Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

The Ghost of Shipyards Past, Part 2

The Ghost of Shipyards Past is a 3-part series.  Part 1 was published on Sunday, June 14th.

According to Carlton Spence, the Spence family never intended to be developers.  Their original intent when they purchased the Shipyards property was to use it to expand their cold storage business.  After pressure from John Delaney; however, Spence says that the family developed the idea for the $865 million development that would be known as The Shipyards.

One of the plan’s biggest proponents, according to Spence, was Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney.  His support was instrumental in obtaining the $75 million committed by the city to assist in developing the project.  “Of that amount,” Spence told Susan Brandenburg in her book Guts, “$40 million was to be in the form of bonds with the money apolied to the cost of developing a 16-acre public park and completing the North Bank River Walk.”  That development was to take place while TriLegacy moved forward with other aspects of the project.  The remaining $35 million was set to come in the form of tax abatements.

Shortly after announcing the Shipyards development and securing financial support from the JEDC, TriLegacy Group LLC was selected by the city to develop the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station.

The Shipyards, One Shipyard Place, rolled out their condo models at Epping Forest Yacht Club on the morning of Sept 11, 2001.  It should have been a harbinger of things to come.

The US economy tanked after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and development on the project moved along slowly.  Nevertheless, the development moved forward and in late 2003, construction of One Shipyard Place was beginning to look like a reality with the development only a few reservations short of the 60 pre-sales needed to begin construction.

At that same time, Brandenburg recalls in her book, Jacksonville landed a major coup when it convinced Fidelity National to move its national headquarters to Jacksonville.  The Spence family began negotiating with Fidelity to possibly develop on part of the Shipyards project.  Those discussions were held directly with Fidelity and the Spence’s wondered in retrospect if that’s what became their downfall.

Two days before Christmas, Jeff Spence was contacted by Kirk Wendland, then the Executive Director of JEDC, to inform him that the city was missing a document that would confirm that the city and TriLegacy had agreed upon an appraisal that had been done for Cecil Field.  Spence recalls that Wendland and he agreed that the issue was a “technicality” and was something that could be addressed after the holiday season.

Trouble was on the horizon.

Check back next week for The Ghost of Shipyards Past, Part 3.


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