland Browns lead owner Jimmy Haslam, is CEO of Pilot Flying J and will continue with both titles. Another son, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, also owns a percentage of the company.

USA Today reported that the deal with Berkshire Capital came less than a month before four former Pilot Flying J executives headed to trial for fraud charges related to claims that they stole from trucking companies that were promised fuel rebates as part of a complicated scheme.

Fourteen former Pilot employees pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges of shortchanging trucking customers on diesel rebates. Four more are on trial in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.

According to the news site, prosecutors say the scheme stretched back to at least 2008, with Pilot sales reps promising one rate and delivering another. The company agreed to pay a $92 million federal settlement to resolve most of the claims. Jimmy Haslam has denied any wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged.

Buffett said Berkshire Hathaway did its due diligence and came away satisfied, according to the news site.

Pilot isn’t the only travel center planning another Jacksonville location.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores intends to open a second area store by early 2020 in the far Westside.

The Oklahoma City-based company wants to build a travel center on 17.21 acres at northwest Interstate 10 and U.S. 301 near Baldwin.

The chain opened a store in May 2015 at 400 Pecan Park Road off I-95 north of Jacksonville International Airport.

The average investment for a new Love’s Travel Stop is $11 million. That development would create about 60 jobs.

Structural site improvements include a convenience store and restaurant of 11,263 square feet, a 10,000-square-foot tire shop and canopies covering the pump stations.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores operates more than 430 locations in 41 states, including 14 in Florida.

The Pecan Park Road store opened with Chester’s Chicken and Subway restaurants. It also features seven showers, 82 truck parking spaces, a Love’s Truck Tire Care center, cardless fueling and CAT Scales for weighing trucks.

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