Who says all the commercial development is focused on Southside?
An almost 29-acre site at southwest Interstate 95 and Airport Road in North Jacksonville could be transformed into Eagle Landings, comprising a fully renovated Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Airport hotel and commercial and apartment development.
“There is a lot of need in that area,” said property owner Gregory Morris, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident who owns three assisted-living facilities in Florida and has experience in the hotel arena.
First, Morris said the $10 million renovation of the 1980s era hotel on about 10 acres on the northern parcel is underway and should be completed by year-end 2020.
Next will be the sale of the undeveloped southern 18.96 acres. That’s commercially zoned property that Morris intends to list within 30-45 days for complementary uses.
“It could be multifamily, it could be office, it could be storage, a combination or something else,” Morris said. “We don’t know the best fit.”
Driving the decision is his view that the immediate area around the hotel hasn’t experienced much development over the past 20 years, and it’s time.
“People are moving out there and a lot of jobs are being created,” he said.
It is near Jacksonville International Airport, the Jacksonville International Tradeport industrial park, an Amazon.com fulfillment center, the River City Marketplace retail center, a UF Health medical campus and thousands of new homes and apartments.
State road improvements are creating more access and support for development.
Morris paid $16.35 million for the hotel and vacant land in October 2017.
“I was looking for a local property,” he said. “We have a real untapped opportunity.”
Crowne Plaza’s new image
The Crowne Plaza occupies the 9.9-acre northern part of the property at 14670 Duval Road.
Completed exterior upgrades included stucco repairs and a paint job to change the colors to blue and white. Inside, in addition to room renovations, Morris plans a new pool and fitness center and major renovations to the lobby, restaurant, ballroom and meeting space. Elevator upgrades were one of the first moves.
Work will be done in sections to minimize disruption.
“We believe it will be the finest hotel in the airport market,” Morris said. He signed an agreement to continue operating it as a Crowne Plaza for another 20 years. Chesapeake Hospitality manages it.
The signature pool — split with half inside and half outdoors — will be filled in and a new heated pool will be built outside, he said. The interior foliage and garden, another trend of the 1980s, will be removed.
Duval County property records show three buildings. A single-story, 13-unit hotel was built in 1969. In 1981, a six-story, 155-room, full-service hotel was constructed and a six-story, 149-room structure was added in 1986.
It operated as a Holiday Inn before it was reflagged and renovated as Crowne Plaza in 2009-10. Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn are brands of IHG Hotels and Resorts.
A $2.5 million renovation of public areas is pending, according to building records.
Occupancy runs a healthy 85 percent thanks to business from airlines, travelers from I-95, the military and family meetings and functions, he said.
“We are doing very well there,” Morris said, adding that he turned it around upon the purchase.
“We’ll turn it into what it deserves to be,” he said. “First class.”
For branding of the entire site, Morris chose Eagle Landings because he says he is “an eagle fan,” referring to the U.S. national bird, not the Philadelphia NFL team. (“I’m a Jaguars fan,” he states.)
Morris leads Blue Sky Jaxap LLC and Eagle Landings of Jax LLC, which want to rezone the land to a planned unit development. To do that, he is working with the Rogers Towers law firm and engineering and planning firm Dunn & Associates Inc.
A rezoning application included a May 10 written description that says the owners want to rezone about 28.86 acres from community/general commercial-1 and industrial business park to planned unit development.
The rezoning would permit development of a mixed-use and-or multiple-family residential uses of up to 379 units that would not exceed 20 units per acre.
Any residential uses within the business park portions would be for “workforce persons,” according to the description. Morris said he didn’t have the details on what that designation would mean.
The first phase would be the Crowne Plaza renovation on the northern parcel and the second phase would be adding compatible medical and care-based facilities and-or residential uses on the southern parcel.
Parking on the southern parcel is used as overflow hotel parking. After the hotel renovation, the overflow parking would be removed as the second phase of development starts.
Construction on the southern parcel would start “when the market dictates and will be completed as the market dictates.”
On the northern parcel, the permitted uses sought are hotel and motel. On the southern parcel, permitted uses are hotel-motel, senior living and medical uses, and multiple-family residential. Additional uses are permitted by exception.
The senior living and medical uses include medical facilities, offices and clinics; senior housing such as nursing homes, housing for the elderly, independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing; and medical facilities like rehabilitation hospitals.
The multiple-family residential uses on the southern parcel is capped at a 60-foot height although architectural features can exceed that.
Also allowed, by exception, are commercial uses, such as retail stores, banks, professional and business offices, galleries and museums, business schools, child care centers, personal property storage, churches, gas stations, car washes and other uses.
Morris doesn’t rule out developing an assisted living facility. He owns The Rose Garden of Orlando, The Rose Garden of Fort Myers and Plantation Oaks Senior Living in High Springs.
“I do think medical would be a very good option,” he said.
Part of the site is wetlands, which Morris wants to turn into a landscaped buffer area. He also envisions a sanctuary for eagles and other wildlife, as well as humans.
“I started conversations with the state to turn it into walking trails, a boardwalk and so on. I have a vision of doing that as soon as I can get the approvals,” he said.
Access to Eagle Landings would be Duval Road and Ranch Road.
Morris has Jacksonville connections, including development involvement with Queen’s Harbour Yacht and Country Club and Bartram Park. Also, his grandparents owned Geisenhof’s Gift Shop in San Marco. He said he began visiting Jacksonville when he was 10.
Morris envisions the entire redevelopment in the “tens of millions of dollars.” How that starts soon could be known.
“I think we will know something fairly quickly once we put the signs up,” Morris said.