When the first tenants moved into The Barnett last year, it marked the end of a lengthy revitalization saga for the 94-year-old building which once housed Florida’s largest bank.
The building first opened its doors in 1926 as a new center of operations for Barnett National Bank. The bank was founded in the late 1800s and grew rapidly, prompting the commissioning of a massive new headquarters building at 112 W. Adams Street. New York-based Mowbray & Uffinger, which also designed the nearby 121 Atlantic Place, helmed the Chicago-style design of the structure.
At 224 feet tall and eighteen stories high, the Barnett National Bank building was the tallest building in Jacksonville until the mid-‘50s. Its construction came amidst a wave of downtown high-rise development that also included the Greenleaf & Crosby building, the Carling hotel building, the Lynch building, and the since-demolished George Washington Hotel.
The banking company occupied the building for several decades, but in 1993, it moved to the newly-constructed Barnett Center – now known as Bank of America Tower. Its new building, incidentally, became Jacksonville’s tallest building upon completion, a title once held by its predecessor.
Barnett Bank was bought out by another bank just four years after moving into its new building. Meanwhile, its previous headquarters building struggled to attract new tenants and, by the turn of the century, was mostly vacant and entering disrepair.
A local group led by developer and former state representative Mike Langton planned to acquire the building for a mixed-use redevelopment featuring a hotel, apartments, and a ground-floor restaurant, but those plans fell through almost as quickly as they materialized.
Orlando-based developer Cameron Kuhn purchased the building in 2005 with plans to develop condominiums within the building. Interior demolition began, with contractors creating large holes on all seventeen floors to dump debris down into the lobby. But by 2008, the property entered foreclosure and Kuhn’s project was abandoned.
In 2010, locally-based Linea LLC and Tallahassee-based Capital City Partners proposed a $70 million redevelopment project that would include both the Barnett Bank building and the Laura Street Trio. As those plans evolved, Linea LLC and several other local entities merged to form SouthEast Group, led by developer Steve Atkins.
It was that group that, with the help of a loan from Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s Stache Investments, purchased both properties for $3 million in 2013. Unfortunately, the partnership between Khan and SouthEast Group deteriorated quickly and led to Khan taking possession of the property in 2016.
SouthEast Group then enlisted the help of Las Vegas-based The Molasky Group, which purchased the properties back from Khan and, together with SouthEast, secured $9.8 million in city incentives for the project.
Work began in 2017 on the Barnett Bank building, which became phase one of the planned redevelopment project. Final plans included apartment units, office space, and ground-floor retail. KBJ Architects served as the architecture firm for the renovations, with Danis handling construction. Many of the building’s historic details were carefully preserved and restored, including its original elevators. Other historic elements were even added, such as a hallway mailbox that was bought at a New York auction and restored for use within the building.
The Barnett, as it’s now known, began welcoming its first tenants in 2019. UNF’s Coggin College of Business opened a satellite campus on the fourth and fifth floors of the building focused on business and entrepreneurial development. The Residences at Barnett, consisting of 107 upper-floor apartment units with 14 different floorplans, began leasing last summer; the units were already 60% occupied as of late January.
Chase Bank and Vagabond Coffee will both open on the ground floor later this year. Chase’s signage will also be featured at the top of the building.
It took two decades, several developers, and a couple of foreclosures, but The Barnett now has a bright future ahead of it.