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JEDC pursuing big projects to go into Cecil

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on March 21, 2007.

The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission is pursuing at least a dozen specific projects that it hopes to lure to Cecil Commerce Center, according to an internal planning document prepared by commission staff.

If all of the projects on a list designed to help "frame downstream development issues" - projects ranging from the corporate headquarters of a California company to a manufacturer of aviation parts - do come to the former military base on the Westside, the companies would invest upwards of $1.4 billion into the site and create close to 6,000 jobs.

Some of the projects being worked on, however, fit the description of long-hoped-for-but-not-yet-seen companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, so it's still unknown when more new buildings will actually begin rising at the former military base.

After repeated messages were left with JEDC executives over the past week regarding the projects, the commission declined to comment in even general terms on any potential business development projects.

The planning document was obtained by The Times-Union as part of a review of public records generated by the commission.

The document describes companies and their planned projects, including how much land would be needed, where on the site it would be located and what type of incentives would be required. It does not contain a timetable, but economic development plans often take several years to come to fruition, if they do at all.

Jacksonville Aviation Authority officials have said they are continuing to negotiate with Embraer, which matches the description of the biggest job creator on the JEDC list.

According to the document, the project, code-named Osprey, would create 1,500 jobs and require the company to invest $30 million to $40 million into the site.

"We're trying to figure out if that can be a go or a no-go," said JAA spokesman Michael Stewart, who said that the aircraft manufacturer is second on the authority's priority list, behind existing tenant Flightstar, which is looking to expand its operations at Cecil.

"We're looking at it from a bigger picture point of view," Stewart said, "in terms of laying out what we think is the best use on the east side of the runway."

JAA's third priority is working with Florida Community College at Jacksonville to build an airplane painting facility. Funding for that project needs to come from the state legislature, which should consider the request this session.

The biggest capital investment - $873.7 million - on the JEDC list would come from a project the document says is code-named Marco Polo, a company that produces aviation-related structures for the commercial and military markets. That deal would require the city to relocate a credit union office now at the site as well as offer a range of incentives from tax rebates to funding for worker training.

According to other JEDC documents, that project would also require the city to relocate gas lines at the site, which would abut FCCJ's Aviation Center of Excellence.

A similar level of government involvement would be needed to lure the project known as Dream, which the document said would see a California-based company relocate its headquarters to the area. That company, which is involved in containerized freight distribution, would need JEA overhead power lines to be moved and ask for a number of city and state incentives.

Dream would invest $150 million into the site and create 1,000 jobs.

A similar level of investment and job creation would come from the project code-named Quattro, which fits the description of the oft-rumored Wal-Mart distribution center. Quattro is a large logistics center owned by an international retailer that would create 800 jobs and invest $125 million, according to the JEDC document.

Most of the projects that the list shows JEDC working on are concentrated in the aviation and distribution fields, with a smattering of other manufacturing operations, such as medical devices and automobile parts.

One project on the list that the JEDC has been able to consummate a deal with is Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC, which inked a deal last year to come to Cecil.

Bridgestone is working to build a 1 million-square-foot distribution center at the site, investing $44 million into the facility, which is expected to create 250 jobs - a description that matches both the June announcement that the distribution center was coming and the project code-named Pan on the JEDC planning document.

Cecil Commerce Center is an attractive site for prospective clients, said Jerry Mallot, executive director of Cornerstone, the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce's economic development arm, both because of its runways and its access to nearby highways.

Cornerstone has had conversations with companies looking at Cecil as a relocation site, but as to when someone will bite the bullet on coming there, he couldn't say.

"The larger the project, the longer it takes," Mallott said. "We're competing with a lot of other area. Any one project is looking at so many variables."



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This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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