In our “Story of a Building” series, we look at iconic landmarks in the Jacksonville area – their history, their usage, and what makes them important to the city.
VyStar Tower has stood as one of the most prominent pieces of the Jacksonville skyline ever since its completion in the late 1980s, and though it’s been through several different anchor tenants over the years, it remains one of the city’s most in-demand downtown office towers three decades later.
The building’s history begins in the mid-1980s when Rouse & Associates initiated plans to develop a $190 million mixed-use complex across the street from The Jacksonville Landing, which was then under development by the loosely-connected The Rouse Company. The complex was to be named Jacksonville Center and would include two ornately-designed office towers, with a third, smaller tower and a promenade featuring ground-floor shops and restaurants.
Construction on the first phase of the project, a 24-story tower for American Heritage Life Insurance Company at 76 S. Laura Street, began in 1987. Its postmodern design was helmed by KBJ Architects, who also designed Wells Fargo Center and Riverplace Tower among dozens of other local structures.
The American Heritage Life Tower debuted in 1989. At 357 feet tall, it was the fourth-tallest building in Jacksonville at the time; it has since been surpassed two more times, putting it at number six. The remainder of the Jacksonville Center project was ultimately scrapped, and Rouse & Associates sold the AHL building in 1991 to a San Francisco-based real estate company for $57.1 million.
Though its new tower finally allowed AHL to consolidate its hundreds of downtown employees into one space, it still proved insufficient rather quickly. By the mid-‘90s, the company bolted to a new facility off of J. Turner Butler Boulevard near the Intracoastal. Its downtown tower was renamed Jacksonville Center.
In 1998, health insurance company Humana purchased the Jacksonville Center and initiated $12 million in renovations. The company also reached an agreement with the city in 2001 to acquire an adjacent parcel of land – originally part of Rouse’s Jacksonville Center plans – for the construction of a parking garage that would accommodate both the tower, then known as the Humana building, and the Landing across the street.
Humana never ended up building the garage, and instead sold the tower to Capital Partners in 2004. That same year, SunTrust took over as the building’s primary tenant, moving into its upper floors and adding its signage. Humana continued to lease space within the building after the sale.
The tower was purchased, along with the proposed garage property, by Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn, who set about breaking up the building’s existing units into office condos. Though Kuhn had big plans for the adjacent property, he ultimately lost the building due to bankruptcy after just a few years. (Kuhn also purchased, and lost, the historic Barnett National Bank building around the same time.)
Atlanta-based Parador Partners purchased the building, by then known as SunTrust Tower, in 2009 following foreclosure proceedings. It renewed the previous Humana garage agreement and constructed a five-story parking garage next to the tower, hoping to boost its declining occupancy.
Parador sold the tower to Mainstreet Capital Partners in 2015, at which point it was less than 55% occupied.
Mainstreet invested $2 million into upgrading the tower, adding a new conference center and lounge among other amenities. Tossgreen opened within the building’s ground floor in 2016.
In 2018, VyStar Credit Union bought the tower for $59 million and announced plans to establish a new downtown Jax headquarters. Following renovations, the newly-renamed VyStar Tower became the first portion of the credit union’s new campus to open. The company has since revamped the adjacent Life of the South building and will soon begin construction on a new parking garage to accommodate its employees as well as the pending redevelopment of the Laura Street Trio.
Today, VyStar Tower is at over 90% capacity, serves a renewed purpose as the anchor of VyStar’s downtown campus, and sits along a stretch of Laura Street that is sure to play a large role in the future of downtown Jacksonville as a whole in the years to come.