1,225-acre project proposed for Baker

Developer Jackson-Shaw wants to build the industrial park, which could bring 4,100 jobs.

By JOE LIGHT, The Times-Union

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A national developer plans to build an industrial park that, if completed, would have the square footage of roughly five Avenues malls and add a big economic development opportunity to a county strapped for industrial space.

The 1,225-acre industrial park on the eastern edge of Baker County could also bring 4,100 jobs to area residents, and construction could start in less than three years.

The project, which has rail access, would have more than 6 million square feet of industrial space, 300,000 square feet of commercial space, and 200 hotel rooms if it proceeded as planned.

The park would provide a strong economic development opportunity for Baker County, which until now has primarily received proposals to develop residential projects. A large portion of the rural county's residents now commute to surrounding counties to work.

It would also continue the westward shift of major business development for the region, a transition that began with the cementing of Cecil Commerce Center as an industrial park.

Economic development officials have already lured a large distributor to the former military base and have prospects that would invest hundreds of millions of dollars there.

Representatives from developer Jackson-Shaw met with Baker County staff and the chairman of the county commission on Tuesday to discuss the project.

Thomas Jones, regional development partner for Jackson-Shaw in Jacksonville, said he had called most of the Baker county commissioners to inform them of the plans but had not yet contacted several of the organizations that will be essential in making the park a success, including Cornerstone, the economic development arm of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce that helps recruit businesses to the area.

Baker county manager Joe Cone said the project was well received, though some technical issues regarding transportation, water, and sewer access will need to be worked out.

The business park would require the developer to build a new interchange on I-10, which sits just south of the property. Cone said that staff also made clear to Jackson-Shaw representatives the county wouldn't cover any costs for road improvements. Jackson-Shaw would pay 100 percent of their water and sewer costs, Cone said.

Jones said Jackson-Shaw would probably spend about $90 million on land and improvements to the site before construction for the tenants could begin. Jones estimated the cost of construction at full build-out to be about $360 million.

Jackson-Shaw would act as master developer for the site, and other builders or tenants could handle the actual construction of buildings themselves.

The developer will need to get approvals from several state and county agencies before being able to proceed.

"It seems to be top notch," said Mark Hartley, who is chairman of the county commission. "I liked it because it seems to bring quality employment to the county."

Hartley said he and other commission members would want to ensure the project didn't have a negative environmental impact. The developer plans to designate about 470 acres for parks and wetlands conservation.

Jones said Jackson-Shaw hopes to break ground on the project in two and a half years. Their biggest hurdle will be garnering approval from the state department of transportation for the interchange.

Jackson-Shaw has the land for the project under contract contingent on the interchange being approved. Jones declined to give a purchase price but said it was in excess of $15 million.

Although Cecil Commerce Center, which has more than 8,000 developable acres, would be a competitor for businesses, Jones said he believes the center could be nearly full before his project is ready to take tenants.

"We believe the I-10 corridor is an excellent viaduct for commercial development," he said. "I think we're the first duck on the pond out here.",