It’s a new year, and I'm predicting big things for Northeast Florida.
Among them: the first sighting of a boom economy in a decade, high consumer confidence, more home construction and gas prices’ staying relatively low.
1) St. Augustine will continue to boom as the tourism mecca for Northeast Florida. The momentum there is undeniable and seemingly unstoppable.
2) Cecil Commerce Center on Jacksonville’s Westside will become the city’s center for new business expansion. The manager, Hillwood Properties, will follow up on the Amazon distribution center by signing up at least one more major corporate facility of 800,000 square feet or more.
3) The commercial and residential rebirth of the Murray Hill neighborhood will pick up steam as it becomes a go-to destination for people looking for good food and entertainment.
4) The biggest development of 2017 will be in the area around EverBank Field. The city and Shad Khan will agree to a massive development of Metro Park and the Shipyards property on the Northbank of the St. Johns River. This will be a transformative project in scale and, in coming years, will spark the long-anticipated rebirth of downtown Jacksonville.
5) Fast on the heels of the Shipyards development plan will come an announcement to tear down the so-called “Beirut Berkman” tower—the half-complete apartment high rise on Bay Street— and construction of a new condo tower will begin on the site of the never-completed Bay Street eyesore.
6) The District, a collection of shops and apartments, will come out of the ground on the Southbank next to the Duval County School Board building. Look for developer Peter Rummell to buy the school board building and fold its property into The District.
7) Over in Brooklyn, the Times-Union property will be sold to a master developer promising luxury condos and shops. And the distinctive “wedding cake building” at the base of the Acosta Bridge will go under the wrecking ball.
8) But other projects on the downtown to-do list will continue to languish: renovation of the historic Laura Street Trio of buildings and the original Barnett Tower; the old, vacant, waterfront Duval County Courthouse; and of course, the Jacksonville Landing.
9) My sleeper prediction for 2017: President Trump’s push for infrastructure funding will provide a pool of money for port improvements around the country, which will breathe new life into plans to dredge the St. Johns River in order to expand JAXPORT. The project still faces a stiff legal challenge brought by the St. Johns Riverkeeper, but the question of funding will be solved by the combination of a tsunami of infrastructure spending and more help from the state of Florida.