An Empty Feeling: Inside The Walls Of Downtown

October 27, 2010 55 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Ever wonder why you're the only one walking down streets that were once full of life and energy around the clock? We tend to talk a great deal about revitalizing downtown, but the result of our actions and priorities over the years show another story. Metro Jacksonville presents a photo tour of the morbid scene left behind inside the walls of Downtown Jacksonville as corporate tenants continue to flee the city's once proud urban core.

Downtown's Decline

Once known as the Hartford of the South for its high number of insurance companies and the home of the "Big Three," downtown has been in a serious state of decline for nearly a quarter century now. The desolate scene now witnessed at street level can be attributed to the fall of Downtown Jacksonville as a major banking and insurance center. If the Northbank is to return to its former glory, a plan must be developed that transforms the district into a new economic power.

Downtown's Continued Decline

According to Downtown Vision's 2010 "Turning the Corner: Rethinking and Remaking Downtown" study, the following has taken place since 1992.

- The workforce has fallen from an estimated 60,000 jobs to 51,000.

- Downtown used to account for 13.5 percent of the city's tax base. Now it's 3.2 percent.

- Retail is "virtually nonexistent," with more than 40 vacant retail storefronts in the core.

- No major commercial tower has been built since 1990, the longest period of stagnation since World War II.

- Half the 25-block area in the heart of downtown can be described as a dead zone - with vacant properties, buildings less than 25 percent occupied, and surface parking lots and garages.

Source: Walkable area proposed to get city more for its money Group says reviving city's core must go block-by-block, Florida Times-Union, 3/30/2010

The Rise & Fall of Being Florida's Dominant Banking Center

A look at the rise and fall of downtown Jacksonville's "Big Three" financial institutions.

1877 - Barnett Bank is founded by William and Bion Barnett.

1903 - Atlantic National Bank is founded by Edward W. Lane, Thomas P. Denham and Fred W. Hoyt in the Dyal-Upchurch Building.

1905 - Samuel Hubbard's Mercantile Exchange Bank becomes First National Bank (FNB).

1909 - Atlantic National Bank constructs Jacksonville's second skyscraper (121 Atlantic Place).

1926 - Atlantic National Bank constructs the 10-story Atlantic Bank Annex (Schultz Building) at a cost of $400,000.

1926 - Barnett Bank completes the 18-story Barnett Building.  The Barnett Building would remain Jacksonville's tallest until 1954.

1929 - Alfred I. DuPont gains control of FNB.

1935 - Ed Ball, Jessie DuPont's (Alfred I. DuPont's wife) gains control of FNB.

1955 - First National Bank is the second largest commercial bank in Florida behind Barnett Bank.

1961 - First National Bank completes their 11 story headquarters (now the Ed Ball Building) on Adams Street.

1974 - Atlantic National Bank's headquarters moves into the recently completed 278' 18-story 200 West Forsyth Street.

1987 - Atlantic National Bank of Florida is acquired by First Union.

1990 - Florida National Bank is acquired by Charlotte based-First Union for $849 million

1993 - Barnett completes construction of the 42-story Barnett Tower.  The 617' tower is the second tallest building in Florida.

1995 - Ranked 360, Barnett Bank makes the Fortune 500 list.  Barnett would remain a Fortune 500 company until its demise.

1997 - Nations Bank (now BOA) announces plans to purchase 120-year old Jacksonville-based Barnett Bank.  Employing 6,800 locally at the time, Barnett was the largest Florida-based bank and city's leading corporate giver.

2004 - Wachovia (formerly First Union) relocates 2,000 employees to the Southside as it leaves Florida National Bank's former downtown headquarters.

The Rise & Fall of The Hartford of the South

Up until the last 20 years, Jacksonville was known as the "Hartford of the South" due to its high concentration of insurance companies. Due to a combination of closures, mergers and cutbacks, downtown is no longer the important national centerpiece of the industry that it once was.

1901 Afro-American Life Insurance founded

1916 Gulf Life moves its home office to Jacksonville

1920 Independent Life founded

1944 Florida Hospital Service Corp., the forerunner of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, begins operations in Jacksonville

1946 Florida Medical Services Corp. forms

1952 Prudential Insurance Co. of America selects Jacksonville to be its Southeast operations center

1956 American Heritage Life founded State Farm opens regional headquarters in Jacksonville

1958 Carolina Casualty Insurance Co. relocates to Jacksonville

1969 Peninsular Life Insurance Co. opens in Jacksonville

1977 Zurich Insurance Services Inc. founded, known as Home Builders Insurance Program

1980 Florida Medical Services Corp. and Florida Hospital Services Corp. consolidates to form Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida

1984 American General Corp. purchases Gulf Life Insurance Co. and moves jobs out of town

Data Financial, a Gulf company, becomes a separate company after sale of Gulf

1987 Afro-American files bankruptcy

1988 Peninsular sold to Scottish company

1990 George Washington Life Insurance Co., a Jacksonville-based company, is seized by regulators

1991 American General Corp., parent company for Gulf Life, merges Jacksonville Gulf operations with Nashville company and moves jobs out of town.

Regulators seize control of local operations of Guarantee Security Life Insurance Co. after junk bond portfolio tanks

Regulators liquidate Jacksonville-based American Security Life Assurance Co.

Jacksonville's Voyager Life Insurance Co. merges with an out-of-town company by its parent company for cost-savings

Jacksonville investors sell National Farmers Union Life Insurance Co. and Loyalty Life Insurance Co. to a Kansas City, Mo., holding company.

1995 American General begins purchase of Independent Life and eventually moves jobs to Nashville, Tenn.

1996 FPIC Insurance Group Inc. forms

1997 State Farm announces it will move its regional headquarters out of town

1998 AmeriHealth opens Jacksonville offices for Florida market headquarters

1999 Allstate acquires AHL for $1.1 billion.

Mission: Health, managed care group, files for bankruptcy

Aetna Inc. acquires Prudential HealthCare for about $1 billion

2000 AmeriHealth of Florida, a Jacksonville-based HMO of Philadelphia-based parent company AmeriHealth Inc. stops Florida sales

Data Financial Inc. and Harden & Assoc., two local employee benefits companies, merges to expand business; no jobs lost

Kemper Insurance Cos. moves its individual and family group business headquarters to Jacksonville

Aetna lays off 155 employees

2001 American Heritage Life Insurance Co. changes name to Allstate Financial Workplace Division

Fortune Insurance Co. placed in receivership because of financial problems

2002 Prudential lays off 35 Jacksonville employees

Aetna cuts about 400 Jacksonville jobs

Humana closes Jacksonville service center and lays off 519 Jacksonville employees

National Grange Mutual Insurance Co. expands its primary corporate operations in Keene, N.H. to Jacksonville

Source: Insurance Mecca no longer Closures, mergers, cutbacks mean Jacksonville is no longer the Hartford of the South, Florida Times-Union, 2/24/2003

The Loss of Other Major Players

The Charter Company

The Charter Company was founded by Raymond Knight Mason in 1949. Charter eventually grew into a conglomerate with more than 180 subsidiaries that was in Fortune 500 for 11 years beginning in 1974 and ranked 61st in 1984 before it sought bankruptcy protection, spiraling into obscurity later that year.

The Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc.

In 1850, Jacob Brock opened Jacksonville's first shipyard off East Bay Street.  By 1918, with 1,500 employees, the Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock & Repair Company had grown to become the largest dry dock between Newport News (Norfolk) and New Orleans. The shipyard was sold multiple times in the 1950s and 60s, becoming the Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc. (JSI) in 1963.  In 1977, with over 2,500 workers, JSI had grown to become Jacksonville's largest civilian employer. Like many of downtown's longtime economic engines, the shipyards began to lose money for a string of consecutive years, which ultimately led to the company shutting down for good in 1992.

When you lose this many anchors over a twenty year period, it is not suprising that downtown would decline as a result.  When your anchors leave, supporting entertainment, hospitality, dining and retail tend to follow.  While we can blame the Southside for taking companies away, we should consider that we have a downtown economic model that has refused to adapt to the changing trends of today's economic climate.  

Article by Ennis Davis