News Article | 4/23/2009

Hillwood gets top rank to be Cecil Commerce developer in Jacksonville

The Dallas-based company will have the inside track on negotiating contracts with City Hall.

Hillwood, a Dallas-based company overseeing redevelopment of a former Air Force base in California, is the frontrunner to become master developer of Cecil Commerce Center, the onetime Navy base on Jacksonville’s Westside.

The city of Jacksonville’s Professional Service Evaluation Committee is scheduled to vote today on recommending Hillwood as the top-rated firm. The next step would be negotiating fees and a contract with the city.

The master developer will oversee 4,500 acres of city-owned land set aside for manufacturing and distributions centers. The Jacksonville Aviation Authority separately owns a big piece of Cecil Commerce Center for aviation development.

The selection process brought a protest this week by another company, MBA Development Partners LLC.

Erick Collazo of MBA Development said the city should have given applicants a chance to appear in public question-and-answer sessions in front of Jacksonville Economic Development Commission officials who scored the applications.

He said Cecil Commerce Center’s importance to Jacksonville’s long-term growth warrants going beyond a review of the written proposals submitted by the firms. He said presentations would give applicants a chance to offer alternatives for the best way to bring in complementary businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

“Then let the best developer win,” Collazo said Wednesday. “But we have to have an open, transparent process.”

He said the city’s purchasing department rejected the firm’s protest on grounds it wasn’t specific enough. He said MBA Development, which has headquarters in Boca Raton with a Jacksonville office, will refile the protest with more details in an effort to defer a committee vote until after there are public presentations.

Purchasing department officials did not return a phone call Wednesday for comment.

Jacksonville Economic Development officials reviewed proposals from five firms and ranked Hillwood No. 1, followed by The Allen Group of Dallas and Liberty Property Trust of Malvern, Pa. The other applicants are MBA Development and Steinemann & Co. of Jacksonville.

Hillwood is a privately held company founded by Ross Perot Jr., whose father, Ross Perot, was a presidential candidate. Hillwood has developments in Texas, California, Hawaii, Wyoming, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida.

It has been the master developer of the former Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Calif., since 2000. Now called AllianceCalifornia, the 2,000-acre trade and logistics center is home to centers for Kohl’s, Mattel, Pep Boys, Stater Bros., Pactiv and Medline, according to Hillwood.

Hillwood built Westpoint Trade Center in Jacksonville and leased the 601,500-square-foot building last year to Dr Pepper Snapple Group for a distribution center.