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On Top of the JEA Building

Metro Jacksonville gets a view of Jacksonville from the top of the former Universal Marion Building, now in use as administrative offices for the Jacksonville Electric Authority.

Published September 13, 2011 in Neighborhoods      24 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


feature

About the Downtown Center Project (now JEA's Administration Building)



During the early 1960s, Robert H. Jacobs of S.S. Jacobs Company hired NYC-based architects, Ketchum & Sharp to design a $15 million mixed-use development straddling Church Street.  At the time, Downtown Center's Universal Marion Building would become the tallest building on the Northbank and second tallest in the city.  

The overall development would consist of four separate buildings bringing a mix of uses to downtown Jacksonville:


J.B. Ivey's & Company



Opening in August 1962, this six-floor, 180,000-square-foot department store would serve as the retail anchor of Downtown Center.  The seventh in the Charlotte-based chain, it was the first major department store to be constructed in a metropolitan United States downtown location in 30 years.


Universal-Marion Office Building



Opening in August 1962 along with Ivey's for $12 million, this 19-story, 226'-tall office building was the epicenter of the development, and included a rotating restaurant on the top floor.  Universal-Marion occupied floors 11 and 12.


Park South Building



Located across the street, this building opened on Nov. 13, 1960.  It consisted of a six-level, 400-space parking garage with a Purcell's Women's Store at ground level.


Medical Building (never built)

This five-story building would have sat at the corner of Main & Church Streets.  Plans called for it to contain a 250-space underground parking garage, along with a drugstore and restaurant at street level.  A "temporary" surface parking lot has been on this site for nearly 50 years.



Above Downtown Jacksonville



Owned by Carl Holmquist, the 250-seat Ember's Restaurant opened on the 18th floor of the Universal Marion Building in 1964.  Rotating 360 degrees every 1.5 hours, it was said to be the largest revolving restaurant in the world.  Live Maine lobsters were flown in from Booth Bay, Maine every Friday at the restaurant, which stayed open until 12:30am daily.  Business would decline as the city's suburban areas began to increase in popularity and replace downtown as the city's social center.  By the early 1970s, the Ember's Restaurant would be no more.  Today, this space has been converted into office use for the Jacksonville Electric Authority.  

















Did You Know?

The 1971 Downtown Master Plan proposed to combine Downtown Center with May-Cohen Department Store (now City Hall) to create a multiple-level shopping mall.  The three potential anchors, May-Cohens, Ivey's and Purcell's, all closed before the plan could be implemented.








For more information on the 1971 Downtown Master Plan: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-jul-downtown-frankenstein-revisiting-the-1971-masterplan















Despite only being 19 stories, the JEA Tower's conference room offers premium views of the city.  Considering JEA is a public entity, one can't help but hope that one day this space will be opened for the general public to enjoy.


Article and images by Ennis Davis.







24 Comments

Noone

September 13, 2011, 03:44:13 AM
Nice article and pictures.
And just imagine that out of town guest that is capturing a glimpse of our river and says what are those orange, green, yellow, red, blue, dots on the river.

Those are kayaks using the river because we promote Public Access and economic opportunity on our St. Johns River our American Heritage River a Federal Initiative.

Unfortunately right now in Duval county Florida we don't promote that type of economic opportunity. Are you allowed in your county?

dougskiles

September 13, 2011, 06:54:23 AM
Quote
Despite only being 19 stories, the JEA Tower's conference room offers premium views of the city.  Considering JEA is a public entity, one can't help but hope that one day this space will be opened for the general public to enjoy.

I don't have much hope for that.  Getting in that building to see a plan reviewer is more difficult than getting in to City Hall to see the mayor.  I can understand security concerns regarding water plants and power plants, but I don't understand what is going on inside the JEA offices that is so top-secret.

thelakelander

September 13, 2011, 06:56:26 AM
^True.  It's pretty difficult accessing that elevator.

simms3

September 13, 2011, 07:22:25 AM
That was quite a big city development when it was built, with 2 downtown department stores and that rotating restaurant open until 12:30 a.m. with live ME lobsters flown in!  I don't think Jacksonville has one restaurant open past midnight now...What happened?

acme54321

September 13, 2011, 08:02:26 AM
Nice article and pictures.
And just imagine that out of town guest that is capturing a glimpse of our river and says what are those orange, green, yellow, red, blue, dots on the river.

Those are kayaks using the river because we promote Public Access and economic opportunity on our St. Johns River our American Heritage River.

Unfortunately right now in Duval county Florida we don't promote that type of economic opportunity. Are you allowed in your county?

Ok we get it, you love kayaking.  But do you have to make some vaguely connected post about our American heritage river in what seems like every other thread on these forums?

thelakelander

September 13, 2011, 08:43:14 AM
That was quite a big city development when it was built, with 2 downtown department stores and that rotating restaurant open until 12:30 a.m. with live ME lobsters flown in!  I don't think Jacksonville has one restaurant open past midnight now...What happened?

Good question.  A book worthy chain of disastrous events on how to destroy a vibrant downtown scene in less than 20 years.

David

September 13, 2011, 09:09:32 AM
When I worked at JEA a few years ago, it was always hard paying attention during the meetings we had in the former revolving restaurant. It was torture actually, looking over the city seeing what everyone else is doing outside. It really made you NOT want to be at work.

During a meeting one day towards the end of my tenure there, we saw a small mushroom cloud rising up from the ground near the Northside Generating Station (pictured last). That was the T-2 lab explosion that rocked the area. It actually knocked one of the power turbines offline for a few seconds, the city was really close to a blackout that day.

Either way, that view is pretty sweet & I do agree that it should somehow be open for public access, maybe even converted back into a restaurant some day. Jacksonville's dining scene has matured over the past decade so it would be a nice addition, but you have your typical office security concerns that will prevent that as long as JEA's there. Especially with as many angry customers they have. They don't want just anyone walking into their offices....it might get ugly!

duvaldude08

September 13, 2011, 10:17:23 AM
They should have left the rotating resturant as a it was. And It opened it up to the public.

simms3

September 13, 2011, 11:15:07 AM
Security concerns should not be a preventative measure for mixed uses and tourist attractions within a building.  I don't know the elevator capacity or how the bay is arranged, but it is a small building and fewer than 20 floors (so there is only a need for one elevator bay).  I don't see why it can't be done to convert one of the elevators to an express to shuttle between the lobby and the rotating restaurant space.  I don't think that rotating restaurant would do well as a restaurant any more, but I think it could make a great bar/lounge with small food options, open to the public from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. M-W, 11-Midnight on Thursday, and 11-2 Friday, 5 p.m. - 2 a.m. Sat, and customized for Sunday/ game day events.

Perhaps it could be arranged to put in turnstiles for the general elevators, provide a queu for the freight, thereby separating JEA offices from public space.  Also, by putting in RFID readers on exit stairwell doors, patrons won't be able to come "down" into the offices.  The elevator turnstiles would also prevent the general public from entering the elevators without checking in.  That's how most new office buildings where I am are, and office buildings where I am actually have a much greater need for security than that tiny little thing (so IOW no big deal, quick, cheap, and easy fixes).  If BOA and Modis and Riverplace can have public or semi-public space at the top of their much more iconic buildings filled with more sensitive firms (and law firms), JEA building has no excuse not to do something with the top.

mbstout

September 13, 2011, 01:39:16 PM
It should be turned into a retro boutique hotel a la The Maritime Hotel in NYC, and the space upstairs should be used for events, a bar etc. like The Boom Boom Room and Le Bain at the top of the Standard Hotel in NYC's meatpacking district..
I just don't think Jacksonville has the 'cool' factor in attracting small boutique hotel chains like these (or the Ace Hotel) for them to consider entering our market..

KenFSU

September 13, 2011, 01:59:46 PM
During a meeting one day towards the end of my tenure there, we saw a small mushroom cloud rising up from the ground near the Northside Generating Station (pictured last). That was the T-2 lab explosion that rocked the area. It actually knocked one of the power turbines offline for a few seconds, the city was really close to a blackout that day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aGwSBXDzPg

dougsandiego

September 13, 2011, 06:53:27 PM
Is there no market at all for downtown shopping? That mall concept using existing buildings looks like it was a great idea. Combine it with a streetcar or trolley line that reaches out to some logical destinations and maybe also connects the trolley to your Skyway and  it might help jumpstart the area.

The revolving lounge, restored in a retro theme would be great fun.

Do you have a core group, besides Metro Jacksonville, that is also championing the revival of the area? It seems everything revolves around getting activists and at least a few political leaders on board. Every article I read here seems to hint at a vacuum on the political front. I think that you might need to focus on regime change. Lack of leadership seems to be the problem, because I also sense a strong civic pride amongst the citizens who post here.

San Diego is certainly not the best, but I will say that the numerous citizen groups here (too numerous to list)regularly kick political butt, and often resort to court action to keep the self anointed ones in check.

simms3

September 13, 2011, 07:14:48 PM
There is no market at all for downtown shopping.  That can change, but that is the current situation.

There is no demand for more hotels downtown, either.  Hotels in downtown Jax suffer from a lack of conventions and events and tourism.

There is no means for someone local to put in something with a cool factor.  Sometimes it requires major capital partners like Canyon-Johnson Funds or private funds with the experience based in other cities.  They don't seem to be coming to Jacksonville any time soon and nobody in our town has the experience or capital to risk that much money to put in a cool boutique hotel with major restaurant/bar/club/shops when there is no proven demand and only proven "non-demand" for such things in our city.

This is a single tenant office building, and as we can see there is demand for that in limited quantities downtown (not a huge government or HQ city).

Basically, JEA has no reason or incentive to do *anything* with the building.  They own it and occupy the entire thing.  It is only 220,000 SF, which is smaller than the 12 floor mid-rise apartment building about to go up next to me (325,000 SF), and it was last renovated 30 years ago (which would make it a C- property in the eyes of private landlords).

It would be a difficult building to convert to hospitality or residential use considering the elevator shaft is on one side, the back side, leaving a huge block of usable floor space.  And a renovation of the base to address the street better and for aesthetic purposes (basically no income producing purpose for our public utility that we pay for because they can't put rentable shops down there) would cost a couple million dollars, at our expense through fees or rate hikes (if the city does not foot that bill, and why should they?).  The building's floor plates are open, but not really large enough for huge servers, which tech/healthcare companies use.  Its uses are very limited.

BUT, something can be done about the thing at the top, and I think someone with political clout should start a campaign for it to garnish city/political support to do something there.  It will have to be run by the city, inadvertently, since JEA is a municipal institution, which happens to own that building and the land.  A private group can run the restaurant or bar and brand it, perhaps lease it from JEA, but a private group can't own that part of the building outright.  JEA, even if it leases it out, will have to fork over a good $75+/SF in tenant allowances to get that thing running again.

mtraininjax

September 13, 2011, 07:31:47 PM
What did JEA do with their old building on Julia? I believe it has been empty for almost 10 years.

duvaldude08

September 13, 2011, 07:36:59 PM
Security concerns should not be a preventative measure for mixed uses and tourist attractions within a building.  I don't know the elevator capacity or how the bay is arranged, but it is a small building and fewer than 20 floors (so there is only a need for one elevator bay).  I don't see why it can't be done to convert one of the elevators to an express to shuttle between the lobby and the rotating restaurant space.  I don't think that rotating restaurant would do well as a restaurant any more, but I think it could make a great bar/lounge with small food options, open to the public from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. M-W, 11-Midnight on Thursday, and 11-2 Friday, 5 p.m. - 2 a.m. Sat, and customized for Sunday/ game day events.

Perhaps it could be arranged to put in turnstiles for the general elevators, provide a queu for the freight, thereby separating JEA offices from public space.  Also, by putting in RFID readers on exit stairwell doors, patrons won't be able to come "down" into the offices.  The elevator turnstiles would also prevent the general public from entering the elevators without checking in.  That's how most new office buildings where I am are, and office buildings where I am actually have a much greater need for security than that tiny little thing (so IOW no big deal, quick, cheap, and easy fixes).  If BOA and Modis and Riverplace can have public or semi-public space at the top of their much more iconic buildings filled with more sensitive firms (and law firms), JEA building has no excuse not to do something with the top.

All great ideas!

thelakelander

September 13, 2011, 10:40:35 PM
Would something like Boston's Prudential Skywalk Observatory or Richmond City Hall's observation deck work?



Quote
Visit the Skywalk Observatory, Boston's only sky-high vantage point for sweeping 360 degree views of Greater Boston and beyond. Let your eyes and ears do the walking as you experience the exclusive state-of-the-art Acoustiguide audio tour detailing the city's many points of historic and cultural interest. Offered in 2 additional languages, French Canadian and Japanese.

The Skywalk Observatory & Exhibit is open 7 days a week.
Winter Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. November 1 - March 28.
From March 29 - October 31, the Skywalk will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (last elevator leaves at 9:30 p.m.)

You can purchase tickets at the Skywalk Observatory Kiosk located in Prudential Arcade. The kiosk is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., 7 days a week. In the event the kiosk is closed, you may also purchase tickets at the Skywalk entrance located on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower.

The Skywalk does close for private functions. Please call ahead to confirm that they will be open on the day you arrive.
http://www.prudentialcenter.com/shop/shop_detail.php?id=64

simms3

September 13, 2011, 11:43:33 PM
Can you give us figures for Richmond City Hall's observation visitor numbers?  With the cheap and good for the price cafe at the top of the BOA building right now, I don't see how it would work without something else to draw people.  Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Houston all have observation decks at least 700 ft up, and all are cities with much more to see and some sort of additional draw (or attached convention hotel, etc).  I know the decks in Chicago and Atlanta also offer overpriced booze for visitors, which is nice because when it is crowded there is a wait to get down.  The decks in NYC and Chicago also offer outside roaming, which is an appeal all its own when you are 1,000 ft up.

thelakelander

September 13, 2011, 11:54:25 PM
Richmond City Hall's observation deck is a free public viewing space at the top of their city hall building.  The building is 19 stories/315ft tall.  It's the 5th tallest building in DT Richmond.  At this point, I don't know how many visitors it gets on an annual basis.

Quote
Richmond Tourist Attractions: City Hall Observation Deck - 901 East Broad Street, 9th and Broad Streets, Richmond, Virginia (VA), 23219-1906, USA
Tel: +1 804 646 5990

Offering panoramic views of the Richmond skyline, City Hall Observation Deck is the ideal place to start your tour of the city and get your geographical bearings. The deck can be reached via stairs leading to the 19th floor, while those who are feeling less energetic can take a smooth ride up in the elevator.

Richmond tourist attraction open: Monday to Friday - 08:00 to 17:00, Saturday and Sunday - 08:00 to 20:00
Richmond tourist attraction admission: free



simms3

September 14, 2011, 12:53:03 AM
Sure works.  I think if a city hall can do it, an electric authority can at least make that space public.  I'd like to see a profitable enterprise up there, but at a minimum something.

Noone

September 16, 2011, 05:18:15 AM
Nice article and pictures.
And just imagine that out of town guest that is capturing a glimpse of our river and says what are those orange, green, yellow, red, blue, dots on the river.

Those are kayaks using the river because we promote Public Access and economic opportunity on our St. Johns River our American Heritage River.

Unfortunately right now in Duval county Florida we don't promote that type of economic opportunity. Are you allowed in your county?

Ok we get it, you love kayaking.  But do you have to make some vaguely connected post about our American heritage river in what seems like every other thread on these forums?

Respectfully acme54321 yes. Because Public Access and economic opportunity to our St. Johns River our American Heritage River a Federal Initiative has been crushed in this community. Most recent 2011-560 Shipyards/Landmar. Saw Scott Wilson last night as an exclamation point to my whirlwind time with North Miami yesterday. I told Scott that Don is leading the conspiracy to deny the people of Jacksonville to Public Access and Economic opportunity and its flat out wrong.

As for the  JEA potential as a tourist attraction and revenue generator for a yet to be created Downtown Independent Authority I can see it moving forward. As for other existing venues that exist in this city what is there?
Free? Charges?
The Boston one seems steep in price. But then again to do once and for visitors.

I know its exciting as heck to attend the Board meeting of Downtown Vision and look at the river from the 23rd floor.

As a kid I always remember a field trip in to go to the top of the Empire State Building.
 

Riverrat

September 26, 2011, 02:03:27 PM
JEA could actually make money by leasing the top to an upscale, perhaps nationally recognized, restaurant. Just turn one elevator in to an express elevator and have a security desk downstairs, on duty while the restaurant is open. Everyone always raves about the view at Ruth's Chris/Crowne Plaza...imagine if Morton's had opened at the top of JEA instead of building a suburban outfit with NO windows and thus NO view...

wsansewjs

September 26, 2011, 04:11:09 PM
Seriously, turning the spinning-top restaurant into an office is a cardinal sin for ANY property developer.

-Josh

Noone

October 14, 2011, 06:37:04 AM
Would something like Boston's Prudential Skywalk Observatory or Richmond City Hall's observation deck work?



Quote
Visit the Skywalk Observatory, Boston's only sky-high vantage point for sweeping 360 degree views of Greater Boston and beyond. Let your eyes and ears do the walking as you experience the exclusive state-of-the-art Acoustiguide audio tour detailing the city's many points of historic and cultural interest. Offered in 2 additional languages, French Canadian and Japanese.

The Skywalk Observatory & Exhibit is open 7 days a week.
Winter Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. November 1 - March 28.
From March 29 - October 31, the Skywalk will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (last elevator leaves at 9:30 p.m.)

You can purchase tickets at the Skywalk Observatory Kiosk located in Prudential Arcade. The kiosk is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., 7 days a week. In the event the kiosk is closed, you may also purchase tickets at the Skywalk entrance located on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower.

The Skywalk does close for private functions. Please call ahead to confirm that they will be open on the day you arrive.
http://www.prudentialcenter.com/shop/shop_detail.php?id=64

Lake, When we were in Boston last week because of this suggestion we checked it out. We went to the restaurant on the 52nd floor instead of the $13 a piece for the 360 degree 50th floor.

We were there around lunch time and they had a $22 three course option. Soup or salad, 3 entreas, choice of a desert. And it was awesome.  A local made this suggestion to us as we were checking things out. 

The view was spectacular. Watching the planes take off and land at Logan. A cruise ship was in port. The Boston Commons and we walked to it. Took lots of pics. before the day was over we were over at Bunker Hill and enjoyed the Freedom Trail.

What will become of the 19th floor of the JEA building? Like our river. Open it up.

KenFSU

October 14, 2011, 08:44:42 AM
The view was spectacular. Watching the planes take off and land at Logan. A cruise ship was in port. The Boston Commons and we walked to it. Took lots of pics.

Would love to see a few of the pics, Noone!
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