'Every cultural amenity you could possibly want is Downtown.'
Elias Hionides is vice president at Petra, a family founded and owned full-service real estate brokerage, development and management company based in Atlantic Beach. He is focusing on redeveloping properties Downtown and in Springfield
We own about 800,000 square feet of commercial real estate in Duval County. Most of our properties are historic or unique. We own the historic Casa Marina Hotel in Jacksonville Beach and property Downtown and in Springfield, and the Jones Brothers Furniture development, which we’re working on now.
I handle all day-to-day operations. We’re a family business, so one day I could be hanging up a light in an office space and scrambling to paint a wall if somebody needs it and the next day, we’re sitting down with City Council members to work out a development deal for Jones Brothers. It’s never a dull moment.
Mainly I am brokering our acquisitions, dispositions, leases and making sure our strategy continues to create vibrancy in Downtown Jacksonville and in Springfield. I haven’t had a vacancy at the Beaches in about 18 months, so our assets are stabilized there. In Downtown and Springfield, our goal is to bring all our properties online and to fill them with high-quality tenants who are going to bring a sense of place to the core.
I am not of the belief that we need to bring amenities Downtown for people to live Downtown. Every cultural amenity you could possibly want is Downtown. The St. Johns River is Downtown, and the center of commerce, business, government and nonprofits is Downtown. The missing component is residential. If we can bring residents Downtown, the retail, the entertainment and further job growth will follow.
I always had a passion for places and urbanization. When I was a kid – we’ve had season tickets to the Jacksonville Jaguars since the first season – I remember coming over the Mathews Bridge. I’d always get a rush when we crossed the top and I’d see all the buildings. I had a dream that one day, I’m going to build a tower in Downtown Jacksonville, so it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.
I went to the University of Miami and studied real estate finance, marketing and urban studies, and that further solidified what I wanted to do. I started my first and only job right here, aside from some high school work at the Casa Marina and another family business. We’re Greek. We keep it in the family.
We’re a family of immigrants. My dad and mom came to America when they were teenagers and built something from nothing. They came with little money in their pocket. By way of Philadelphia, they came to Jacksonville in the late 1980s. My dad was working in defense contracting at Naval Station Mayport and has invested in real estate in the Jacksonville market ever since. We realized that every property we acquired happened to be historic or unique and we said, “Let’s make this what we do. Let’s be the guy who can take a project and make it something interesting.”
I recently moved to Springfield. We renovated a historic home, so we host people at our house all the time. All my neighbors host as much as we do. People still say, “Oh, there’s not that much to do in Springfield.” Well, I can walk to two breweries, a third on the way, four restaurants and a coffee shop. I get a lot of interest about grocery stores in Springfield. We’re still waiting for that right one. I think it’s better suited for a midsize concept.
People across the country are into Jacksonville right now. It finally seems like it’s on the map. We just have to keep on doing the right things.