|Born||October 28, 1960|
|Parents||Will & Jane Merrill|
James Collier Merrill (b. 1960) is a real estate developer with his family's Merrill Land Company and J. C. Merrill Investments, a restaurateur with the Great Southern Restaurant Group, a prominent fundraiser for the Republican Party and a community leader who serves on a number of local boards.
Early life & family
Born on October 28, 1960 to Will and Jane Merrill, Collier attended the Pensacola School of Liberal Arts, where he was receiver on the football team. He attended the University of Alabama, but return to the University of West Florida for his final year and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in general management.
Development and business ventures
Merrill is the grandson of lumber magnate Burney Henderson and, with his brothers Will and Burney, has leveraged their family's land holdings along the Gulf Coast to develop a number of condominiums, as well as residential subdivisions and other properties.
In 1998, the three brothers established the Great Southern Restaurant Group, which has developed the Fish House, Atlas Oyster House and Screaming Coyote restaurants, and in 2008 purchased Jackson's restaurant. Their Merrill Land Company owns a number of historic buildings in downtown Pensacola, including Seville Tower and the Bass Building. They also purchased (and later sold) controlling interests in a 400-employee Oregon sawmill and 21,000 acres of Utah timberland.
Collier was part owner in the Independent weekly newspaper, published by Rick Outzen, which competed with his friend Joe Scarborough's Florida Sun paper before ultimately merging into what is now the Independent News.
A stalwart Republican since 1989, Merrill initially helped Lois Benson in her 1994 Republican primary bid before being courted by Joe Scarborough's campaign in 1998. The two men became fast friends. According to Scarborough, "I just thought it was a waste for two guys in their 30s who had the opportunity to work together for a long time for the benefit of Northwest Florida not to be working off the same page."
Merrill was introduced to Governor Jeb Bush through Scarborough, and he became an influential fundraising ally in the predominantly conservative Panhandle. When Scarborough resigned from his Congressional seat in 2001, Merrill's name was bandied about as a likely successor, but he declined to run. "I want to keep serving the community," he said. "But I decided that I want to do it from Pensacola instead of Washington."
In subsequent campaign seasons, Merrill has hosted numerous fundraisers for state and national politicians at his Fish House restaurant.
- Florida Board of Regents, appointed 1998 by Governor Jeb Bush
- University of West Florida Board of Trustees, appointed when board was created in 2001 and served as chairman from 2001-2005
- Community Maritime Park Associates, trustee
- Florida Arts Council, chairman (date needed)
- Home Builders Association of Northwest Florida, board of directors and past president
- Pensacola Museum of Art, trustee emeritus and past president
- Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, former board member
- Arts Council of Northwest Florida, board of directors
- Sacred Heart Hospital, advisory board
- First Union National Bank, board of directors
- Leadership Pensacola, alumni board
- American Red Cross, board of directors
- Catholic Social Services, board of directors
- Lakeview Foundation Pensacola Junior College, executive committee
- Emerald Coast Classic, executive committee.
- "Merrill earns praise with his giving style." Pensacola News Journal, October 10, 1999.
- "Merrill won't try to replace Scarborough." Pensacola News Journal, May 31, 2001.