Blackstone concept ahead of its time

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Today they are advertised on television like new cars or the latest breakthrough in pharmaceuticals. But back in the early 1970s the term, “office condominium,” wasn’t part of the vocabulary. The Blackstone Building on East Bay Street changed that.

Construction began in 1972 and the first owners got the keys to their front doors the following year. Being a block away from the County Courthouse, the building was soon occupied almost exclusively by attorneys and court reporters. That’s true today.

“I know it was the first office condominium in Jacksonville – perhaps the first one in Florida,” said Michael McCullough, president of the Blackstone Building owners association. “I’m sure it was ahead of its time when it was built, but since then the market has caught up.”

Joan Fernandez, owner of Executive Reporters, Inc., relocated her business from the old Law Exchange Building in 1973. Her first address in the Blackstone Building was two rooms on the 8th floor. Today, the business is in a 10-room suite on the 11th floor.

She said there have been many changes since her first purchase, but one thing hasn’t changed. Being able to build equity instead of paying rent makes as much sense to her now as it did 33 years ago.

“The condo charges have gone from practically nothing to more than $2,000 a month, but I’m still ahead,” said Fernandez.

She said the Blackstone Building used to be known as the home of “The Jury Room,” an exclusive destination and watering hole for many members of the legal community.

While Fernandez didn’t confirm or deny that any ex parte communication ever took place there, she did say, “It was a gathering place where attorneys and secretaries could come and have a drink. We had a ball. It was networking before anyone knew what that was. It was packed on a good night and most any night was a good night.”

Building Manager Larry Brake said that in the last several years, the Blackstone Building has been improved in several areas including a new sprinkler system, elevators, motorized parking garage gates and a state-of-the-art HVAC system.

“The new system saved $56,000 in electricity the first year. We’ve gone from antiquated to automated,” said Brake, who can monitor the building’s air and water systems from his computer at home if he’s not at the office.

McCullough said owning office space instead of renting isn’t the right fit for everyone. “I can make arguments for both. When you lease, it’s an expense item. Equity isn’t expensable, but it builds value. Many of us would rather have an asset at the end of the day. It’s a neat system. When it works, it works, and it works here.”

He added that he believes the building’s location has made it an even more attractive ownership opportunity.

“We’re excited about the future of Downtown,” said McCullough. “Within six blocks, there is a billion dollars worth of investment. That can’t be bad. The Blackstone Building is in the middle of Downtown’s resurgence.”