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UNF buys tech park for $14 million

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on March 3, 2004.

The city's Research and Development Authority has agreed to sell the First Coast Technology Park to the University of North Florida for $14 million, a purchase that must be approved by the state.

The authority unanimously approved at its Tuesday meeting the sale of the 100 to 150 acres it has left. The deal is contingent upon approval from the governor and Legislature, who have been asked to provide the money in two, $7 million payments to be disbursed this year and next.

The state-provided funding will ultimately end up in the university's coffers. As have been done with all other land sales in the park, profits from the sale would go to the UNF Foundation, an organization that funds the university.

"This will get money into the foundation quicker than selling the land piece by piece," newly minted university President John Delaney said during the meeting.

The 248-acre site -- located east of the UNF campus, on both sides of Kernan Boulevard north of Butler Boulevard -- was donated to the authority by the A.C. Skinner family in 1987. Since its inception, however, it has struggled to attract bona fide high tech companies.

UNF plans on using the land for school-related purposes, not as a site for outside companies.

The park houses an America Online call center, the headquarters of construction company Auchter Co., and an ADT Security Services Inc. facility. Development company Phillips & Co. has also contracted to buy parcels in the park, but that deal is tied up in litigation over building rights.

Other holdings in the park include a 2.34-acre plot owned by Garnett Commercial Real Estate, which a university subsidiary bought along with about 10 other acres in a deal also approved Tuesday.

As part of that purchase, the university agreed to handle maintenance on the entire park until the entire transaction goes through, an expense estimated at $100,000 a year.

It was unclear Tuesday where the sale of the land leaves the authority, whose sole mission was overseeing the park.

"I do think that research and development type of activities like that are important to a community," said Kirk Wendland, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, which oversees the authority. "Obviously there are challenges to getting those: There are only so many of those type of projects out there."

The city isn't necessarily looking to "be in the business of major land acquisition," Wendland said, adding that it was too early to determine the next step for the authority.

"It's something we'll have to discuss and take a look at," he said. "I think those type of companies would still very much fit the profile of companies we're looking for. It may mean there's not currently a designated place to cluster them."

Setting up a park somewhere else is one option authority members kicked around at Tuesday's meeting. "The authority existed before the land existed," member Henry Luke said. "Someone has to give thought to whether the authority wants to look for another piece of land."

There's plenty of developable land in the area around the university, said Jerry Mallot, executive director of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce's Cornerstone economic development program, giving companies who want to work with the school other options.

"I believe the university would still be interested if they found the right relation in working with companies, whether it's that site or another site," Mallot said. "It's a growing university and they probably want to have more control of their destiny."



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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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