Located on the westside of Jacksonville, AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center is a first class, master planned multimodal business park being developed by Hillwood Investment Properties. Prior to life as a business center, the 4,474-acre site served as Naval Air Station (NAS) Cecil Field.
Naval Air Station (NAS) Cecil Field was the largest military base in terms of acreage in Jacksonville, once occupying 22,939 acres. Located ear the Westside, approximately 20 miles outside of downtown, the United States Navy base NAS Cecil Field was originally made up of four facilities: NAS Cecil field Complex, Outlying Field Whitehouse, Yellow Water Weapons Department, and the Pinecastle Electronic Warfare Target Area.
NAS Cecil Field was started in 1941 after land was purchased for the Navy in order to establish an auxiliary training field. Over 2500 acres of land was purchased for NAS Cecil Field. Which got its name in honor of Henry Barton Cecil, who died in the 1930s in the crash of the Navy Airship the USS Akron.
In 1942, VF and VSB units of Advanced Carrier Group, Atlantic arrived and began to commence pilot combat training.
In 1943, NAS Cecil Field became one of the principal training centers for war at sea and dive-bombing in the United States.
NAS Cecil Field was operational during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and all through the war. In fact, Cecil Field was often a pilot’s last stop before assignment to combat in either the Atlantic or Pacific fleet.
F-8As VF-62 over NAS Cecil Field 1962. Photography courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Air_Station_Cecil_Field#mediaviewer/File:F-18Cs_over_NAS_Cecil_Field_1994.JPEG
The end of the war brought a temporary halt to major traffic at Cecil Field. In 1952, over 4,500 acres of land were purchased and the station was rejuvenated as an operating base for fleet aircraft units. NAS Cecil Field had also been selected to become one of four stations that would be designated as Master Jet Bases, meaning that it would be used for the operation of carrier-based aircrafts.
NAS Cecil Field’s active engagement in major international conflicts, continued. The RF-8 Crusaders out of NAS Cecil field were the ones who detected the presence of missiles, as well as monitored Soviet activity, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least one squadron from NAS Cecil Field was abroad every Atlantic Fleet carrier deployed during the Vietnam War. Further, Cecil Field squadrons were also active during the Gulf War, as they deployed the first combat operations for the S-3B Viking, and the last combat deployment for the A-&E Corsair. Over the years, there were several Cecil Field pilots that were listed as either a Prisoner of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA). Included in this number was Captain Michael Scott Speicher, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot who became the first airman to be shot down on the opening night of the Persian Gulf War. Today, a POW/MIA memorial is located in the former base chapel.
NAS Cecil Field was identified for closure and decommissioned in 1993 by the Federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). As a result, Cecil Field’s 17 jet squadrons and most of its 8,500 personnel were transferred to three East Coast bases.
Upon this assignment, and the approval of the US Congress and President Bill Clinton, the City of Jacksonville initiated a reuse plan for Cecil Field. The base officially closed in 1999, and the City of Jacksonville’s hope was to take the site and make it into a facility that would support the local economy and community development.
F-18Cs over NAS Cecil Field 1994. Photograph courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Air_Station_Cecil_Field#mediaviewer/File:F-18Cs_over_NAS_Cecil_Field_1994.JPEG
Since 1999, the city of Jacksonville has spent roughly $200 million at and around Cecil Field. Over 17,000 of the establishment’s original acreage has been transferred to the hands of local authorities, including the Jacksonville Airport Authority and The Parks and Recreation Office. Cecil Commerce Center, which includes Cecil Airport, stands where the original naval base once stood.
A portion of the Cecil Commerce Center is Cecil Airport, a joint civil-military airport and spaceport. Owned now by the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, this airport series military aircraft, corporate aircraft, general aviation, and air cargo. Cecil airport covers approximately 6,000 acres and has four separate runways.
Additionally, Cecil Airport helps host FSCJ’s aviation course. They house both the course hanger and associated training aircrafts. Cecil Airport also houses operations facilities for large aerospace firms, such as Boeing and Northrop Grunnman.
Cecil Commerce Center itself covers over 4,000 acres of the original naval base. The Commerce Center was built with the intention of bringing a new industrial center to Jacksonville that would be a leading example in quality, speed, and access. The Commerce Center has received over $300 million in infrastructure, and now houses tenants such as the National Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue.
One of Cecil Commerce Center’s most popular tenants is Saft America, a lithium battery plant. Saft builds advanced lithium ion cells and batteries for renewable energy, smart grid support, transportation, and defense. Saft opened a 235,000 square-foot facility, with funding from the Department of Energy. The company has created millions of dollars in revenue and over 300 jobs.
Future location of GE Oil & Gas on Normandy Boulevard.
Recently, GE Oil & Gas have signed on as a tenant at the Cecil Commerce Center. A subsidiary of the Fortune 100 Company, the plant is set to open up its 500,000 square foot factory in November. The plant will be primarily be producing Becker and Mooney brand pressure valves, but is expected to expand their products in due time. There is a $50 million investment in the facility, and it is expected to bring over 500 jobs to the area.
While NAS Cecil Field is no longer with us, much of its infrastructure has been successfully repurposed, keeping the relevance of its location alive. Metro Jacksonville’s Ennis Davis takes you on a photo tour of AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center to show you just how far this westside activity center has come.