An Absentee Downtown

March 13, 2007 32 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Jacksonville Business Journal ( recent released their March edition of the Commercial Real Estate Journal. For those that haven’t seen this before, it contains a breakdown of the commercial real estate, based on regions of town. In the Downtown section, they show the details of many of the buildings available for lease.

One of the things that stands out in the report is the number of completely vacant buildings in the core.  Now, the ones surrounding the courthouse are sort of understandable – six blocks of moonscape isn’t a selling point – but there are a few buildings in the core that are completely vacant, and a significant number of them are managed by the same property management company, Petra Management.  A little research online turned up that these properties are owned by a gentleman named Chris Hionides, and managed by his property manager, Mary Farwell.

Here is just a sampling of his downtown properties:

EverBank Building – This building, at the corner of West Adams and North Julia, is actually more than half leased, but not for long.  EverBank is moving to their new headquarters on Riverside Avenue, which will leave the building largely vacant.


Bisbee-Baldwin Building – This building is at the corner of West Forsyth and North Pearl, and is probably the lesser known building with this name (one of the buildings in the Laura Trio bears the same name, as well as the building at the corner of Bay and Laura).


The Florida Ballet Building – This building was formerly home to (who else) The Florida Ballet, before moving to another location on State Street a few years back.  The building is now vacant.


Forsyth Building – This is the former American Heritage Life (remember those guys) Annex building, located at the corner of Forsyth and Main.  This building has now been vacant for several years now.

Holmes Block – This is the dominant building on East Bay Street between Ocean and Newnan Streets.  Other than John Zona Architects, the building is vacant.


Jones Brothers Furniture Building – This building has been home to a couple of furniture retailers over the years (most notably Jones Brothers), but now sits largely vacant.  There was talk of renovating the building several years ago, but nothing has happened since.


Seminole Club – This building once housed the famous Seminole Club, a private dining club that closed in the early 1990’s.  Sterling’s of Avondale tried to restore this building into a restaurant and private club, but after they and others failed, it fell into the hands of Hionides.  It now sits vacant.


What is the point behind all of this?  Well, do you remember all of those Metro Jacksonville articles about retail and connectivity?  Imagine the Avenues Mall with every other storefront vacant – would it work?

The fact is that if we are going to let every other building in downtown sit vacant until Donald Trump wants to pay a billion dollars for one of these buildings, we’re going to be waiting a long time.  Hionides owns enough buildings downtown that we are getting to the point that if we want this thing to happen, he’s going to have to get some tenants in these buildings, because his inactivity is holding downtown back.