Wells Fargo Center is back in business

Tenants starting to return today to 37-story building closed after Irma flooding.

Workers plant flowers in front the the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. Workers also were power washing sidewalks and removing debris from the basement. The building is expected to reopen Wednesday.
Workers plant flowers in front the the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. Workers also were power washing sidewalks and removing debris from the basement. The building is expected to reopen Wednesday.
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Almost three weeks after Hurricane Irma’s floodwaters closed the tower, the Downtown Wells Fargo Center expects to reopen Wednesday.

Several tenants, including anchor Wells Fargo & Co., confirmed Tuesday they will move back and start operations in the 37-story building at 1 Independent Drive as soon as Wednesday.

 “We are going back to normal operations at the Wells Fargo Center tomorrow morning,” said Wells Fargo & Co. spokesman Michael Gray in an email Tuesday.

Wells Fargo will move its 400 or so employees back into six floors at the tower. During the closure, some of those employees worked out of offices at Metro Square, at Beach Boulevard and Emerson Street, and others worked remotely, Gray said.

UBS Financial Services Inc. intends to return its 60 employees to its 30th-floor offices Wednesday or Thursday pending a final inspection of its space Tuesday from a technology and environmental standpoint, said Thomas Isaacs, managing director and market head for the Florida East Coast.

UBS employees worked remotely or from the Ponte Vedra Beach branch office since the building closed.

The Foley & Lardner law firm is moving back Wednesday after working remotely with some support staff in office space at Enterprise Center, said partner Kevin Hyde.

The Jimerson & Cobb law firm also is moving back to its offices.

“It’s been quite an adventure,” said Managing Partner Charles Jimerson.

He and the other attorneys and staff have been working remotely.

“We came together, came up with a plan and executed it. We haven’t skipped a beat,” Jimerson said.

That includes scheduling and taking depositions, closing contracts, “and we won a trial” while the firm was out of the building, Jimerson said.

“We have practiced law and we found out how flexible our attorneys are,” he added.

The firm will regroup Wednesday in its 14th-floor offices.

For the first time in 18 days, “we’ll have everybody under one roof,” Jimerson said.

New ways to work

Office tenants in the Downtown tower found alternate ways to run their offices in the almost three weeks since the building was closed because of Hurricane Irma and its floodwaters.

The structure closed Sept. 8 in advance of the storm, which struck Sept. 10-11.

Workers remove debris from the basement on the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. The building is expected to reopen Wednesday.
Workers remove debris from the basement on the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. The building is expected to reopen Wednesday.

Tower management has been pumping water from the two-level basement and restoring the electrical and operating systems. 

At first, tenants expected it could be months before they could return and sought temporary arrangements. Jimerson’s newsletter said the firm was told it could be up to four months.

Banyan Street Capital, the landlord, has not returned calls or email for comment.

Some tenants aren’t certain when they will move back.

 Regency Centers Corp. Communications Manager Eric Davidson said Tuesday no official date has been set on returning the Jacksonville-based company’s roughly 200 employees to the 26th, 27th and 28th floors.

The company temporarily leased space in Southpoint.

“I know that our team has been working with the building management to have us up and running at 100 percent as soon as they are able,” Davidson said in an email.

Driver, McAfee, Peek & Hawthorne moved into the EverBank Building on Riverside Avenue when Wells Fargo Center closed.

Partner Ray Driver said Tuesday the law firm won’t be joining the anticipated surge to re-occupy offices.

“We’re not going to scramble to move back in. To unplug in the middle of the week doesn’t make sense for us. We’ll probably plan a weekend move in a week or two,” he said.

The firm’s IT staff did go to Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday to inspect the data and telephone systems, and “it seems everything is working properly,” Driver said.

He had praise for the building’s ownership and management.

“The owner and property manager did a great job getting that building back online as fast as they did.”

The Pajcic & Pajcic law firm also will take some time to plan its return from temporary office space at Enterprise Center, two blocks from Wells Fargo Center.

“We had a duty to our clients to secure a new safe space to represent them and their interests and get up and running as quickly as possible,” said trial attorney Curry Pajcic. “We will move back as soon as we feel it’s the best way to serve our clients.”

“We are glad the building will be back in business,” he added.

Restaurant, river club assess fallout, return

Some businesses couldn’t operate remotely, such as The River Club on the top floors and The Atrium Café & Grill on the ground floor.

The River Club on the 34th and 35th floors will open after conditions are assessed and the dining and event venue can be restocked, said Misty Skipper, spokeswoman for club owner Gate Petroleum Co.

Skipper said Tuesday the club was notified that tenants are being let back into the building Wednesday.

“We are hopeful it will be at the end of this week,” she said of possible re-opening.

Skipper said it would be Wednesday before club management is able to assess the conditions and needs.

She said Gate was able to move some River Club events to its Epping Forest Yacht & Country Club and Ponte Vedra Beach facilities during the closing.

The Atrium Café & Grill manager Steven Follick said Tuesday he hopes to reopen the restaurant no later than Monday with nine of his 10 employees. One found another job.

“Everything is fresh, everything is new product,” he said Tuesday.

Follick has been allowed to retrieve and donate consumable food to organizations. 

He said he has been in the restaurant the past few days and took a number of phone calls from customers asking when he would reopen.

“I’m really grateful that everyone continued to think of us through this. I really appreciate it,” he said.

He said the equipment, phones, coolers and HVAC systems are working.

While offices can maintain operations during a forced relocation, a café cannot.

“This was a whopper,” Follick said.

“There is just no way for a restaurant like ours to have a contingency plan for something like this.”

While the business has been in the tower for 15 years, Follick’s ownership group bought it Sept. 30 — almost a year ago.

Follick said the business depends on the support of the tenants and surrounding businesses.

“It was a worst-case scenario for us,” he said.

He maintained contact with his employees during the closure.

“I am depending on my employees. It makes our business,” he said.

Follick is checking his insurance policy for its coverage of loss of business. “I have an insurance agent who is working very hard for us,” he said.

Evacuation legal issues

Tenant rights are expected to be reviewed. For example, Jimerson said he is evaluating the legal issues related to the forced evacuation from the firm’s office space.

What rights the displaced Wells Fargo Center tenants have under the circumstances depends on the terms of their leases and each lease could be slightly different, said Jonathan Smith, an attorney with Duss, Kenney, Safer, Hampton & Joos.

Smith, who practices commercial real estate law, is not a tenant in the tower.

Smith said since the landlord suffered storm damage that was the result of a natural disaster, the “force majeure” clause in the lease would take effect.

That means the contracting parties are exempt from fulfilling their obligations under the agreement for causes that could not be anticipated or that were beyond their control.

However, Smith said, it’s up to the landlord and the lessee to negotiate compensation.

That could include some period of free rent to compensate the tenant for inconvenience or reimbursement for moving expenses, he said.

Associate Editor Max Marbut contributed to this report