September 28, 2023
Northeast Florida: Picking up the pieces

Photo: Rendering

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority wants to replace the Skyay rail system with driverless cars.

Economic Yearbook 2017

Northeast Florida: Picking up the pieces

Mark Basch | 3/28/2017


Historic Renovation

Once, the Blanche Hotel in downtown Lake City was a frequent stopover for the famous and infamous, ranging from Al Capone to Johnny Cash. But the hotel, built in 1902, has been shuttered for years. Some locals believe it’s haunted.

After years of delays, a $14-million, 14-month project to renovate the Blanche appears likely to get under way this month. The hotel will be converted into a multi-use building with 16 housing units and retail space; some 38,000 square feet will be converted into a new city hall, says Dennille Decker, executive director of the Lake City and Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.

A Georgia company, Integrity Development Partners, is spearheading the project, viewed as a centerpiece to a broader redevelopment of downtown Lake City. “They have a special niche for redeveloping old historic buildings through tax credits,” Decker says.


Priming Downtown

City officials are proposing two projects that would alter the landscape of downtown. One plan pushed by Mayor Lenny Curry involves demolishing a three-quarter-mile stretch of elevated expressway that connects the Hart Bridge over the St. Johns River to the downtown area. Curry says the 50-year-old road is outdated. Removing it, he says, will eliminate the need for costly repairs in the future — and will clear an area between the Jaguars’ EverBank Field and the riverfront for development. Curry asked the Duval County legislative delegation for help securing $50 million for the project, but the funding request may not come before 2018.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority would like to replace the underused Skyway rail system through downtown with driverless vehicles that would travel on the current Skyway tracks, as well as on new, ground-level tracks. The JTA executive staff, which made the proposal, has not given a cost or timeframe for that project.



Northeast Florida coastal communities are still feeling the impact of Hurricane Matthew. The October storm was the worst to hit the area in a half-century, and restoration projects will continue well into 2017.

Flagler County beaches saw extensive damage, including a 1. 3-mile segment of A1A that was washed away. Contractors completed temporary repairs of the highway right after the storm, but the state is working on a permanent fix. Gov. Rick Scott allocated $5.375 million for three separate projects to restore Flagler’s beaches, but county officials say it will take about $38 million to fully repair 18 miles of dunes.

The Jacksonville City Council approved $7.5 million to restore Duval County beaches, which lost most of their dunes. While that work is under way, it may take two years to fix and reopen the Jacksonville Beach Pier, which was heavily damaged by the storm. Jacksonville Beach is considering legal action against the pier’s manufacturer because the structural design that was supposed to protect the pier during hurricanes did not perform as advertised. A lawsuit would likely delay the repairs.

Jacksonville’s oceanfront Huguenot Park sustained an estimated $900,000 in damage from Matthew, including roads that were made impassible. The park was originally expected to be closed until spring but reopened in January while repair work continues.



Construction of a 7.3-mile,four-lane truck route to alleviate congestion on U.S.301 through downtown Starke is already having an impact, but not a good one, businesses say. The $90-million project, which began in August, is diverting business from restaurants and other downtown establishments. Business owners are hoping for a solution that will encourage travelers to get off the bypass and stop and visit the city. “This is kind of a hot-button issue right now,” says Pam Whittle, president of the North Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce.



An I-75 Relief Task Force recommended steps to alleviate congestion and safety concerns on the road between Tampa and the northern counties of the state. Proposals include expanding the capacity of the interstate from Hernando to Columbia counties and also expanding U. S. 301 from Hernando to Duval County and U.S. 41 from Hernando to Columbia. The task force also recommends exploring other options, including rail.


Despite ongoing protests by Floridians, construction of the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline continues. The 500-mile pipeline begins in east Alabama and continues through Georgia to Florida. About 268.5 miles of the pipeline are in Florida, including stretches through Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Alachua, Levy and Marion counties.

People to Watch

Tom Coughlin: The Jacksonville Jaguars reached back to their glory years by naming Coughlin executive vice president of football operations. Coughlin, the Jaguars’ first head coach, led the team to two AFC championship games from 1995 through 2002.

Hunter Harrison: Harrison, former CEO of Canadia Pacific and a railroad turnaround specialist, has been named CEO of CSX after a push by an activist investor, Paul Hilal. Harrison, 72, is expected to cut labor costs and close rail yards.

Don Fox: The CEO of Firehouse Subs is this year’s chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Jacksonville-based Firehouse has more than 1,000 restaurants in 44 states, Puerto Rico and Canada and recently opened its first franchise in Mexico. Fox says his goals include concentrating the restaurant industry on “employees who really make the industry run” and protecting it from “burdensome government regulations.”

Jay Monahan: The new PGA Tour commissioner wasted no time proposing a shakeup of the golf tour’s operations. Monahan, formerly deputy commissioner, advocates shifting the PGA Championship, traditionally the last of four major tournaments, from August to May, which would make it the second major of the year. He also wants to finish the FedEx Cup playoffs, which determine the tour’s overall champion, on Labor Day weekend so it doesn’t have to compete for TV viewers with football.

David Petty: As part of a renovation of the University of Florida’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Exactech paid $5.9 million to rename the basketball fl oor as Exactech Arena. The Gainesville company develops bone and joint restoration products and biologic materials. Petty, the son of Exactech founder William Petty, became CEO three years ago.

MaryAnne Morin: Jacksonville- based retailer Stein Mart hired Morin as president. Dawn Robertson came in as CEO last year with plans for new marketing strategies but resigned after only six months amid concerns she was moving too quickly. Morin most recently was executive vice president of Lord & Taylor.

Alachua County

County Population: 264,881, Ï+5.2% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 13.9%
Per Capita Income: $41,829

ALACHUA — CHT Medical is one of seven dispensaries in the state and the only one in northeast Florida allowed to distribute medical marijuana after Amendment 2 was approved by Florida voters in November. CHT is a division of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, a 36-year-old nursery.

Baker County

County Population: 28,144, Ï+4.1% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 7.6%
Per Capita Income: $28,404

BAKER COUNTY — Darryl Register, executive director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce, is optimistic about new businesses bringing jobs to the area this year. Register won’t divulge details but says two current prospects “are the strongest prospects we’ve had in some time.” Meanwhile, the county is still working on funding for a 3.2-mile road that will provide easier access from I-10 to an industrial park and a Walmart distribution center in Macclenny. “I’m hopeful the county can get that work done,” says Register.

Bradford County

County Population: 27,822, Ï+2.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 11.0%
Per Capita Income: $29,597

STUART — Despite concerns the U.S. 301 bypass may divert travelers from downtown Starke, a city asset report compiled by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity sees potential for growth. “There is both potential and a growing desire to attract businesses downtown to bring additional amenities and shopping opportunities into the local area. With infrastructure already in place, attracting businesses downtown may continue to significantly revitalize the area,” it says.

Clay County

County Population: 211,694, Ï+9.0% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 20.7%
Per Capita Income: $39,855

CLAY COUNTY — Zachary Schwartz, creator of a mobile app called intoGo, was the winner of Pitch in the Park, an innovation festival spotlighting Clay County entrepreneurs that organizers hope will become an annual event. The intoGo app helps users find fun things to do based on their personal profiles and location.

Columbia County

County Population: 70,306, Ï+3.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 13.9%
Per Capita Income: $32,441

LAKE CITY — The opening of the Marion Street Bistro and Brew House in 2014 and Halpatter Brewing this year in downtown Lake City are part of an explosion of new restaurants, says Dennille Decker, executive director of the Lake City and Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. A number of national chains have also opened in the county in the past year, including Captain D’s, Jersey Mike’s, Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and Five Guys.

Duval County

County Population: 928,935, Ï+5.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 13.3%
Per Capita Income: $44,234

JACKSONVILLE — After 18 project announcements in 2016 that will bring 4,200 jobs to the area, Jacksonville got off to a good start this year with the announcement that Formativ Health is leasing 65,000 square feet of office space on Jacksonville’s Southside and will hire up to 500 people for a patient access services center.

Flagler County

County Population: 109,660, Ï+11.3% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 17.1%
Per Capita Income: $39,651

FLAGLER COUNTY — The county, carved out of parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties in 1917, is planning to celebrate its 100th anniversary. On the economic side, Flagler is emphasizing growth in agriculture, business, tourism and land development.

Gilchrist County

County Population: 17,747, Ï+5.2% vs. 2012 5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 22.3% Per Capita Income: $33,102 GILCHRIST COUNTY — Florida accounts for 18% of the U.S. watermelon crop, and 60% of the state’s production comes from Gilchrist, says Karen Jones, president of the county Chamber of Commerce. Gilchrist could also become a center of olive oil production as High Springs-based River Run Olive Oil planted 200 acres of olive trees in the county, she says.

Hamilton County

County Population: 14,187, З3.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 3.9%
Per Capita Income: $26,390

HAMILTON COUNTY — The county ended 2016 with the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.4%, behind only Monroe County’s 3.0%. Employment grew by nearly 900 to 6,700 from December 2015 to December 2016, as the jobless rate dropped from 3.8% at the end of 2015.

Levy County

County Population: 41,347, Ï+3.4% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 17.5%
Per Capita Income: $33,705

WILLISTON — Foss Foam Products in Williston says it’s the largest manufacturer of sailboat rudders in the U.S., producing 50,000 since 1978. The company, founded in Clearwater by Bob Walker, moved to Williston in 2000 and is now run by Walker’s son, Al.

Suwannee County

County Population: 46,086, Ï+5.8% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 17.9%
Per Capita Income: $31,296

LIVE OAK — Duke Energy is building a solar power plant on 70 acres that will produce 8.8 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1,700 average homes. The plant is expected to be in full operation by the end of the year.

Marion County

County Population: 355,052, Ï+6.2% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 16.7%
Per Capita Income: $35,117

REDDICK — DeConna Ice Cream in Reddick is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The family-owned business, which supplies ice cream to convenience stores, schools and vending trucks, was founded in Miami, moved to Gainesville in 1963, and then to Marion County in 1986. DeConna’s products are sold in 13 states from Louisiana to Rhode Island.

Nassau County

County Population: 80,966, Ï+8.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 12.0%
Per Capita Income: $49,285

NASSAU COUNTY — The county’s economic development board is working with several manufacturers to bring jobs to the west side of the county, says Executive Director Laura DiBella. The board is also recruiting a variety of industries for the new Wildlight development in central Nassau, including potential corporate headquarters, health care businesses and light manufacturing.

Putnam County

County Population: 73,969, Ï+1.2% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 7.4%
Per Capita Income: $29,341

PUTNAM COUNTY — County commissioners approved plans by Seminole Electric to build a gas-fired plant. The plant will need approval from state agencies before Seminole can proceed.

St. Johns County

County Population: 233,695, Ï+15.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 25.2%
Per Capita Income: $62,304

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — New-home sales in the Nocatee development in Ponte Vedra dropped 12% to 973 in 2016, but Nocatee still ranked third in the nation for sales in master-planned communities, according to real estate economics firm RCLCO.

Union County

County Population: 15,622, Ï+2.5% vs. 2012
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 1.6%
Per Capita Income: $19,420

UNION COUNTY — The North East Florida Educational Consortium, the Union County School District and eight other school districts in the region joined to form the Rural Partnership for Healthy Kids. The partnership will work with families to enroll children in the Florida KidCare insurance coverage.

Tags: Northeast, Economic Yearbook

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