By Cindy Jackson
December 1, 2020
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Witness Wildlight. Wildlight was born of a vision of Raydient Places and Properties, a subsidiary of Rayonier, Inc., the largest property owner in Nassau County. Wildlight is the newest town to take shape in the zip code that is 32097. In modern-day parlance, Wildlight could be called a modern-day, master planned community and as such has certainly changed the landscape of west Nassau County, in particular.
What makes for a master-planned community? According to www.fool.com/millionacres/real-estate-investing, a site that caters to real estate investors: “A master-planned community (or MPC) is a large, planned residential neighborhood. . . MPCs are often self-contained small cities, with commercial properties and extensive recreational, educational, and other amenities. . . “They often have their own school systems, shopping and business districts, and other components you might expect to find in a typical suburban town.”
Check. Check. And Check. Wildlight has it all.
Witness what is known as “The Village,” where Rayonier had its headquarters and now, so does Florida Public Utilities (FPU). This “area” along Wildlight Avenue will at some point in the distant future become known as the historic district. It contains that quintessential mix of business, residential, and commercial elements.
As to restaurants and retail – the Skinner Brothers Realty, Inc., was the first to offer a multi-use complex which is almost already filled to capacity. Tenants there include RAD (the Royal Academy of Dance), Tastee’s and Cold Stone Creamery.
As a result, Skinner recently completed construction of their multi-use space in September of 2020 and leases have already been signed bringing such entities as Firehouse Subs, Anejo Cocina Mexicana, a family-owned restaurant expanding upon its current location in Ponte Vedra Beach, Hana Sushi and Asian (with its original location being in the Publix shopping center on Amelia Island) and DEP Nail Salon to “the neighborhood.”
A Marriott-branded hotel is next to break ground and also currently in the permitting process is a major grocery chain.
Residential properties, designed to celebrate “FLOCO” or Florida Low County living are selling well. Homebuilders number just five – all hand selected. Those builders are: Dostie Homes, D.S. Ware Homes, Dream Finders Homes, Riverside Homes and the latest to join this illustrious group is Mattamy Homes, out of Canada.
What is known as Founder’s Park is comprised of 84 homesites, of which 52 are occupied and Wildlight’s second neighborhood, named Forest Park has the potential for 122 homesites. Builder models and the first inventory of homes were just recently completed in October.
Homes range in prices from the mid 200’s to the mid 400’s and apartments at The Lofts start at $1200/month.
There are townhomes, garden homes, cottage homes, manor homes, and apartments known as The Lofts. Lots of windows, natural lighting and landscaping done with indigenous flower and fauna are all part of the plan. Big porches, lots of open spaces all created to create facilitate meaningful community connections are designed to create a true “neighborhood” in the old-fashioned sense of the word.
Not even the mess which is the pandemic that is COVID has dampened the enthusiasm for this new community.
If fact, explained Chris Corr, Senior Vice President for Real Estate and Public Affairs and President, Raydient Places and Properties, COVID has actually created more demand for homes in Wildlight as individuals and families want a community that is connected to the outdoors and which has all the conveniences of daily life located within walking distance. As such, Wildlight promotes a safer, healthier way of living.
And as a national model for healthy communities, Raydient will be taking its Wildlight model to Richmond Hill, GA.
At a masked meeting on one sunny Wednesday afternoon, Corr, described “the vision” and the work that continues at Wildlife.
Corr identified the pillars around which this master-planned community is built and those are healthy living, education/intellectual energy, community engagement and thoughtful design/sustainability.
Corr pointed to the University of Florida’s facility. UF was one of the first partnerships created as a part of that vision. It offers urgent care and primary care now and plans to add pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology . . . and dentistry. But under the principle of a “continuum of care,” UF has built a rehab facility just “down the block and right next to a brand a new YMCA” which itself offers a bounty of exercise options, including an outdoor turf area for open-air workouts, yoga, classes, spin classes and the list goes on. An impressive list of subjects can also be found on the curriculum for the traditional classroom as well. And if that weren’t enough, child care is provided when parents take part in all that the Y has to offer.
In addition, those facilities, Wildlight offers an extensive system of trails for biking and hiking and safely walking from place to place. There are swimming pools, ponds for fishing and acres upon acres of conserved forest to connect with nature in a multitude of ways.
Another pillar is education/intellectual energy. Within the boundaries is the top-rated Wildlight Elementary School, already filled to capacity with additional classrooms planned. KinderCare has also set up shop there and The Diocese of St. Augustine recently opened the St. Clare Early Learning Center.
And while not within the boundaries of Wildlight, but certainly close the Nassau Center campus of the Florida State College Jacksonville (FSCJ) offering abundant opportunities for ongoing and adult education and all just a few short miles down the road on William Burgess Boulevard.
Community engagement. Countless options for work and play. Lots of public spaces to enjoy, huge front porches and trails that lead everywhere, not to mention a very active homeowners association that has developed and offers a variety of activities to bring everyone together. All of that was deliberate as well.
And finally, the overall design was born with an eye toward, not only beauty and continuity, but perhaps more important, sustainability. A quick read of a marketing piece of FPU, touts themselves as being “A Proud Wildlife Pioneer,” explaining “our dedication to environmental and social responsibility aligned so well with Wildlight’s commitment to sustainable growth and infrastructure that we chose to relocate our headquarters to the Wildlight community in 2019.”
The vision for Wildlight, while not identified as such, was outlined by Taco Pope, (now) County Manager, in the Growth Trend Report for 2032,
No matter how different we are, we share one overarching similarity, a desire to create a vibrant and dynamic community that provides a high quality-of-life and quality-of-place for our families and ourselves. The type of community that inspires connections with the natural and built environment. A community that promotes day-to-day social engagement and inter- personal connections amongst community members. A community that facilitates the creation of places that are not only beautiful in form but functional for day-to-day life. A community that prioritizes a generational approach to securing the unique character of Nassau County.
During a later conservation, Corr noted that “It has been our home for nearly a century. So many of our employees live here and are raising their families here. It’s where we choose to invest and locate our company headquarters and Wildlight is just one small part of how Rayonier engages with stakeholders to help maintain and guide our higher quality of life. And, these efforts are in the very early stages. We truly do believe the future of Nassau County is bright and are grateful to be a part of it.”
With such easy access to I-95, the Jacksonville Airport, St. Augustine and St. Mary’s, Wildlight appears to have it all. There is good reason for Mr. Corr refers to Wildlight as “the Front Door to Nassau County.”