The Ghost of Shipyards Past is a 3-part series that will run on consecutive Sundays.
News that LandMar Group LLC, the developer of the infamous Jacksonville Shipyards site, had filed bankruptcy this past Wednesday thrust the haunted development back into the center of all things controversial.
In 1992, the storied Jacksonville Shipyards closed its doors forever as a ship-making operation. Three years later, Jay Hanan, a local developer, announced grand plans for the site and purchased the property. He went bankrupt two years later. The property was purchased as part of a bankruptcy settlement by the Spence family. The family intended to build warehouse facilities on the site for use in their cold storage business.
In the book, “Guts”—written by Susan Brandenburg—Carlton Spence recalled the time when he first approached Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney to share his plans for the long-abandoned site. The city had recently passed The Better Jacksonville Plan, recalled Mr. Spence, and the Mayor was riding high.
“When we met,” said Spence, “he told me he didn’t care what we did with the shipyard property and there was no money in Jacksonville to assist us in the development.” Money, Spence had replied, was not what what he was looking for. He was simply there as a courtesy to let the Mayor know of his plans for the site. Those plans involved the construction of warehousing that would house the family’s burgeoning cold-storage business.
According to Spence, it was the Mayor who made the next move. By this time, the city was in the running for the 2005 Super Bowl and plans called for docking cruise ships on the St. Johns River to serve as floating hotels. The Mayor wanted to use the Shipyards as part of those plans, something that Spence readily agreed to. Spence also assured the Mayor that the site would be cleaned up in time for the Super Bowl.
It was at that second meeting, Spence says, that John Delaney first suggested that the Spence family scuttle their plans to build warehouses on the site and instead develop the property into a mixed-use site. Spence says that the Mayor said that the city could possibly help with funding the development or the Spence family could “Just give us the shipyards and we’ll take them off your hands.”
The vision of TriLegacy LLC had been born. An $865 million development that would forever alter the face of Jacksonville’s riverfront was conceived. The property would include housing, office, commercial space, boat slips and a public park. According to Spence, it would be the largest private development in Jacksonville’s history.
Check back next week for the second installment of The Ghost of Shipyards Past.