A Jacksonville Renaissance
Harbinger CEO Invests in Jacksonville
Steve Williams has a vision for his native city. Although raised in Jacksonville, Steve traveled around the world to arrive at the realization that there is no place like home.
“Last year we considered moving much of our efforts to Atlanta, Georgia. We were frustrated with Jacksonville and disappointed in the way things seemed to be going here. Something kept drawing us to Atlanta,” Steve said of his recent and frequent jaunts to Atlanta.
What he found constantly drawing him back was Atlanta’s exciting and vibrant culture. Although Jacksonville has its own exciting culture, one Steve is intimately familiar with as a working artist, gallerist, and supporter of local culture, he found it lacking some qualities a vibrant culture should possess.
“In Atlanta 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.”
New Jax City
When Steve returned to Jacksonville after the opening of an art exhibition he recently curated in downtown Atlanta, he discovered that his love for his hometown exceeded his love for Atlanta, or almost any other city in the world.
“When we’d arrived back in Jacksonville, we returned inspired, our creativity bubbling over. We have this amazing opportunity here. Jacksonville is truly an amazing place and embodies one of the most wonderful entrepreneurial spirits of any city we’ve ever visited. We want to help Jacksonville become the 21st century city of the South.”Steve Williams, Harbinger CEO
All it needed was some investment that was directed at not just bringing more things to North Florida, but to bring better quality things to Northeast Florida.
“I’m interested in investing in beautiful, historic buildings in great neighborhoods that are floundering between blight and under-investment. I want to bring exciting local businesses in to breath new life into these rich spaces.”
Peterson’s Five & Dime
His first investment is the Peterson’s Five & Dime in Riverside’s historic 5 Points neighborhood.
“Imagine a beautiful and exciting new concept restaurant there. Craft sodas, a bakery, a beautifully curated boutique selling handcrafted items.”
The Peterson’s building has been a tragic, beautiful monolith, hulking vacant in the center of one of the city’s most active neighborhoods for more than 5 years. Built as a J. W. Woolworth in 1939 and operated for decades as Peterson’s 5 & Dime, the empty building represented a double-edged sword to the local merchants. They knew that a great concept there would turn that neighborhood up significantly, but the wrong concept could wreck a culture they’ve worked hard to sustain. This scenario makes Steve Williams the ideal owner of this building for the neighborhood.
Steve is currently vetting a wide range of ideas for this space through petersons5-10.com, waiting for the right concept for 5 Points and Jacksonville.
“I am going to take great care in what businesses I invite to activate these spaces. 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.”
In addition to Peterson’s Five & Dime, Steve has also put a historic art deco building in downtown under contract. The Federal at 331 West Forsyth Street was built in 1941 and has housed everything from the USO to lunch spots to jazz clubs. But for the last few years it too has stood empty. What a building like this needs is not another under-financed operation struggling to keep its lights on, but smart, savvy entrepreneurs that understand the value a building like this proffers and invest in a customer experience design that capitalizes on that asset.
“It shouldn’t only be about what cool ideas Jacksonville entrepreneurs have, it is also about bringing excellent concepts from other markets here to challenge us and help us constantly raise the bar.”
These initial real estate investments are just the beginning of the renaissance Steve envisions for Jacksonville.
“I am 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. I want to bring businesses here that don’t just provide jobs, they also improve our quality of life.”