Business Brief: Former Barnett Tower Developer: Collaboration Could Save Project

Sep 26, 2016

The Barnett Bank building was hailed as Florida’s first skyscraper in the 1920s, but it's been vacant since the early '90s.
Credit Ebyabe

Jaguars owner Shad Khan recently took control of the historic Barnett Tower in downtown Jacksonville, ending a seven-year effort by developer Steve Adkins to renovate the building.

WJCT Business Analyst John Burr talked with another previous developer of the Barnett Tower, Mike Langton, and tells News Director Jessica Palombo what Langton thinks could save the renovation project in this week’s Business Brief.

First some background: The Barnett Tower, at the southwest corner of Laura and Adams streets, opened in 1926 and was hailed as Florida’s first skyscraper. At 18 stories tall and 180,000 square feet, it was the headquarters of Barnett Bank, a statewide banking powerhouse until it was bought out by NationsBank in the late 1990s.

The building has been vacant since the early 1990s, and several attempts to renovate the building since then have failed. Langton, who has successfully renovated other historic buildings in downtown Jacksonville, controlled the building for a time in 2003.

Langton thinks the most viable business plan is to develop the bottom floor of the building as retail, with the upper floors as rental apartments.

“Currently there is three residential buildings in downtown. They’re full, and have been full, as I said, for the past two, three years.” That’s 11 East Forsyth, the Carling and Langton’s development, the W.A. Knight Building on Adams Street. “So there’s clearly more demand,” he said.  

Langton says direct involvement by the city is required to jumpstart the Barnett project, and the first step could be and to build a parking garage on city land nearby on Forsyth Street. It would serve the residents of a renovated tower, which would be a big boost to a developer.

The payoff in renovating the Barnett and three other adjacent historic buildings called the Laura Street Trio would be huge for Downtown redevelopment and Mayor Lenny Curry, he said.

“Cause there’s nothing better that he could do as mayor than to cause something to happen in that group of buildings, that spot of our downtown—it’s the heart of our downtown,” Langton said.

So what’s it going to take to finally get this going, after all these years and all these failures?

Langton thinks different players need to meet and agree to work toward a common goal.

“Maybe the mayor or DIA [Downtown Investment Authority] could call everybody in and sit everybody at the table—Mr. Khan’s representative, me because of my advice and involvement in the building, Mr. Adkins and all his team—get us all at the table and say, ‘OK, how can we make all this happen? How can we collectively put it all together?’ Maybe that’s what it’s going to take at this point,” he said.

As for the Laura Street Trio, Langton says they will have to be torn down if they’re not developed soon because they’re so fragile. 

Photo used under Creative Commons license.