The Markets At Town Center Revisited

August 8, 2011 26 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The extension to the St. John's Town Center that blends high-end restaurants, casual eateries, chain stores, boutique retail, and nightlife in an extremely compact setting, is still growing. Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the functioning plaza now.

While The Markets at Town Center is situated in very close quarters, squaring off the northeast area of the center, closest to Gate Parkway and JTB, the development can be broken into distinct sections. On the forefront of the complex, facing mainstream traffic on Town Center Parkway, is one strip comprised of chain giants and small eatery franchises, with stand-alone companies to the front and right sides. Connecting to retail on the far left end, behind it, is a large wraparound plaza that sits half empty space, adjacent to a cobblestone corridor dressed with retail shops and two nightlife "hotspots." There is a stand-alone restaurant that sits to the left of this megaplex, and surrounding others are in the works.

Owned by Atlanta-based Ben Carter Properties, a developer of the original St. Johns Town Center in 2003 along with Simon Property Group, here is a look at the businesses up and running and new ones in the works.

Starting at this point, the photos below are displayed in the order they're seen - starting from the right end of the strip when you curve around Ulta Beauty's storefront, down the left ending at West Marine. As you'll see, there are still several vacant spaces in the strip. The Suite/Whisky River corridor is adjacent to the strip, to the left.

Below, somewhat new (past six months) stand alone businesses, to the left of the plaza front that face Gate Parkway and stand in front of Costco's.

A CVS stands in the background, Pollo Tropical in the middle, and the Zaxby's on the other side.

The Entertainment Complex

Whisky River
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s bar and country sports joint holds several events such as frequent big and small act concerts, a monthly "Boots and Bikinis" contest, DJ's, trivia night, benefit nights, and hosts all big sporting events on the "big screen". They also have a mechanical bull behind one of two bars in the compact setting.

At night, the lights are dimmed. You can make out in this image dining booths in the forefront clothed in cowhide, with one bar behind it. The mechanical bull sits somewhat raised behind the bar.

Photo courtesy of Whisky River Facebook.

Photo courtesy of Whisky River Facebook.

Photo courtesy of Whisky River Facebook.

The tapas lounge and nightclub also has event nights almost daily and host's world-renowned DJ's, local fashion shows, and service industry nights, among others.

BlackFinn American Grill

The restaurant stands alone adjacent to Whisky River's outside patio.

Outside dining.

Photo of patio courtesy of BlackFinn Facebook.

Interior photo courtesy of BlackFinn Facebook.

New Construction

A look at new businesses under construction in The Markets land division.

The closest land site is going to be another Shell Station on behalf of First Coast Energy/Petro Services Inc. In the background, chain restaurant BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse is in the works.

What is BJ's?
BJ's Restaurants serve quality food and fresh, handcrafted beers in a casual, high-energy atmosphere. We have a lively bar with plenty of televisions throughout the restaurant, but we're not a "sports bar." We offer our unique handcrafted beer, but we're not a "brew pub." We're just a high-energy, casual dining restaurant that offers quality food and handcrafted beer at a good value to our guests.
Our Story
It was 1978 when two guys who had a great recipe for deep dish pizza opened the first BJ’s in Santa Ana, California. The pizza was an immediate hit and, as years went by, new BJ’s restaurants were opened in beach cities along Southern California’s coastline. In 1996, with seven restaurants in operation from San Diego to Los Angeles, the first BJ’s brewery began production in our new restaurant in Brea, California. The introduction of fine handcrafted beer was welcomed by guests and the newly renamed BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery concept was launched. New menu items and new beers have been added through the years as the BJ’s brand has expanded across the U.S.

On tap, look for BJ's eight regular brews, including BJ's LightSwitch Lager, Harvest Hefeweizen, Piranha Pale Ale, Nutty Brewnette, Tatonka Stout and more.

The pending construction of BJ's follows the 2010 openings of Whisky River, BlackFinn American Grill, Suite, Libretto's Pizzeria, Pollo Tropical and Zaxby's at the Markets at Town Center.

The area has become the destination for restaurants looking to introduce their brands to Northeast Florida diners. With the exception of Zaxby's, all are the first of their chains in Jacksonville — and the first in Florida, excluding Pollo Tropical, popular is South and Central Florida.

BJ's operates six restaurants in Florida, including Gainesville and Daytona Beach. The chain is on track to open a dozen or so restaurants this year, the release noted.

Seasons 52, a fresh grill and wine bar, is planning a fall opening behind The Markets adjacent to The Capital Grille. There are 16 total locations, six being in Florida, and this is the first in northeast Florida. It's part of Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, which also operates The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze in the town center.

NAI Commercial Jacksonville has negotiated a lease deal in Jacksonville on behalf of Charles Schwab & Company, the tenant. Charles Schwab has leased about 6,000 square feet of space in the Markets of Town Center located next to St. Johns Town Center. The tenant has leased the build-to-suit facility, situated on Town Center Parkway. Construction work on the facility will start in April, and the work will be completed in September 2011.

Quick Facts

The Markets at Town Center will feature:

450 Residential Units
150,000 square feet of anchor space
95,000 square feet of specialty boutique merchants
25,000 square feet of unique restaurants
Approximately 7 outparcels

Location Perks
The Times Union Business Section - Dec. 2010
Ben Carter, the Atlanta developer who started the whole project, said that the Town Center's restaurants are doing $1,000 a square foot in annual revenue, placing them in the top 3 percent in the nation.

Consider that restaurant/clubs Whisky River, BlackFinn American Saloon and Suite are all located together in EpiCenter, a much bigger Landing-like complex in downtown Charlotte.

But when its developers there decided to open the three clubs in Jacksonville, they didn't go to the Landing, they didn't go downtown. They went to the Markets at Town Center.

Along the way, Jacksonville stores shut their doors and moved there, often leaving storefronts that still remain unoccupied.

Toys R Us closed its stores near the Regency and Avenues malls to open one at the Town Center, the first in the chain that combined with Babies R Us. The Regency store still stands empty, as does the Barnes & Noble after it shut and moved to Town Center.
The space West Marine left on University Boulevard to move to the Town Center still stands empty. Down on Southside Boulevard, the old CompUSA is now empty with a sign announcing that it's moved ... to the Town Center.

Though the template for shopping centers has been an enclosed mall for decades, the Town Center developers went a different direction and left the roof off. Though some of it is a series of strip centers, a main street was created, lined with stores, angle parking, benches and plants that gives more the feel of city than shopping center.

Carter said it fits particularly well in Jacksonville, with its Florida weather and a younger demographic that thinks more urban than suburban.

"A lot of the great shopping districts around the world are on streets," he said.

And it's worked so well that Carter said his company plans to develop only open air centers for awhile.

What's To Come

The Markets at Town Center was developed with the goal of an "entertainment center" in mind. This overzealous vision however, has yet to be made true.

Please stay tuned for a Ben Carter Properties follow-up article revealing the current plans, as we are in communications with the company now to find out what is going on?

Article and photos by Sarah Gojekian.