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Fidelity acquires downtown land for new office

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April 15, 204

Fidelity acquires adjacent 5.9 acres

Fidelity National Financial Inc. has purchased land next to its Riverside headquarters to allow for expansion, instead of moving to the Shipyards downtown, Chairman Bill Foley said Wednesday.

The acquisition will allow the Fortune 500 company to move ahead with a long-awaited expansion plan that could add more than 1,200 jobs, hundreds more than the company promised when it moved to Jacksonville last year.

The vacant 5.9-acre tract was bought for about $12 million, Foley said.

Fidelity, which sells products and services to the financial and real estate industries, will erect an office building of approximately 10 stories and 280,000 square feet.

"That's the current thinking," Foley said. "Maybe a little more or less."

A group of private investors led by Foley plans to build a high-rise condominium project on the northern portion of the site, along with a small, high-end hotel complete with a restaurant and concierge service. Details are still very fluid with that, he said. The office tower constructed by Fidelity will occupy the southern half of the site.

The project also involves constructing at least one parking garage. Foley said spaces for between 2,500 and 3,000 vehicles are needed, some for employees already working at the complex.

"We're a little short right now," he said.

Foley had been considering relocating Fidelity's headquarters, title business and part of its mortgage services business to the Shipyards, along East Bay Street. In that scenario, the existing campus at 601 Riverside Ave. would serve as a processing center. The company would expand in only one location.

"Fidelity has a real requirement to get some office space built as soon as possible," he said in an interview from his California home. "It just seemed to us that the Shipyards project was going to be a little bit too much of a project for us at this time.

"A great piece of ground, but complicated."

The company has even leased temporary office space on the Southside to house its bulging workforce.

Planning work for the expansion will start "right away," Foley said, with the goal of occupying the office building and parking garage -- and maybe the hotel, too -- in 2005.

Local real estate brokers not involved with the transaction praised the deal.

"It just helps build synergy, a major point of presence not only for Fidelity but also for the Riverside/Brooklyn area," said Bruce Jackson, a vice president with CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate brokerage.

Jackson said it may have been "premature" for Fidelity to move to the Shipyards.

Developer TriLegacy Group LLC, which is redeveloping the former Jacksonville Shipyards, bought the nearly 45-acre site and announced plans in 2001 for a 10-year development to include two office towers totaling 1 million square feet of first-class space, 662 residential units, 150 boat slips, and a 350-room hotel, along with a 16.8-acre city park. Construction has not risen above the ground.

However, Jackson said, Fidelity's decision to remain in Riverside might accelerate the Shipyards redevelopment, as it removes options for developing along the Northbank riverfront.

"The Shipyards becomes the next large undeveloped piece," he said.

In the last two weeks, the Shipyards has become the center of a controversy relating to TriLegacy's use of public incentive money to make mortgage payments instead of public improvements.

TriLegacy called a news conference for Wednesday afternoon and then postponed it. The news conference had nothing to do with the Fidelity announcement, TriLegacy spokesman Paul McCormick said, and Fidelity's land deal won't affect the Shipyards redevelopment.

"It has no impact whatsoever," he said.

Fidelity did not ask for any city or state incentives relating to expanding its headquarters on the Riverside plot, Kirk Wendland, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, said through a spokeswoman.

However, the company did receive an incentives package of $12.5 million when it moved its headquarters from Santa Barbara, Calif., in August. That assistance comprises a city-state tax rebate for job creation, a reimbursement of taxes for improving its property values and state road grant assistance.

In return, Fidelity promised to add 750 jobs over three years, paying an average wage of $62,500. However, Foley has since said adding another 350 to 450 jobs was possible, and said Wednesday even more could be in store, although he declined to specify numbers.

Alltel Information Services had 1,400 employees in Jacksonville when Fidelity purchased it last year.

It was unclear Wednesday how Fidelity's plans to develop the newly purchased land next to its headquarters would affect previously announced plans to develop the campus, which consists of a 13-story, 334,000-square-foot building, completed in 1994, and three other buildings. Foley has talked of constructing a six-story office building that could eventually be expanded to 19 stories north of the existing tower. He also discussed building a parking garage on land Fidelity already owns across Riverside Avenue

The 5.9 acre-parcel was purchased from EKM Properties in Miami. Harriet Jones, a broker with Property Services Inc., the Southside commercial real estate company that represented EKM, said there were "numerous" prospective buyers for the property. She would only add that the intended uses were mostly condominiums.

Fidelity's information services division processes almost half of all U.S. residential mortgages, and the company says it is the nation's largest title insurance company. It has a total of about 28,600 full-time equivalent employees.

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Well, either way, it's still a major expansion. I would have liked the Shipyards location better, as that area really needs to get booming. I read about their decision online, and I was going to post it here, but you beat me to it Laklander! Let's hope that their new towers and garages will be aesthetic and well-planned. Some more street-level retail on Riverside Avenue would be nice. And a Riverwalk access point, like the Peninsula is gonna have. Well, since I'm not the architect, I'll stop making suggestions....lol

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I liked the Shipyard's site better, but I'm still fine with it being built on Riverside Avenue. Their development, plus the proposed 17 story condo tower (the YMCA site) will help bridge the gap between Riverside and Downtown. Maybe the city should look at the possiblity of having the Skyway extended into that area since they already have the right-a-way reserved for it. There's got to be thousands of people working at Fidelity, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Haskell, & the St. Joe offices. Who knows, maybe Fidelity and some of the others may be willing to contribute some funds to extend the system to service their complexes.

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And maybe they could encorporate a Skyway station into their master plan. "Fidelity Station", or whatever.... And maybe a station for that empty area underneath the Fuller Warren Bridge. That would really help.

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