ORANGE PARK – The future completion of the First Coast Expressway places Clay County in the driver’s seat of significant growth over the next 25 years. With so much riding on the forthcoming …
ORANGE PARK – The future completion of the First Coast Expressway places Clay County in the driver’s seat of significant growth over the next 25 years. With so much riding on the forthcoming roadway, business leaders naturally place importance on community dialogue.
Last Thursday, the Thrasher-Horne Conference Center was home to what economic development leaders dubbed a Stakeholder Summit, the first of multiple planned public conversations involving business insiders and elected officials. Leaders are trying to maintain discussions about such issues as current land use designations and what amendments – if any – may be needed to county regulations in order to maximize the development potential of the corridor that makes its way through Clay County. When complete, the Expressway will connect Interstate 10 in Duval County to Interstate 95 in St. Johns County.
The northern section from Blanding Boulevard to I-10 in Duval County is currently under construction with completion anticipated this summer.
The area around U.S. Highway 17 and I-295 is already largely developed. The FCX will do the same for the western and southern areas of Clay County where development is slower.
Since businesses prefer to locate next to established transportation hubs, where visibility and accessibility meet, it’s a shared goal between business leaders to foster high wage job growth along the eight FCX interchanges scheduled to snake through Clay County.
“At those interchanges we planned for what we call activity centers, which can accommodate your light industrial, your commercial, professional offices – specifically high end jobs,” said Holly Parrish, director of Clay County Economic and Development Services.
Similar development is already visible in places like Branan Field Road where businesses, such as St. Vincent’s Medical Center Clay County provide a good “indication on how some of the other interchanges will grow,” Parish said.
For the Clay Economic Development Corp., the FCX stands as a pendulum of potential energy, however further planning is in order.
The summit coincides with Clay County’s Evaluation and Appraisal Report, a chance all Florida counties get every seven years to amend their land use regulations stipulated in their state mandated 2025 Comprehensive Plan.
Opportune as the timing is, EDC President Bill Garrison aims to brush up the county plans with the expressway in mind, so the county can tailor its zoning around the FCX corridor to support business growth.
According to Garrison, the state has funded the purchase of the Expressway land in the right of way budget, so now leaders will look to fund the infrastructure leading to the infrastructure, the roads leading to the roads, the pathways to the Expressway.
In part, that will come from the one-cent sales tax, but other funds must be identified prior to the building the segment of the Expressway that runs from Blanding Boulevard south and eastward toward Green Cove Springs.
The FCX connects Clay County to the job centers along I-95 and I-10. Business leaders hope to take advantage of the travel access provided to improve the tax base of Clay County with new business growth.
“Ultimately we’ll have large job centers in Clay County,” said Hugh Mathews, president and chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based England-Thims & Miller engineering company. “We’ve already got some if you look at what St. Vincent’s is doing, but when you talk about what the [Department of Transportation] is bringing to this region … it’s just a tremendous opportunity for us.”
To facilitate the metamorphosis, the EDC has already begun similar conversations with commercial real estate brokers from sister counties. When the development comes, it’s often easier to be proactive rather than reactive, according to Garrison.
Largely, the county is proactive with its economic development already and has cooperated fully to help tailor plans such as the EDC’s 5-year plan to drive high wage jobs into Clay County.
The plan stresses public education on the Expressway and relies on teamwork that Garrison said has made planning efforts so successful in the past.
“I’m happy that all the private sector people, the businesses the engineers, commercial real estate brokers, we’re all working with the county government to make sure the planning is done properly,” Garrison said. “[The 5-year] plan kind of pulled those groups together. Those groups that used to not work together are now working together and we’re working off that momentum.”