UNF opens new center in historic downtown Barnett Bank building

Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation moves into renovated 4th, 5th floors

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A piece of Jacksonville history is coming to life as progress continues to be made at the old Barnett National Bank Building downtown.

Its first tenant, the University of North Florida Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, has moved into the building, along with its students.

Built in the 1920s, the Barnett Bank building was Jacksonville's premier skyscraper. A video taken in 2017 shows decades of disarray. But since construction began in October of that year, the landmark on the corner of Laura and Adams streets is almost back to its former glory -- maybe even better. 

While crews were still working Monday on the lower floors, UNF had already started hosting classes on the fourth and fifth floors of its Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

"Everybody's reaction when they come into the building is 'Wow, this is absolutely incredible,'" said Karen Bowling, director of the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. "Being part of the history and part of the momentum downtown is just very exciting and this whole space was built out with entrepreneurs in mind."

The space includes conference rooms, collaborative workspaces and offices. But there is much more work to be done to the 18 floors.

While it may seem a little quiet outside the Barnett Bank building, it's a heavy construction zone inside. What is unique is that crews are restoring a lot of the original features like elevators. Developers said it was a challenging and tedious process preserving the original doors, designed with the signature "B;" historic revolving doors at the entrance; and the well-known arch windows.

The building will also house a bank, apartments, and commercial and retail space, including a cafe. 

It's part of the Barnett Bank and the Laura Street Trio renovation project, which is a $90 million investment to revitalize part of downtown and bring more people to the area.

The Barnett Bank part of the project is expected to be complete this summer, then the SouthEast Development Group and construction management firm Danis will move on and start restoring the Laura Street Trio buildings.