JEA shortlists San Marco plan for new headquarters

JEA shortlists San Marco plan for new headquarters
A rendering of Chase Properties vision for JEA’s new headquarters as seen from the northwest corner.

If Michael Balanky has his way, he will build the new headquarters of the Jacksonville Energy Authority in San Marco.

Balanky, a Jacksonville native and Southbank resident, is CEO and president of Chase Properties and one of three developers on the short list to win the contract to build a new corporate headquarters for the Jacksonville utility.

Working with his “A-Team,” a group of local architects, engineers, interior designers and contractors that he says are “the best of the best,” Balanky has submitted a proposal to build a shiny, eight-story, state-of-the-art, energy-efficient facility on Kings Avenue property he leases from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and next door to the Kings Avenue garage. 

“It’s going to be stunning. When people are entering Jacksonville, they will be driving through a gorgeous gateway of beautiful buildings,” Balanky said, referring to the new Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center and the soon-to-be-built Wolfson Critical Care Tower, which also will line the I-95 Southbank corridor. “With this, the Southbank could be the next Buckhead,” he added, referencing the affluent uptown commercial and residential district in Atlanta.

In litigation for several years with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, owner of the Kings Street property, Balanky said he settled his lawsuit with JTA in December 2018, just in time for him and his team to quickly get a proposal together before JEA’s January deadline.

However, Balanky has stiff competition from two other developers that were named on JEA’s shortlist and joined him in presenting their proposals to the JEA board during a meeting at JEA headquarters Feb. 5.

Michael Balanky, CEO and president of Chase Properties
Michael Balanky, CEO and president of Chase Properties

In addition to Balanky’s Kings Avenue Redevelopment Company, Shad Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and his partner, The Cordish Companies, hope to plant JEA’s headquarters “near the 50-yard line” of Lot J, a proposed mixed-use development west of TIAA Bank Field. If selected, JEA’s headquarters would encompass the office portion and first phase of Khan’s ambitious Shipyard plan, which could also include retail, residential, a convention center and entertainment district near the stadium.

During the meeting with JEA, Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping joined Blake Cordish, president of Cordish Development in presenting their proposal. They said they would focus on placemaking and described a building that would be part of a “transformational” project that would encompass 80 city blocks. The JEA building would be located on the 50-yard line of their vision for the Shipyards next to the Live arena and near the parking garage, said Cordish, adding the building would have solar panels on the roof, green panels below, and a plaza outside the building that would serve to reinforce the JEA brand.

Also shortlisted by JEA was Block 48, which would be developed by the Ryan Companies, an 80-year-old Minnesota-based firm, on a vacant lot adjacent to the Duval County Courthouse green in the heart of Downtown.

Ryan Companies plans to purchase the property from the city, said Doug Dieck, president of its Southeast Region, which is based in Tampa. Its vision is a high-rise building next door to a multi-level garage that would include an open lobby, security checkpoint, and comfortable breakout areas with soft seating. On the ninth floor would be an outdoor space just off the employee cafeteria.

JEA desires a new headquarters because its existing building on West Church Street is aging and too large, said Nancy Kilgo, JEA director of Government Affairs during the meeting.

The JEA board decided on its selection criteria in July and August 2018 and issued “invitations to negotiate” to developers on Oct. 15, 2018. Receiving six responses by its deadline of Jan. 8, JEA issued its shortlist on Jan. 22. It will receive its “best and final offers,” on March 11 and select the winning site during a special board meeting the week of April 8, Kilgo said.

Specifications for the building include that it be designed exclusively for JEA purposes, encompass at least 200,000 square feet, include parking to accommodate 760 employees, and be easily accessible to the 11,000 customers who pay their bills in person headquarters each month, she said. 

In contrast to what is being proposed by the other developers, Balanky said his project is the most accessible and only “shovel-ready” plan in the mix.

“Getting here from any other part of the city is easier than from the other two sites,” he said, noting BRT (bus rapid transit), the Skyway and the airport shuttle are next door and JTA’s autonomous car program will run right up to the front door. He also plans to work with the new Beach Buggies San Marco micro-transit system, too. 

“Access to I-95 is 90 seconds to the north and 90 seconds to the south. You don’t have to navigate Downtown or try to make your way to the stadium,” he said.

As far as being “shovel ready,” Balanky said he could start the construction process the day after he is awarded a contract because he doesn’t need to sign a contract with the city, or go through the RFB (procurement) process. “We are also exempt from the DDRB (Downtown Development Review Board), while the others need to go through it. We are the only ones with control of our land and the only one without remediation issues. We already have the zoning in place,” he said. “The garage is built. There are 1,650 spaces already there. We have a huge economic advantage with this and that should save the taxpayers money because the garage and retention are already there. 

“Also, noise is no issue. Being close to the highway is not a factor. Buildings all over the country are built close to highways,” he continued, noting large windows will bath JEA employees in natural light and solar panels will be installed on the roof and on top of the garage so the building will generate its own power. “It’s going to be real cosmopolitan and absolutely gorgeous.”

Other advantages to the site include its proximity to The District and the visibility of the building from the St. Johns River and I-95, which will help promote JEA’s brand, he said. “The building will be an iconic landmark for Jacksonville and seen by over 15 million travelers a year – 155,000 per day,” Balanky said.

With so many Southbank and San Marco developments in the works, having the JEA headquarters nearby will only add a boon to the neighborhood, Balanky said. “The whole Kings Avenue corridor is going retail all the way down to Atlantic Boulevard,” he said. “All the properties on Kings Avenue have already been bought up by investors within the last year.”

Catching wind of his plan, the San Marco Merchants Association submitted its endorsement to the JEA board, said SMMA President Joe Carlucci. 

“I think we all see this as an opportunity to truly impact not only the City of Jacksonville but the lives of all the JEA employees that work so hard for this city. I picture employees and their families grabbing dinner after work from one of our pizza restaurants, barbecue restaurants, or at the local movie theater in San Marco. Or employees could go over to The District for a nice glass of wine along the Southbank Riverwalk at sunset. The quality of life in this location is charming and family-oriented,” Carlucci wrote. “We send this letter giving our full support and to be received as the first welcome from the community of San Marco. On behalf of the businesses in and around the San Marco area, we hope to see your project move forward with the Kings Avenue location to not only improve our community but yours as well.”

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