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Gate mixed-use project will bring largest shopping area in Northeast Florida to St. Johns County


Gate Petroleum plans a massive mixed-use development, including the largest shopping area in Northeast Florida, on property it owns in St. Johns County. Called Durbin Park, it will cover 1,600 acres south of Race Track Road, stretching east of Interstate 95 and west of the new Florida 9B.

Plans for the project, which Gate will develop along with partner Gatlin Development Co., call for 2.4 million square feet of retail, 2.8 million square feet of office space, 999 multifamily units and 350 hotel rooms.

To put that in perspective, St. Johns Town Center has 1.4 million square feet of retail space.

Ken Wilson, vice president of Gate, said those numbers have all been approved by St. Johns County, but they’re all maximums without a guarantee they’ll be built.

“But my best guess is that we’ll accomplish it,” he said. “There’s such a serious lack of big-box retailers and services in the northern half of St. Johns County.”

The first phase, on an 80-acre parcel west of 9B/County Road 2209, will include approximately 700,000 square feet of retail anchored by three big-box retailers, Gate said. Construction is scheduled to start late this year with an opening in the second quarter of 2018.

The second phase, between I-95 and 9B, will open 12-18 months later and include restaurants and retail. Bass Pro Shops, which first announced its plans to open here in 2012, will be part of that phase. The original announcement had the store opening in early 2014.

The final phase, east of I-95, will have the offices.

Other than Bass Pro Shops, no tenants for the project have been announced. But Frank Gatlin of Gatlin Development, which will develop and co-own the retail space, said he expects to start releasing names in about 90 days. The Shopping Center Group will handle the leasing for the project.

Durbin Park, if fully built out, would add as many square feet of retail as St. Johns Town Center, Markets at Town Center and River City Marketplace combined. But Cliff Taylor, a retail special and senior vice president at real estate firm CBRE, said there’s plenty of room for it.

“I think it’s going to be wildly successful,” Taylor said. “If you think about it, Jacksonville historically had three major retail nodes: Orange Park Mall, Regency Square and The Avenues. But as shopping morphed away from malls to the open-air lifestyle centers all over the country, we’ll still have three nodes: The Town Center, River City Marketplace and Durbin Park, all along the I-95 corridor.”

‘10 YEARS OF DISCUSSIONS’

Northern St. Johns County has been the fastest-growing area in Northeast Florida for several years now, but retail has not kept up with housing, he said. New communities are being announced regularly and the largest ones, Durbin Crossing and Nocatee, are not yet built out.

“If you drive that area,” he said, “it’s primarily grocery stores, there’s no soft goods. If I live in Durbin Creek, Nocatee, Julington Creek, I have to drive to Mandarin, The Avenues or the beaches. But with Saturday morning traffic, those are all 20-25 minute drives.

“You’ve got the No. 1 school district in the state, they’re putting up homes like you can’t believe and they’re all fleeing the neighborhood to shop.”

New stores in Durbin Park would take their toll on other shopping areas, and Taylor said he thought The Avenues would be the most affected.

“Mandarin may feel a little pinch,” he said. “But The Avenues could become no-man’s land. Other than Deer Creek and Deerwood, there’s no much residential around it. I imagine a significant portion of that shopper is coming out of northern St. Johns County.”

Gate bought the property in 2004 and early plans were delayed by the recession.

“We’ve had more than 10 years of discussions,” Wilson said, “and I tell you that interest from the major anchors has only increased.”

A TWO-STORE TOWN

Gatlin Development, which specializes in retail shopping centers, moved its headquarters from Fort Lauderdale to Riverplace Tower on Jacksonville’s Southbank last year. But it has developments all over the country.

Frank Gatlin said he usually does projects in the 300,000-to-700,000-square-foot range, including the Walmart Supercenter that opened in April on Collins Road. But the second phase of Durbin Park will be the largest retail project he’s taken on.

“Jacksonville was always considered a one-store market,” he said. “If you’re talking about a store like Nordstrom, there’s only going to be one.

“But in what’s happened with the explosion of growth in St. Johns County,” he said, “it’s become a two-store market. There’s room for St. Johns Town Center and the Durbin Park.”

Florida 9B was recently completed to I-95 and work is under way for the final 2.3 miles that would take to County Road 2209, also known as St. Johns Parkway. Without 9B, Wilson said, the project would have been much smaller.

Original article appeared here.