Southeast Toyota Distributors, the company that has been a driving force behind Jacksonville’s status as one of the East Coast’s busiest ports for automobile shipping, will stay another 40 years in a deal inked Monday that will move its operation to Blount Island from the Talleyrand terminal.
“The fact that we can extend our partnership and be able to grow in Jacksonville is very exciting for our company,” said Casey Gunnell, group vice president for Southeast Toyota.
He said moving to Blount Island will give Southeast Toyota “the ability to build a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility for our associates” and “keep us here well into the future.”
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The state Department of Transportation will provide a $16.5 million grant to help upgrade an 88-acre portion of the Blount Island terminal for Southeast Toyota’s future base on the waterfront, just east of the Dames Point bridge. Southeast Toyota will match that funding for improvements at Blount Island.
The JaxPort board on Monday unanimously approved the lease agreement.
The move to Blount Island will create a musical chairs situation for JaxPort tenants. Southeast will go to property that JaxPort has been leasing on a month-to-month basis to WWL Vehicle Services America, another company that ships automobiles through Jacksonville.
JaxPort will seek a new tenant for the Talleyrand property that Southeast Toyota will vacate. That 50-acre site has a berth for vessels carrying vehicles and a 200,000 square foot auto processing facility.
Southeast Toyota, which is a subsidiary of Deerfield Beach-based JM Family Enterprises, has been bonded with Jacksonville’s port since 1968 when Toyota approached car dealership owner Jim Moran about selling its imported cars.
Toyota was not a well-known brand at the time for American consumers, but its rapid rise in sales fed the growth of JM Family Enterprises and vice versa.
Southeast Toyota distributes vehicles, parts and accessories for sale at dealerships in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. Those 177 dealerships account for about 20 percent of Toyota vehicles sold in the country, according to the company.
When Moran founded Southeast Toyota Distributors in 1968, the company started by using the Blount Island terminal for shipments of cars coming from Japanese manufacturing plants. After four years, the automobile processing move to the Talleyrand terminal where its visitors including a young Shad Khan years before he bought the Jaguars football franchise.
Khan’s first trip to Jacksonville came when he was meeting with Southeast Toyota officials about his uniquely-designed car bumpers that he built into a global automobile parts business.
Gunnell said moving to an 88-acre parcel at Blount Island will give Southeast Toyota more space than at Talleyrand where Southeast leases 50 acres from JaxPort and owns another 23 acres on the other side of Talleyrand Avenue. He said the Blount Island terminal will be more efficient because it won’t have a road splitting the operation.
“First and foremost we were looking to find a solution in Jacksonville and fortunately, we didn’t have to look any farther than Jacksonville,” he said.
Southeast Toyota will continue at Talleyrand until the Blount Island terminal improvements wrap up in late 2024.
The lease agreement with Southeast Toyota at Blount Island will be for 25 years with three renewal options of five years, adding up to as much as 40 years. Southeast will pay nearly $180 million in lease payments for the space.
“We are proud that a company of this stature continues to grow its footprint in Jacksonville,” JaxPort CEO Eric Green said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is nearly finished with deepening the St. Johns River to a 47-foot depth from the ocean to the Blount Island terminal for big ocean-crossing ships. In the case of vessels that carry automobiles, however, the deeper water is not a factor because they can comfortably go up and down the river at the 40-foot depth that exists all the way up to the Talleyrand terminal a few miles from downtown.
In addition to using JaxPort for processing vehicles made in Japan, Southeast Toyota processes vehicles made in North America by using facilities at Westlake Industrial Park on the Westside and in Commerce, Ga. Southeast also has a parts distribution center in Jacksonville that supplies its dealers. The Jacksonville sites employ about 800 people combined.
The deal with Southeast Toyota benefits the region by bringing in new investment and retaining jobs with the prospect of future growth, said Aundra Wallace, president of JAXUSA Partnership, the regional economic development arm of JAX Chamber.
He said it reinforces the impact JaxPort has on generating jobs “for all walks of life” across the region.
“JaxPort plays such a huge role in that from e-commerce to advanced manufacturing to transportation logistics,” he said after attending the JaxPort board meeting that approved the lease. “JaxPort is at the heart of it. I continue to say that our growth is tied to the growth of JaxPort for this entire region.”
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Southeast Toyota Distributors extends lease with JaxPort up to 40 years