Steve Williams, CEO of Harbinger (Jacksonville, Fla.) has a grand vision for his hometown and he’s investing in making it a reality. Williams believes in the power of strategic private investment in some of the city’s best buildings--with a discerning eye for finding commercial tenants that can contribute to Jacksonville’s quality of life and become a community asset. And he's investing his own money to help make it happen.
A frequent visitor to Atlanta, Williams admires its vibrancy and culture and hopes to help create a unique Jacksonville version of that "special sauce." In Atlanta, he says, "We never thought, what could we do? What could we create? Where would we make art? Where can we go eat? The work was already done. Atlanta already has all of those options.” He believes Jacksonville has the same potential and wants to help make it the "21st century city of the South.”
His plan: to invest in beautiful, historic buildings in great neighborhoods that are floundering between blight and underinvestment. "I want to bring exciting local businesses in to breath new life into these rich spaces." His first investment is the Peterson’s Five & Dime in Riverside’s historic 5 Points neighborhood. Vacant for more than five years, the building was originally a J.W. Woolworth's store and operated for decades as a five-and-dime. Williams envisions a new concept restaurant with craft sodas, a bakery, and a beautifully curated boutique selling handcrafted items. But choosing the right concept for the store is critical to its success and the reinvigoration of the neighborhood, so Williams is soliciting and vetting a wide range of ideas for the space through petersons5-10.com.
Williams has also put another historic art deco building in downtown Jacksonville under contract. The Federal at 331 West Forsyth Street was built in 1941 and has housed a wide range of businesses, from the USO to jazz clubs. It too has stood empty for the past few years.
These initial real estate investments are just the beginning of the renaissance Steve envisions for Jacksonville.
“I'm courting people with investment capital and ideas from other markets and we are looking at making smart investments in the breathtaking architecture and the mindblowing creative spirit of Jacksonville," he says. " I want to bring businesses here that don’t just provide jobs, they also improve our quality of life.”“I'm going to take great care in what businesses I invite to activate these spaces," says Williams. "I don’t want another half-hearted, well-intentioned but under-financed promise that customers feel like they have to support just because it’s local, even if the product and the experience is bad. I want a beautiful space that provides world-class products and services.”
For the full story, see the interview at harbinger.com.