A new office tower for JEA coming soon?

August 19, 2015 26 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

We've recently learned that the downtown campus the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA), once gleefully proclaimed a Christmas present to JEA, is now viewed as a crumbling albatross. To rid itself of the imposing liability, the JEA is moving forward with study to determine if it should retrofit, move, or demolish and rebuild their 19-story downtown headquarters. If we view this situation outside of the JEA's perspective, the resolution becomes quite clear.

The Charter Company's 1980's fall from grace did not turn out to be a negative for everyone.  It ended up with the JEA getting a sweetheart deal when it purchased Charter's former headquarters complex at 21 West Church Street for $8 million. JEA's Chairman Joseph Coleman told the Florida Times-Union that the December 1988 purchase was "a super, win-win deal". City Finance Director Bernie Shainbrown went as far as to call it a "real Christmas present and a tremendous benefit to the city.

The discussion taking place today should not surprise anyone familiar with the history of downtown Jacksonville's development. Our skyline was largely built by corporations and public entities that have expanded or developed new modern operations as they've grown over time. The growth of the defunct Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company during the mid-20th century is a great example of this phenomenon. In 1955, Independent Life expanded their downtown corporate operations by developing the 19-story Independent Life Building, 233 West Duval Street in 1955. Fifteen years later, it found itself out of space and resolved its growing pains by building  what is now the 37-story - 535-foot-tall Wells Fargo Center in 1974.

According to 1988 interviews with JEA's director Royce Lyles, JEA would move 300 workers into the complex and that it would meet the needs of the JEA for at least the next 20 years. Well 20 years is quickly approaching and the building now houses 758 employees, more than double what was initially envisioned.

Complicating the situation, despite acquiring the building for $5 million less than its 1988 appraisal value, JEA openly admits it has not properly maintained the structure. Already dealing with industry declines in electric and water sales and President Obama's Clean Power Plan, the JEA is now faced with having to replace the critical systems it has not maintained, such as elevators, plumbing and fire protection systems. With this in mind, JEA is spending $1 million to consider their next move:

1. Demolish the tower and build a replacement

2. Renovate the tower

3. Build a replacement on another site

This six-story structure, now housing JEA's customer service center, was designed to structurally support two additional floors when built in 1962.

One more fact to toss into this dilemma. No matter the choice, the JEA expects the estimated cost to run between $40 to $50 million. So, without spending $1 million in cash, let's take a larger perspective than just the JEA's needs to eliminate two of these options from realistic consideration:

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