Criteria 5: Its value as a building is recognized for the quality of architecture, and it retains sufficient elements showing its architectural significance

Designed with pedestrians in mind, Downtown Center’s former retail spaces were designed to protect shoppers from Florida’s tropical climate. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

At the time, the 268’ tall, 19 story tower was the tallest building on the Northbank and second tallest in the city. Largely remaining in its original form from an architectural perspective, the Mid Century Modern property is a valuable part of Downtown’s architectural fabric. It is the only Mid Century Modern structure in downtown to integrate underground parking into the design, a major department store, and one of the last surviving downtown properties had an arcade featuring several small retailers. In addition, the Universal Marion building (DU21649) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure to the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District.

Criteria 6: It has distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials?

The former Ember’s Restaurant is now used by JEA as a meeting room. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Rising 268 feet in height and characterized with honeycomb-shaped windows, the Universal Marion Building may be the largest Mid-Century Modern building in Jacksonville. An American reflection of the International and Bauhaus movements, the Mid-Century Modern style was an architectural movement most popular in the U.S. following World War II through the early 1970s.

One of a handful of skyscrapers constructed in the South to feature a rotating roof top restaurant, it is representative of a brief period in American history when revolving roof top restaurants became popular after the Seattle’s Space Needle was built for the World’s Fair in 1962.

The Embers was a 250-seat restaurant that opened on the eighteenth floor of the Universal Marion building in 1964. At the Embers, live Maine lobsters were flown in from Booth Bay, Maine, every Friday at the restaurant, which stayed open until 12:30 a.m. Rotating 360 degrees every one and a half hours, it was said to be the largest revolving restaurant in the world. Expensive to operate, the popularity of revolving rooftop restaurants declined by the end of the 1970s. In later years, this space was used as the office of Charter’s CEO Raymond Knight Mason and a meeting space for the JEA board.

The property also features one of the largest urban department store buildings built in Florida after 1960. Six stories in height, the 180,000-square-foot space once occupied by Charlotte-based J.B. & Ivey Company is designed to support the addition to two more floors and includes an underground parking garage. It represents a lost era when buildings in Jacksonville were designed to maximize space despite occupying compact properties.

Criteria 7: Its suitability for preservation or restoration

The Universal Marion building is a structurally sound property, suitable for preservation. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

The Universal Marion building is certainly a good candidate for preservation and restoration. JEA’s renovation estimate of $65 million to $78 million is based on the needs of JEA to force the natural design of a retail and office site into their specific needs, which are not representative of the needs and cost of a different use. For example, aspects of the property considered negatives by JEA, such as an underground dedicated parking garage, are likely positives for other uses. While the JEA board has suggested renovation cost are enough for them to consider demolition, some perspective should be introduced into the discussion.

The existing campus is 360,000-square-feet and features a 268’ tall, 19-story tower with an underground parking garage and a mixed-use, 500-space parking garage. Not including the acquisitions of the former Suntrust parking garage and the former Life of the South Building, Vystar has invested nearly $75 million in the purchase and renovation of the former 383,000-square-foot SunTrust Tower.

At 350,000-square-feet with a 1,603 space parking garage, Fidelity Information Services’ proposed 12-story corporate headquarters is anticipated to cost $145 million to construct. Even with value engineering, JEA’s proposed new headquarters is expected to cost $57 million to $62 million for 152,000-square-feet of space and a 742-space parking garage. At less than half the size of the existing headquarters, this means JEA’s proposed project comes with a much higher cost per square foot than the renovation of the larger Universal Marion building. These new construction projects suggest that the renovation of the Universal Marion building is much cheaper than constructing a new complex of similar size and design.

Structurally, all three buildings that JEA currently occupies are in perfectly good shape. If any were in danger of collapse, JEA would not be operating in them right now or for the few couple of years while their proposed new headquarters is constructed. This alone supports that they are suitable for preservation or restoration.

Saving the Universal Marion (JEA) Building

The lobby of the Universal Marion Building (Ennis Davis, AICP)

The Universal Marion building passes the criteria for being designated an important Jacksonville landmark, and we at The Jaxson strongly encourage the Historic Preservation Commission to recognize it as such. We encourage our readers interested in saving the building to contact the Historic Preservation Commission and ask them to consider moving forward with the landmarking the Universal Marion building with a policy-based argument centered around the criteria. Landmarking will allow potential redevelopment of the property to become eligible for Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund incentives.

In addition, we encourage our readers interested in saving the building to recommend the City Council, Downtown Investment Authority, and JEA work together to proactively craft a plan and strategy for the adaptive reuse of the entire Downtown Center complex. This option would not only be of benefit to the JEA, who would not have to spend additional millions on demolition, but a major benefit to the community by bringing a true urban and pedestrian friendly property back to life, honoring Jacksonville’s heritage and history in the process.

A five-floor Medical building was never constructed at the intersection of Main and Church Streets. It has been used as a “temporary” surface parking lot has been on this site for 57 years. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Contacts for the Historic Preservation Commission, Downtown Investment Authority and City Council, are below.

Historic Preservation Commission

Commission contacts: Phone: (904) 255-7800 Email:

Downtown Investment Authority

CEO: Lori Boyer Phone: (904) 255-5301 Email:

District Council Members

District 1: Joyce Morgan Phone: (904) 255-5201 Email:

District 2: Al Ferraro Phone: (904) 255-5202 Email:

District 3: Aaron L. Bowman Phone: (904) 255-5203 Email:

District 4: Scott Wilson Phone: (904) 255-5204 Email:

District 5: LeAnna Cumber Phone: (904) 255-5205 Email:

District 6: Michael Boylan Phone: (904) 255-5206 Email:

District 7: Reggie Gaffney Phone: (904) 255-5207 Email:

District 8: Ju’Coby Pittman Phone: (904) 255-5208 Email:

District 9: Garrett L. Dennis Phone: (904) 255-5209 Email:

District 10: Brenda Priestly Jackson Phone: (904) 255-5210 Email:

District 11: Danny Becton Phone: (904) 255-5211 Email:

District 12: Randy White Phone: (904) 255-5212 Email:

District 13: Rory Diamond Phone: (904) 255-5213 Email:

District 14: Randy DeFoor Phone: (904) 255-5214 Email:

At-Large Council Members

Group 1: Terrance Freeman Phone: (904) 255-5215 Email:

Group 2: Ronald B. Salem Phone: (904) 255-5216 Email:

Group 3: Tommy Hazouri Phone: (904) 255-5217 Email:

Group 4: Matt Carlucci Phone: (904) 255-5218 Email:

Group 5: Samuel Newby Phone: (904) 255-5219 Email:

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at