2. Ryan Companies US, Inc.: 21 West Church Street
21 West Church Street is the site of JEA’s current headquarters. Under this scenario, the existing 19-story building would be razed and replaced with a smaller corporate headquarters for JEA.
21 West Church Street is the current headquarters of JEA.
Originally called Downtown Center, the current JEA corporate headquarters was constructed as part of a 1959 joint venture between the May Company and the S.S. Jacobs Company. Announced the same day that May acquired Cohen Brothers department store (now city hall), Downtown Center included a six-story, 180,000-square-foot J.B. Iveys & Company department store, 25,000-square-foot Purcell’s Women’s Store and the 19-story Universal-Marion Building. At the time, the Universal-Marion Building was the tallest in the Northbank and second tallest in the city. Established by Louis Elwood Wolfson, Universal-Marion co-financed the production of Mel Brooks’ first movie, The Producers, which won an Oscar and later became a major Broadway play. It also funded Woody Allen’s first movie, Take the Money and Run. A millionaire by the age of 28, Wolfson became a nationally known figure when he unsuccessfully attempted a hostile takeover of Montgomery Ward and Company in 1955. On the 18-floor of the tower, The Embers opened as the world’s largest revolving rooftop restaurant in 1964.
Largely built for retail and not for JEA needs, the complex is significantly larger than the 200,000-square-feet JEA desires, this proposal involves possibly imploding the larger mid-century tower and replacing it with a smaller, shorter office building. The positive is that it keeps JEA’s 836 employees in the heart of Downtown, which helps sustain the struggling small business retail base that largely depends on downtown dwindling workforce for its survival.
The negative is the loss of a larger, architectural and historically significant building that would be better off being used for what it was originally designed for. An important redevelopment angle rarely discussed with JEA’s potential decision is the possibility of killing to redevelopment challenges with one stone. First, a new JEA headquarters presents the opportunity to eliminate a dead block of surface parking in the core, thus strengthening the pedestrian scale street level retail environment around it. The second opportunity is the potential adaptive reuse of a site that’s far more urban, dense and unique than anything being built in today’s marketplace.
With that in mind, razing a taller office building to replace it with a smaller structure of little architectural significance is the classic example of taking one step forward, two steps back.