Midtown Centre: The Nation's First Office Park

Several innovative ideas envisioned and produced in Jacksonville have significantly altered the pattern of urban development in our country. Today, thousands of office parks line major highways in cities all across the nation. Unknown to most Jaxons, the nation's first suburban office park was developed in Jacksonville in 1957 and still exists today.

Published March 14, 2013 in Development - MetroJacksonville.com

Ira McKissick Koger (1912-2004) is credited with creating the office park concept.  During his career, he designed, built, financed, and leased more than 30 office parks acros the country, producing $150 million in annual rent.

Born in Charleston, SC, Koger first came to Jacksonville in 1939 to serve as an advertising manager for an afternoon newspaper. After entering the Navy during World War II, Koger returned to Jacksonville and eventually took over a construction company owned by his wife's great-uncle, O.P. Woodcock.

In the mid-1950s, Koger envisioned the concept of the suburban office complex as an alternative to Jacksonville's congested downtown, high-rise offices. He believed that businesses would prefer offices in the suburbs with easy access to highways and ample free surface parking.  

Koger's original office complex opened as the Koger Center a few miles outside of downtown in Jacksonville's fairly undeveloped Southside in 1957. The concept proved to be very popular and highly successful. As Koger expanded the suburban office concept to other communities, other developers took note and did the same. Koger Properties eventually developed 350 buildings in 36 office parks across the country by the time it collapsed under heavy debt load, filing for Chapter 11 protection in 1991.

In 1999, Koger Equity Inc. sold the pioneering office park to Lennar Partners of Miami as a part of a plan to get rid of older properties. At the time of the sell, Jacksonville-based Koger Equity had 263 office buildings operating or under construction in 15 cities throughout the country.

Now known as the Midtown Centre and owned by D Group Equities, the nation's first suburban office complex features 31 buildings comprising 762,993 square feet.

Believing that the quality of a community's cultural life will attract business, Koger also developed the home of the former Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art, at his office park in 1967.

In Jacksonville, he was also widely known for his staunch support of the arts. He rescued the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra from financial ruin in 1969. He created the St. Johns River City Band, the city's official group. He put together what is widely considered a world-class art collection, particularly of Chinese ceramics. He also helped establish American music and jazz studies at the University of North Florida. He was former chairman of the Florida Arts Council, and was a driving force behind local public television station WJCT.

By 1980, he was one of Jacksonville's most influential people.

"He was a good person to Jacksonville," said Jake Godbold, mayor from 1979 to 1987.

He served on the boards of dozens of charitable educational and art institutions, including the Lincoln Center Chairman's Council in New York, the Kennedy Center Advisory Board in Washington, D.C., National Public Broadcasting, Sarasota's John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and as chairman of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

He endowed the University of North Florida's Department of American Music/Jazz and was founder and chairman of the St. John's River City Band. He served on the board of WJCT-TV in Jacksonville for 30 years, including 17 years as its chairman.

The next time you pass a large suburban office development in this country, just remember the concept is one of  Jacksonville's many gifts that has had a global impact on society. Midtown Centre Office Park is located at 3947 Boulevard Center Drive, just west of St. Nicholas.

Article by Ennis Davis

sources: http://www.knowitall.org/legacy/laureates/Ira M. Koger.html

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