You Name It, Jacksonville Has It
Bold New City of the South, City on the Move, Gateway to Florida, the First Coast, the River City--whatever the nickname, Jacksonville is the place to be. In the early days, the sharp bend where the wide expanse of the north-flowing St. Johns River abruptly changes its course easterly to the Atlantic Ocean was simply called "Cowford," the narrowest part of the river that would allow cattle to cross on the way to market.
Bold New City of the South, City on the Move, Gateway to Florida, the First Coast, the River City–whatever the nickname, Jacksonville is the place to be. In the early days, the sharp bend where the wide expanse of the north-flowing St. Johns River abruptly changes its course easterly to the Atlantic Ocean was simply called “Cowford,” the narrowest part of the river that would allow cattle to cross on the way to market. Later, before the railroad pioneered its way further into sparsely settled central and south Florida, Jacksonville was the winter destination for thousands of vacationers from the northeast, who sought the temperate climate, verdant landscape and leisure activities on the gentle river and along the seacoast.
Today, the city is an expansive metropolitan region of more than one million people, boasting a vibrant business community and a downtown transformation of historic skyscrapers into urban living space, and storefronts into an eclectic array of restaurants and nightclubs. Between the promise of sophisticated towers overlooking the river and city skyline, and the miles of hotels, condominiums and elegant homes lining the unbroken beaches, the city has much to offer.
SGR’s Florida Expansion
From the vantage point of its headquarters in Atlanta, Smith, Gambrell & Russell saw in Jacksonville what many of the city’s longtime residents simply had taken for granted. The firm initially was attracted to the Florida market by the significant transactional and litigation needs of its clients in the region. In evaluating Jacksonville as a possible place to base its Florida presence, SGR found a high quality of life offered by the city’s wide variety of neighborhoods, sports and recreational activities, cultural events, temperate climate and environmental beauty. The firm also discovered a wealth of legal talent and, recognizing the city’s friendly and entrepreneurial business spirit, chose Jacksonville for its Florida office. Instead of starting from scratch, SGR opted to merge with the local firm of Baumer, Bradford & Walters, thus making for a seamless entry into the Jacksonville and larger Florida legal markets. SGR’s Jacksonville office now offers its clients a broad base of legal expertise, ranging from its commercial litigation practice in virtually every court in Florida, to intellectual property, ERISA and employment, securities, commercial lending, construction law, and real estate and corporate transactional practices. The firm’s sponsorship of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Orlando and Jacksonville has given SGR active involvement in furthering the city’s understanding of growth and redevelopment in the region. With SGR’s own healthy growth since its arrival in Jacksonville in 2001, the firm has placed itself in a strong strategic position to participate in the city’s notable rise in stature.
Determining just when Jacksonville began its ascent into the league of first- tier American cities is difficult, if not impossible. Longtime residents may not have noticed any single event, observing instead the slow changes that came with the passage of time and the continuous influx of new residents from all parts of the country and the world. Perhaps it was the consolidation of Duval County into the greater City of Jacksonville in 1966, making it the largest city on earth, at least in terms of land area. As signals of the city’s rise, others might point to the 1973 construction of the landmark Independent Life building, now bearing the Modis name; the Southbank Riverwalk; the Jacksonville Landing; the Northbank Riverwalk; the renovation of the Florida Theater; or the transformation of the old Jacksonville Terminal railroad station into the Prime Osborne Convention Center or the civic auditorium into the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts.
The pace of change certainly has accelerated since 1993 when the National Football League awarded the city its own NFL football team, and the aging Gator Bowl was transformed into Alltel Stadium, a newly rebuilt, world-class stadium facility. The Jacksonville Jaguars achieved for the city what many years of other positive changes had not–dissolving an undeserved inferiority complex and allowing its citizens to enjoy the realization that the city is a great place to live and work. The voters’ overwhelming approval of the Better Jacksonville Plan reflects this new-found confidence and optimism, and out of the Plan came a new baseball park and indoor coliseum, as well as a new main library and county courthouse that boast classical architectural features helping to define the “New Jacksonville.”
The city’s unique qualities help it stand apart from many others, making it easy for people who live here to exclaim how much they like it, and for people who visit to consider what it would be like to live here. SGR client Standard Pacific Corp. shares this affinity, and recently acquired Jacksonville-based homebuilder Coppenbarger Homes for its growing group of Florida quality homebuilders. Coppenbarger builds in newly developed, high-end communities in outlying suburban areas of Jacksonville, where demographic information continues to show tremendous residential and commercial growth. Golf course communities like Sawgrass Country Club and World Golf Village in northern St. Johns County have their own share of the strong interest in resort and recreational lifestyles, while Queens Harbour Yacht and Country Club and Epping Forest Yacht Club also offer the water as an attraction. Closer in, the desirable established neighborhoods of Avondale, Ortega, San Marco and San Jose, with their own specialty shopping areas and restaurants, also have enthusiastic followings, and the interest in exciting new residential venues in established areas has encouraged redevelopment of Riverside, Downtown and the Southbank. Downtown’s newly constructed Berkman Plaza condominiums, and the renovation of 11E and The Carlington into high-end apartments out of the shells of tired, old commercial buildings, lead this movement.
The burgeoning population of Jacksonville and outlying areas brings not only the long list of new housing opportunities, but also new and expanded choices for shopping and eating. The extension of Baymeadows Road to its intersection with newly constructed Highway 9A in southeast Jacksonville is completely unrecognizable from the pine woodlands and trail roads that marked the area only a few years ago. Jacksonville-based companies Steinmart and Winn-Dixie Stores both have opened fine new stores near Highway 9A, joining a rich selection of family, theme and upscale restaurants and retail shopping that seems to expand almost daily.
Other parts of the city are seeing similar changes. Demographers recently announced that the population expansion and makeup of Jacksonville’s north side, which has traditionally been a slower-growth area, have reached a stage that will support new retail and restaurant development. Northside development is slated to include a long-awaited regional mall to compete with Jacksonville’s three other main malls, Regency, The Avenues and Orange Park, each of which has created around it a retail, entertainment and dining destination. This would join the other new mall, St. Johns Town Center, which is planned for the hot growth area along the Butler Boulevard and Southside Boulevard corridors to serve the lifestyle demands not only of the tens of thousands of new residents moving into Jacksonville’s Southeast quadrant, but also to draw on the larger Jacksonville market itself with upscale department stores, specialty shops and restaurants not before seen in the city. Names like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Restoration Hardware, Aeropostale and Urban Outfitters, and The Cheesecake Factory, P. F. Chang’s and Maggiano’s, may soon be topics of Jacksonville’s weekend family discussions on where to go shopping and what to eat. And every weekend, there are more new faces joining the community, finding Jacksonville to be an easy, option-filled choice.
Whether it’s the weekend or a working day, sports and outdoor activities attract their following from both close-in and far away: NFL football, minor league baseball, basketball and ice hockey, sport fishing, water skiing and boating, swimming, cycling, running (or all three), sailing in the Mug Race, kayaking Black Creek or the Guana Preserve, hiking the Talbot Islands, visiting the Jacksonville Zoo, camping at Hannah Park, or golfing the countless number of first-rate country club courses spread between the Georgia border and Palm Coast. While the river and the beaches long have provided a unique combination of recreational options, Jacksonville’s city government has made a determined effort to move beyond the basics to acquire new parklands for conservation and recreation, and to open up old space for new recreational uses like the Baldwin Rail Trail and Metropolitan Park. Where natural space has given way to brick and glass, the city’s determination follows with publicly funded construction of a new baseball park and indoor coliseum, offering first-class sports and entertainment venues on par with the largest U. S. cities. And sometimes recreation comes in the simplest forms–feeling an ocean breeze or committing to memory the fleeting colors of an Atlantic sunrise or a St. Johns River sunset.
Recreation or inspiration–the difference blurs with the growing and eclectic cultural environment within the city. The venerable institutions like the Cummer Museum of Art, the Museum of Science and History, the Jacksonville Public Library and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra are joined by events like the Downtown Art Walk, Much Ado About Books, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and Planetfest to provide something for everybody. Lovers of live music can choose from an evening of pop music at the Florida Theatre or country at the Jacksonville Coliseum. Or they can opt for the more intimate atmosphere of live jazz at Simon’s Wine Bar, Eclate or Mossfire, or the contemporary music and dance scenes at Endo Exo, Monarch or Jack Rabbitz. An opening party at the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art’s new quarters on Hemming Plaza last spring brought together throngs of people in a cosmopolitan atmosphere that reflected the New Jacksonville. And a night out for dinner at BB’s, Bistro Aix, La Cena or Mathew’s, or the famous culinary houses like Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s or the Wine Cellar, especially when followed by a world-class opera or symphony performance at the Times Union Center, can give the impression of a “big city.” But it is Jacksonville, not New York, or Miami, or Atlanta, and that is why many people decide to come to Jacksonville, and many others decide to stay, and raise families, and nurture careers, and retire. Named among the best places to live in America, Jacksonville recently has added to its impressive resume the title of one of the seven best places to retire in America, according to Money magazine.
The same qualities of the city that appeal to new college graduates, new couples, new families and new retirees also attract new businesses. Fidelity Financial recently moved its headquarters to Jacksonville from California and now occupies a waterfront complex not far from Florida real estate giant The St. Joe Company’s brand new riverfront showplace. Closer to Downtown, CSX Transportation is sheathing its riverfront headquarters building with a modern glass face, after moving its headquarters from Richmond several years ago. Other Jacksonville-based companies have also moved into new headquarters buildings over the past decade, including American Heritage Life, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Winn-Dixie Stores. Add to this list of instantly recognizable names those of Jacksonville growth leaders like Gate Petroleum Company, First Coast Energy, Flagler Development Company and Jacksonville Bank, and even the casual observer must be impressed with how the region’s favorable business climate has allowed a flourishing economy to take root and bloom.
Jacksonville approaches its next test when it hosts Super Bowl XXXIX in January 2005. The city will be in the bright lights, and to the rest of the world Jacksonville will be the “big city.” Monday-morning quarterbacks after the NFL championship game may focus on what the city did wrong or emphasize what the city did right. But no matter what, no one can deny that Jacksonville is a far different city than it was in 1993 when the Jaguars came to town. Super Bowl XXXIX is not Jacksonville’s pinnacle of achievement, but merely one more step in the energetic transformation of the city into “the place to be.” SGR’s move to establish a presence in the Gateway to Florida has given the firm the good fortune of being a part of the transformation. Jacksonville has it all.