Shared from the 3/3/2019 The St. Augustine Record eEdition


Growing county = booming business

Residential, commercial development work hand-in-hand to drive even more growth

When it came time for Cantina Louie to add another location to its expanding list of franchises across Northeast F l o r i d a , N o c a t e e w a s a no-brainer.

With the master-planned community in northern St. Johns County booming with phase after phase of residential growth, the idea was the restaurant would have an almost built-in customer base.


Artsy Abode founder and CEO Leah Lytle and senior sales associate Han Nguyen discuss a display of colorful clocks on display at the company’s location in the Nocatee Town Center on Thursday. Lytle said she decided to open her next store in the Nocatee Town Center in 2017 after learning of the area’s rapid growth. Experts say St. Johns County is attractive to retailers large and small, offering the metrics commercial developers consider in locations to invest: population, income level and access to highways. [PETER WILLOTT/THE RECORD]


The St. Augustine Record continues a series examining how growth is changing life in St. Johns County — for better and worse. Over the next few Sundays, we’ll examine growth’s impact on the economy, business, the environment, those who visit and, most importantly, those who call St. Johns County their home. Today’s story is centered on shifts in the county’s commercial growth. To see other entries in the series, please visit If you’d like to share your thoughts on the series, send an email to .

Since opening on U.S. 1 North in August of last year, that has proven to be more than true.

"It's the store that is doing the best of all our [five area] locations at this point," said Cantina Louie president Ben Porter.

The saying goes that when more rooftops are added, commercial development is not far behind. Those in the real estate and economic development world say that not only is that happening in St. Johns County, but growth in those sectors has led to a build-out of office space, too, but also spurred even more residential and commercial expansion.

As one of the fastest growing geographical areas in the U.S., which also happens to enjoy the state’s highest median household income, St. Johns County has become one the hottest markets for investment.

According to a report by the county building department, the number of commercial permits issued has remained fairly steady over the last few years.

But Melissa Glasgow, director of economic development for St. Johns County, pointed out, “Commercial valuation for permitted projects increased between 2016 and 2017 by more than 52 percent .... which is a positive indicator for future commercial tax base growth.”

Key growth areas such as Nocatee, Palencia, World Golf Village and Durbin Crossing have all seen large retail centers sprout up around those communities, often anchored by big national names such as Walmart and Publix.

The demographic profile of the typical Publix customer is what made Leah Lytle, founder of Artsy Abode boutiques, decide to launch her next store in the Nocatee Town Center in 2017.

“And we heard how fast the area was growing and that was an area where we should be in,” Lytle said.

The most ambitious of the shopping hubs is still being built out. Phase I of the massive 1,600-acre mixed-use complex known as the Pavilion at Durbin Park in northern St. Johns opened last November. It will include a Home Depot, a Cinemark movie theater, Walmart as well as retail outlets such as Verizon, Five Below and Great Clips as well as restaurants such as Asian Fusion, Your Pie and Keke’s Breakfast Café. Hotels and offices are also planned.

The through-traffic and visibility produced by shopping complexes can be a driver for service-type establishments and other mixed-use development.

“You saw that when the residential came first and there was a certain number of rooftops, commercial followed,” Glasgow said. “And the same can be said for developing the office component as well.”

Victor Raymos, executive director of the St. Johns County Board of Realtors, said close proximity to retail options is a priority for many potential homebuyers looking for convenience and/or walkability.

Marge Cirillo, a certified business analyst who heads up St. Johns County’s Small Business Development C e n t e r , p r e d i c t s t h a t B e a c h w a l k , l o c a t e d o f f State Road 210, will attract the attention of developers wanting to take up space in the retail promenade that is planned for right inside the Caribbean-concept residential community.

Added Roger O’Steen, chairman and senior partner of the PARC Group, which partnered with Skinner Bros. on the Nocatee Town Center, “Restaurants, quality grocery options and top-tier retail franchises within a short travel distance are expectations of today’s homebuyers.”

Among the metrics commercial developers consider in locations to invest in are population, income level and access to highways.

“St. Johns County is leading the pack statewide,” said James Miller, senior director of external affairs for the Florida Retail Federation. “And I think it says a lot about the growth of the county — not just growth, but high-end growth. ... And as a retailer, you want to be one of the first ones in, not the last.”

But is St. Johns County’s appeal to investors enough to court next-tier level, niche stores and restaurants such as those at Duval County’s St. Johns Town Center like P.F. Chang’s or Nordstrom?

“People are moving here from metro areas and they’re going, ‘How come we don’t have a Trader Joe’s?’” Ramos said.

Are we just too close to the St. Johns Town Center which, despite its name, is in south Jacksonville?

“St. Johns County certainly has the attributes that are attractive to the level of retailer, and I do think we have the support for it,” Glasgow said, “but is it enough support to warrant a second or third location in the area?”

At least one niche specialty store is moving in soon. It was just announced that GreenWise Market, an organic, high-end grocer will anchor a new expansion of the Nocatee Town Center with more than 40,000 square feet of additional dining and retail space.

O’Steen, whose PARC group is behind the expansion, said, “Commercial development always follows residential as it provides neighborhood retail, services and job centers. If the residential market is strong, the retail will be strong as well.”

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