Vistakon cleared for $13.4M expansion

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Jacksonville-based Vistakon, the Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. maker of disposable contact lenses, was cleared to build out its $13.42 million manufacturing expansion in Deerwood Park.

The city approved a permit Friday for Gilbane Building Co. to complete the interior construction of the 22,887-square-foot Phase 6 expansion for the Southside manufacturing, distribution, laboratory and research campus at 7500 Centurion Parkway.

In November, the city approved the $2.5 million construction of the shell building. The site-work permit carried a project cost of $822,884.

As the Daily Record reported Sept. 3, Vistakon began clearing the way for a proposed $218 million expansion at its South Jacksonville campus, submitting construction plans to the city two days after City Council approved an incentives package.

Vistakon told the city and state it will create up to 100 jobs at an average wage of $65,000 plus benefits with the project, which involves making the latest generation of its Acuvue disposable contact lenses. It has said it also had been considering its plant in Ireland for the work.

The new space and jobs boost Vistakon to almost 2,000 employees and close to 800,000 square feet of space, a far sight from its origins as the Frontier Contact Lens Co. that started in Buffalo, N.Y., in the 1950s before its move to Jacksonville.

Flad & Associates of Florida is the architect. England, Thims & Miller Inc. is the civil

engineer and Atlantic Engineering Services is the structural engineer.

Council approved a $6.9 million Recapture Enhanced Value grant for the $218 million project. The state assistance comprises a $1.5 million Quick Action Closing Fund contribution and $225,000 in workforce training.

Vistakon promised to retain 1,872 existing jobs in Jacksonville.

The city said the $218 million comprises $20 million in building improvements, $188 million in purchases of machinery and equipment, and $10 million to upgrade two product lines.

When plans were filed for Phase 6 with the St. Johns River Water Management District in July, the documents showed the 23,000-square-foot will boost the 69-acre campus to 788,401 square feet of space.

The website outlines Vistakon’s history.

What ultimately became known as Acuvue brand contact lenses were first manufactured

at Frontier Contact Lens in Buffalo.

As Frontier grew, it opened a branch in Jacksonville and was headed by Seymour Marco, an optometrist with significant experience fitting what were then hard contact lenses.

After a few years, Marco bought out Frontier’s owners and grew the business dramatically.

During the 1970s, Marco developed a new hydrogel material and Frontier began making soft contact lenses.

In 1981, he sold the company to Johnson & Johnson, who renamed it Vistakon.

The company created a method that allowed it to increase production from 100,000 contact lenses a day to 1 million a day.

In 1987, it launched Acuvue, the first seven-day extended-wear disposable contact lens.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Products bought the Deerwood Park property in 1992 and built nine structures, the first completed in 1993.

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