Entrepreneur purchases property to fight blight on Philips Highway

Entrepreneur purchases property to fight blight on Philips Highway
One of the two buildings that was recently bulldozed by Bryan Croft after he purchased the land adjacent to his business, Holmes Custom, on Philips Highway.

Ever since Bryan Croft moved his business, Holmes Custom, from 1640 San Marco Blvd. to its present location at 2021 St. Augustine Road in 2010, he has dreamed of buying Florida House, an abandoned juvenile residential facility owned by the state, just so he could tear it down and clean up the neighborhood.

“From my office here, I could look out the window and see it,” said Croft. “I’ve looked at it since 2010 when we moved in here, and I’ve always had this dream to build up my business, so I could buy that rundown hotel and bulldoze it.

“I live at the beach, and when I would tell people I work on Philips Highway their immediate reaction is ‘crime, drugs, prostitution,’ and unfortunately they are right,” Croft continued, noting the derelict former youth detention center had attracted many shady characters.

With his company covering 30,000 square feet in two buildings on four acres across the street, Croft said he was concerned some of the activities that went on at the abandoned property might eventually affect his employees and business.

Croft purchased the 3.3-acre property from the state for $450,000, to increase the safety of the 85 employees working at his company and to help clean up the neighborhood. “I didn’t like seeing a 20-year-old building just sitting there and watching the riff raff come in and out,” he said.

Formerly the Holmes Stamp Company, Holmes Custom has been a fixture in San Marco since Owen Holmes first opened its doors on San Marco Boulevard in 1954. Croft’s father, Bob, started a delivery boy in the 1960s and worked his way up so that he owned 100 percent of the company in 1998.

“My dad started out as a delivery driver and 30 years later owned the company,” said Croft.

A graduate of Bishop Kenny and the University of North Florida, where he majored in marketing, Croft began working for his father at the Mom-and-Pop firm in June 1998, eventually transforming it into a $13 million national e-commerce company with 100 employees and offices in three locations – Jacksonville, Boston, Mass., and Austin, Texas. Having purchased the firm from his father in 2009, Croft, who is CEO, co-owns the company with his partner, Steve Fernandez. 

After doing some environmental clean-up on the property, which was originally built as a motel in the late 1980s, Croft had two of the three existing buildings demolished during the first week of May but plans to renovate the third building at the rear of the property to use as his e-commerce business continues to grow.

As a close friend of Jeff Rosen, a co-owner of Chance Partners, Croft said he realized Rosen’s residential development, San Marco Promenade, at the north end of Philips Highway would be a game-changer for the community. “I wanted to figure out a way I could support Jeff and help end that old Emerson-Philips perception,” he said. “Soon we will have approximately 2,000 new people living two blocks from here, and that is going to change the whole neighborhood.”

Croft said he would like to insert a “retail presence” on the property and is open to ideas from developers who might want to lease the land. “I’m in no rush,” he said. “I want to see what happens to the neighborhood and how it evolves. I’m open to any kind of improvement to enhance our neighborhood. There is no master plan here, and I’m not a real estate developer. I’m an e-commerce entrepreneur who enjoys investing in his hometown.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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