Yulee’s Growth, Emergence of Wildlight

Nassau County’s Wildlight Community

With the start of the school year 2017-2018, Nassau County School District’s newest elementary school, Wildlight, opens its doors for their inaugural year.

Fernandina schools are the “Pirates,” and Yulee is known as the home of the “Hornets.” But the kids attending school at 550 Curiosity Avenue will be the Wildlight “TrailBlazers.”

The elementary school is an integral part of the new Wildlight community being developed by Raydient Places & Properties, a real estate services subsidiary of Rayonier. The first model homes to be built are expected to break ground soon.

Huge Community To Emerge

Consider 2017 as the birth year of what will become a sizable town of its own in the future. Wildlight is not just a new home “development.” Covering 2,900 acres, Wildlight is “approved for 7 million square feet of office, commercial, medical, industrial and residential uses…and is expected to include 3,200 residential units,” according to a news release. Besides single-family homes, apartment living will also be an option. Wildlight will likely take decades to approach complete build out.

Wildlight Avenue Intersection, State Rd. 200/A1A

Wildlight Avenue Intersection, State Rd. 200/A1A

Where is Wildlight?

For newcomers to Nassau County, FL the entrance into Wildlight is located east of I-95 exit 373 (west of US 17), along State Road 200/A1A (across from William Burgess Blvd., the access road to Florida State College Nassau branch).

Florida Lowcountry Style Homes

“We are thrilled to partner with D.S. Ware to build some of Wildlight’s first residential homes that embody our community’s distinct, Florida Lowcountry style,” said Charles Adams, Vice President of Community Development for Wildlight.

Rayonier’s New Headquarters

Within Wildlight, Rayonier Inc.’s new corporate headquarters has also been under construction this year, a 55,000 square foot building. Rayonier (stock symbol RYN on the NYSE), is “one of the largest private landowners in the USA.” …[They] “own, lease or manage approximately 2.7 million acres of highly-productive timberlands in the U.S. and New Zealand to supply timber to a wide variety of markets including pulp, paper, lumber, renewable energy production and other wood products,” according to the company’s website.

For those unfamiliar with this area, Rayonier has a long local history. A plant, Rayonier Advanced Materials Inc. (stock symbol RYAM), is located in Fernandina Beach. It was established on the riverfront long ago in 1937. This plant “produces 155,000 metric tons of softwood cellulose specialties per year,” according to its website.

Wildlight Phase I

A July 2017 news release by northeast Florida home builder, D.S. Ware, announced their presence in the Wildlight community.

The new community’s Phase I is “designed for about 1,000 homes across about 260 acres plus nearly 350 acres of permanently preserved open space.”

Besides the new school, residential homes/neighborhoods, and Rayonier’s headquarters, Phase I will also include the Village Center, with retail stores, restaurants, recreational parks, biking and walking trails. The Wildlight community will also have a “high-speed fiber network designed to deliver one-gigabit-per second services. “

Nassau’s Population Growth

Nassau County, Florida’s population is on track to have doubled in a 30-year period through 2020. This is based on a population of 43,941 (as of the 1990 U.S. Census), to the 2020 population projection (a range of 84,500 (medium) to 89,600 (high), according to the Bureau of Economics & Business Research Population Studies. Note that Nassau County’s most recent U.S. Census population estimate for the year 2016 is 80,622.

Allure of the Beach

The motivation to move varies, but many people relocate to Florida for the beaches. Getting to the seashore in a half hour or less is a perk of local living. And when choosing between living in Jacksonville vs. here in Nassau County, some prefer this less populated area of northeast Florida. The US Census population estimate for Duval County (2016) was 926,255, or 1,215 people per square mile. By comparison, Nassau County has 124 people per square mile (2016 Census). Nassau’s public schools also rate in the top tier of Florida’s 67 districts statewide.

On or Off?

One of the first relocation decisions newcomers make when moving to this area is whether to live ON Amelia Island, or OFF the island. Besides affordability (with prices for Amelia Island homes typically higher than a similar home on the mainland), how long it takes to commute to jobs is another consideration for those not yet retired.

Commuting

A large percentage of Nassau County, Florida’s working residents commute to employment located outside of Nassau. As part of the greater Jacksonville, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, Yulee is a growing “bedroom community” of Jacksonville’s job market. With the growing traffic of State Road 200/A1A (more about this further below), those commuting to employment outside of Nassau County may lean toward living in neighborhoods closer to the Interstate. Wildlight’s close proximity to I-95 presents a new, sizable option. And for those who travel on business, easy access to the Jacksonville International Airport located within about 20 minutes, is another convenience.

Amelia Island Beaches, Atlantic Ocean Shoreline

Amelia Island Beaches, Atlantic Ocean Shoreline

“Value of Visitors” to Amelia Island

Amelia Island tourism is a major force fueling the Nassau County economy, but also brings crowds and added traffic. The numbers of visitors to Amelia Island continues to grow, breaking records for several consecutive years. The local impact in recent years of Amelia Island tourism is reportedly 36% to 38% of Nassau County’s sales tax revenue. The latest full year figures for overnight visitors to Amelia Island (year 2016) was reportedly 639,000, according to data published by the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council. However, factoring in daytrippers and visitors staying with friends and family, tourism research suggests annual visitors are well over a million.

State Road 200/A1A

The increases in traffic along the main A1A corridor between I-95 and Amelia Island’s Shave Bridge has not gone unnoticed. Looking back twenty five years, from the I-95 exit heading east on A1A, one could have said “the coast is clear.” In those days, drivers could get off I-95, cruise along A1A and easily arrive on the island in 15 minutes or less.

It’s a different experience now along this east/west route. Many new home developments and commercial retail projects have sprouted up over the years. According to Nassau County School District data, the majority of growth in the county over the last decade has been in the Yulee area. Consider that Yulee has reportedly experienced more than double the number of new dwelling units (4,800), since 2006, as the remaining district areas combined.

Increases in population plus tourism growth has resulted in many more people on the roadways. While some tourist destinations receive a large percentage of visitors arriving by plane, around 74% of visitors drive to Amelia Island, according to tourism research.

Live, Work, Play?

Commuting, while commonplace, can be a less attractive option than the “live, work, play” ideal. Nassau County, and Yulee in particular, is a focus of the Nassau County Economic Development Board’s efforts to attract businesses/employers. Besides tourism-generated jobs, it seems likely that more people will be able to live and work within Nassau County in future years.

Corporations continue to be courted, efforts are underway to lure company relocations and business expansions to Nassau. Employees can enjoy a more laid back coastal lifestyle, while Florida’s more friendly business climate is appealing to companies big and small. There’s also future potential (perhaps more a likelihood), of a Yulee hospital to service the area’s robust growth.

Yulee Shopping

Also drawing traffic to the Yulee area is Nassau County’s largest shopping concentration where A1A intersects the Amelia Concourse and Chester Road. This is where big box retailers have located (including Target, Home Depot, Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx, Ross Dress For Less, and Jo-Ann Fabrics). Plus many other retailers like Ulta Beauty and franchise restaurants such as Panera Bread, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Chili’s. This shopping district is also the location of the AMC Yulee 10-screen movie theatre and the second Publix location in Nassau County.

Road Construction Underway

An multi-year construction project along A1A/State Road 200 to widen the roadway has been underway for awhile. The work being done is to expand the pre-existing four lanes to six instead, needed to accommodate area growth.

State Road 200 (A1A) Road Widening Construction, Yulee, FL

State Road 200 (A1A) Road Widening, Yulee, FL

New FDOT Diverging Diamond

More road construction is coming. A “Diverging Diamond Interchange” is to be built at the Amelia Island/Yulee I-95 Exit 373. The Florida Department of Transportation’s “Diverging Diamond Interchange” construction project is scheduled to start this year and take a few years to be completed (2017-2020).

Watch the FDOT video below. See what the futures holds for this area of Nassau County, FL and Interstate 95. This “Diverging Diamond Interchange” is said to be the first of its kind for the northeast Florida region.

amelia-island-emagazine-fernandina-beach-florida-32034SOCIAL MEDIA: LIKE on Facebook. Get tweets from the beach @FLORIDA32034.