By: Mike Mendenhall
When VyStar Credit Union decided to build and own an estimated $22 million, seven-story parking garage to support its growing Downtown corporate campus, CEO Brian Wolfburg said the organization “didn’t want to build just any parking garage.”
“Downtown Jacksonville is our home and we know investing in the infrastructure of Jacksonville will help it to prosper, will help it to grow,” Wolfburg said.
“We invested time and energy in putting forward a best-in-class design.”
Wolfburg and VyStar board members were joined Aug. 11 by city and JAX Chamber officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for the 807-space structure at 28 W. Forsyth St.
The garage, designed by Dasher Hurst Architects, features fabric sails, VyStar’s branded blue uplighting and 12,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
The credit union bought the nearby 23-story VyStar Tower at 76 S. Laura St. in July 2018 for $59 million. It acquired an adjacent parking garage and is renovating a seven-story building next door at 100 W. Bay St. with three restaurant concepts by The Bread and Board.
Retail part of plan
Project contractor Danis expects the garage construction to be completed in 12 months.
Danis Vice President of Operations David Kottmyer said site work will begin Aug. 16 and cranes could be in the air within four to six weeks.
Wolfburg told reporters that he’s “very confident” the garage’s 8,000- to 9,000-square-foot retail space on Laura Street will be leased by the time the parking deck is in operation.
VyStar leadership has not settled what will be in that space or the remaining 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot retail area facing Main Street, which Wolfburg said could be leased for “experimental” or pop-up shops.
Wolfburg said the credit union is considering restaurants, child care and pet services.
“We try to think through things that would be needed by our employee base, as well as other individuals as they make the choice to move Downtown,” he said.
Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said that VyStar and her agency are aligned in their strategy to create street-level activity in the Central Core.
“This is a beautiful building. It is not just a parking garage that creates dead space along the street,” Boyer said. “It won’t.”
VyStar took over the garage project in September 2019 from Laura Street Trio developer SouthEast Development Group LLC.
The garage was part of SouthEast’s initial deal with the city to restore and renovate the historic Barnett National Bank Building and Trio across Forsyth Street.
SouthEast was not able to start construction on the garage by its deadline with the city.
City Council approved an agreement to sell a 0.77-acre city-owned lot to VyStar for the parking garage.
VyStar also entered into a contract with Regions Bank to buy a 0.26-acre parking lot at 54 W. Forsyth St. for the garage.
Boyer said Aug. 11 that early designs for the garage date back to 2016.
With the COVID-19 delta variant surging, Wolfburg said VyStar pushed back the return of its office employees from Aug. 2 to Sept. 7.
VyStar will have nearly 1,200 of its 2,100 employees working at its Downtown Jacksonville campus and Wolfburg expects that to increase over the next two years. Originally, VyStar planned for 700 to 800 employees.
The additional employees created a need for the 500 to 600 parking spaces. Wolfburg said VyStar is considering adding office and retail space as the credit union grows.
“I do think we are approaching capacity on our buildings and contemplation of where we place individuals as we continue to grow is something we talk about,” Wolfburg said.
According to Boyer, VyStar’s garage will free its surface parking lot near the former Jacksonville Landing for private development.
Wolfburg said that is not a location VyStar is considering for development.
The credit union has 775,000 members and more than $11 billion in assets.
VyStar will become the 13th-largest credit union in the U.S. and gain a headquarters building in South Atlanta with its acquisition of Georgia-based Heritage Southeast Bank, announced March 31.
Wolfburg said employees also can be based in its Orlando and Tallahassee offices, but he added that VyStar executives want a larger footprint in Downtown Jacksonville.
Boyer said VyStar’s decision to continue an employee office presence post-pandemic can be linked to Downtown’s growth.
“This workforce Downtown is critical to the success of retail establishments and the growth of restaurant corridors and the growth of retail businesses Downtown,” she said.
VyStar representatives, city officials and others break ground Aug. 11 on the credit union’s seven-story parking garage at 28 W. Forsyth St. Downtown. From left: Danis President Steve Betz; Jax Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis; Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer; VyStar Senior Vice President Facilities and Security Brian Kitchens; VyStar Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Chad Meadows; VyStar President and CEO Brian Wolfburg; VyStar board members George Berry and Diane Fears; Danis Vice President of Operations Dave Kottmyer; Dasher Hurst Architects Principal Tom Hurst; and Downtown Vision Inc. CEO Jake Gordon.