GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Regional and local initiatives have made the county’s halfway-point an incubator for economic growth – and businesses are noticing.
The completion of the Historic Spring Park pool remodeling project and the coming economic boon from the First Coast Expressway give the city both the look and the opportunity to attract more retail and industrial within and around the city’s borders.
The city has issused just shy of 100 new business licenses within the last two years, according to city documents. Within the city’s historic shopping district, Walnut Street, every storefront that is for sale is occupied.
City Council members point to the shopping district’s occupancy as a bellwether for coming economic growth that will reshape the city
“It’s an indicator,” said Council member Van Royal. “It’s an indicator that other businesses want to be here and for me it’s a big deal because to say you’re full makes people want to be here more. That’s a good thing – when you have a bunch of vacancies people go ‘why is it vacant?’”
With the First Coast Expressway’s expansion to the Shands Bridge slated for a 2019 start, Green Cove Springs will be within easy access of markets from both Duval County and St. Johns County as drivers shuttle over the proposed multi-lane toll road.
By September 2018, the Vallencourt Construction Company – originally located on Blanding Boulevard – plans to move its main office into Green Cove Springs, bringing with it roughly 300 employees.
The company will move into and expand its operation once it moves into the site formerly occupied by an Ace Hardware.
“Green Cove is centrally located to our 100-mile work radius,” said Marcus McInarnay, Vallencourt president. “We hope to draw potential employees from the pool of hard working men and women that live in and around the area.”
The city has its own incentive programs to help business owners spruce up their current businesses, or recently-purchased properties. The program pays 50 percent of redevelopment costs through a block grant for renovation projects carried out along U.S. Highway 17 and State Road 16 West.
To date, the city has awarded $104,000 to such projects. The grant is a small part of the way the council has attempted to change past preconceptions of the city.
“In the past, the idea has been that Green Cove Springs is kind of depressed,” Royal said. “And we’ve been able to change that image through festivals, through involvement with the county and even the state – we’ve become more visible.”
Despite the new spark of growth, the city still has its problems. There are vacant storefronts within the city limits that sit in disrepair without productive business owners to revive them. Meanwhile, according to interim Clay Economic Development Corp. President Laura Pavlus, industrial growth within the county seems to be trending the opposite direction.
Instead of having too many vacant storefronts in the retail sector, Pavlus said there may be too many applicants in the industrial sector and not enough industrially-zoned acreage to accept them.
“At Clay EDC, we’ve had a noticeable increase in calls from companies looking for industrial space in even just the last month,” Pavlus said. “I am talking with industrial developers regularly to make sure that they keep us informed about anticipated construction completion timelines for industrial space. I would anticipate that demand will outpace supply very soon.”
Despite how area growth might benefit the city, the city’s limits will act as a net to contain growth. Royal said, however, that the city could reallocate land in Reynold’s Industrial Park for whatever use the city would need it for.
“That’s an idea that we’ve nurtured for as long as I’ve been here,” Royal said.
The First Coast Expressway is expected to do to the southern part of the county what Interstate 295 did to the northern part of the county. And if the city and nearby areas receive new dollars from commuters, new business ventures and industrial development, then the entire county stands to benefit from the shared tax revenue created.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Pavlus said.