In the heart of the Central Business District in Downtown Jacksonville, FL stands an 18-story building once proudly known as the Barnett National Bank Building in all its former glory. It stands high in Jacksonville’s skyline along with The Marble Bank Building, the 10-story Bisbee Building and the 11-story Florida Life Building, the three buildings known by the locals as Laura Street Trio.
The bank was founded by William Boyd Barnett, a merchant and a banker from Northeast Kansas, in 1877. It was originally called the Bank of Jacksonville (BoJ), opened on May 7th, 1877, with only $43,000 in capital. William was president, and Bion, his youngest son, was bookkeeper with one other person as a teller. By the end of its first year, deposits only amounted to $11,000. Undeterred, William invited Bion to be partner.
William Boyd Barnett died September 2, 1903 and Bion renamed the institution, Barnett Bank, in his father’s honor. In the 1920s, Barnett Bank had their first big headquarters built.
Designed by Mowbray Uffinger, nationally known bank architects from New York, it was erected in 1926; the contractor, the James Stewart Co. which constructed Madison Square Garden in New York and the Mitsui Bank in Tokyo, constructed this gorgeous structure for the steadily growing Barnett Bank.
At the time of its completion, it gained the notoriety of being Jacksonville’s tallest building. It maintained its record as such until 1954 when it was succeeded by the Aetna Building, formerly called the Prudential Building. Surviving several economical downturns, Barnett Bank strove to be out of the ordinary.
Barnett strove through many hardships, even surviving through the Roaring Twenties when it was built in 1926. It strove through crises such as the Great Depression and other economic downturns, but in the end, Barnett ultimately emerged stronger.
In 1958, Bion Barnett died at the age of 101 and the bank had come to be known as “Florida’s Bank.” The bank grew, however, with the acquisition of many Florida banks. During the 1970s and ’80s, under Chairman of the Board Hugh Jones, Barnett Bank was slow to become involved with the rapidly-evolving interstate banking mergers. Even so, Barnett eventually made purchases of out-of-state banks, beginning in Georgia. These purchases, however, were made without growing its own brand recognition, keeping the Barnett name exclusive to Florida. This meant they did not change the names in the out-of-state banks, resulting in their stocks weakening as the perception was that Barnett was not a major player in the area of mergers and acquisitions.
Still, disregarding their slower than average growth, the holding company built a new corporate building in downtown Jacksonville. This was announced in 1987, and the new headquarters building was occupied by 1993, the very year Hugh Jones retired. At 42 stories high, the new Barnett Center was the tallest building in Jacksonville. This building served as the headquarters of Barnett Bank until 1997.
In 1997, Barnett CEO Charles Rice, just six weeks after a month spent at a drug rehabilitation facility for alcoholism, offered the company up for sale. NationsBank, a bank based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, made the highest bid offer and the deal was done. The purchase was announced on August 29th, 1997, however, before signs could even be changed, Nations merged with BankAmerica, creating the Bank of America, in 1998.
Under the new ownership, Bank of America leased out the former Barnett National Bank building to smaller companies into the early 2000s until it was fully abandoned by 2004. Due to failed renovation projects over the next few years, the building became but a shell of its former self.
Both the Barnett National Bank Building and the nearby Laura Street Trio were purchased by Southeast Development Group, commercial real estate firm based in Jacksonville. Through a joint venture partnership with the Molasky Group, they plan on revitalizing the buildings.
Renovations on the Barnett are estimated to take 16 months from the start, the Barnett will total 157,000 square feet including a national retail bank on the ground floor and mezzanine. Floors three through seven will have 40,000 square feet of commercial office space and higher education. Floors eight through 18 will have over 100 loft and one-bedroom apartments, including luxury units on the top floor with majestic views of the St. Johns River.
Estimated to take 22 months to complete, the Marble Bank will house the upscale Bullbriar restaurant, owned by acclaimed chef Scott Schwartz of 29 South in Fernandina Beach. A 145-room Courtyard Marriott boutique hotel will occupy most of the Florida Life and Bisbee towers, and the three buildings will be joined by a common core elevator/stair system. The ground floor of the Bisbee will feature a much-needed downtown bodega-style grocery called Cucina Urban Pantry. The Laura Street Trio contains 90,000 square feet, plus nearly 50,000 square feet of new construction facing the corner of Adams and Laura Streets. An amazing rooftop bar and café, green space, patios, and a motor court to drop off hotel and restaurant guests on Adams Street will highlight the new construction.
Concurrent to the revitalization of the buildings, a parking garage will be constructed to serve both commercial tenants and residents of the buildings, as well as the public-at-large. The garage, located across the street on what is now a city parking lot, the new garage will include 550 spaces and 5,400 square feet of retail, with completion expected 12 months from start.