Southbank Jacksonville Poised For growth explosion in 2016-2017

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Redeveloping the Southbank is all about “placemaking,” Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace likes to say.

With several new developments on the cusp of becoming reality, major stakeholders from the residential, medical and central business districts met in late November to have a “conversation” in order to begin “pulling the pieces together” as several key developments go forward in the New Year, Wallace said.

“We want to make sure the Southbank gets the same kind of vibe as neighborhoods like Brooklyn, Riverside and 5 Points,” said Wallace, noting that the Southbank is part residential, part business, and part medical, but is also a recreational area, with The Riverwalk, Treaty Oak Park, and the Museum of Science and History, as well as walking trails planned for one of the new riverfront developments.

Already the city has fully funded plans to reconfigure Riverplace Boulevard so it can become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Conceptual planning on the project was completed in December with designs forwarded to the DIA for its approval in January, after which the project will be put out to bid. Provided there are no hitches, construction should begin in early 2017 and take nine months to complete, Wallace said.

As at least two large Southbank developments are in the works, it is important to take steps now to insure pedestrian and vehicular mobility as well as parking will be incorporated so the area has a cohesive sense of place, Wallace said, noting good signage and well-blended urban landscaping between the different developments within the community is essential. “We want the Southbank to have a vibe to it,” he reiterated. (For more on Southbank parking, refer back to story on page 4).

A new name for Healthy Town

Perhaps one element that will give the Southbank “vibe” and make it a destination within Jacksonville’s downtown is the new name developers Peter Rummell and Michael Balansky and partner Michael Munz, all of San Marco, have given “Healthy Town,” the urban resort they plan to build on 30 acres of river frontage east of the Duval County Public School Building.

In August, the trio decided the official name of their project would be “The District – Life Well Lived – Jacksonville” after they launched an online naming contest requesting suggestions for a name, which embodies “a place where you can live healthily.”

“I can envision people saying ‘The District on the Southbank,’” said Wallace, noting in his mind the tag line “Life Well Lived” exemplifies the kind of community the Rummell and Balanky are striving to build.

“The District blends in a lot of what the Southbank is becoming,” Wallace said. “The Southbank Riverwalk is a place where people walk and run. It’s all about a healthy lifestyle. It’s all about wellness as well. It will become a Northeast Florida slogan unto itself. The District on the Southbank, I can hear that people would say that,” he said.

Rummell and his partners were successful bidders during the JEA’s 2014 Request for Proposal process. They are continuing to secure allocation agreements as well as master planning and are working to complete due diligence requirements.

“We have the allocation of development rights as approved by the Downtown Investment Authority,” said Munz. “We’re beginning the application process for the DDRB (Design Development Review Board), which will also go back through the DIA. And we’re beginning to have conversations with the city for the redevelopment agreement,” he said, noting all that will be going on between now and the closing date.

At a cost of $400 to $500 million, The District will feature three phases including a total of 1,170 homes for rent or sale, 200 hotel rooms, 288,500 square feet of commercial/retail space and 200,000 square feet of office space. The architecture will be an eclectic mix of complementary styles. In the plans is a marina, so that The District can take full advantage of its riverfront location. The Southbank Riverwalk will be extended around the 30-acre site to allow nature trails and walking paths to circumnavigate the entire project.

On Dec. 15, Equity Resources LLC of Birmingham, Alabama, announced plans to develop a high-end luxury apartment community in connection with The District. Referred to as The District Luxury Apartments, the development will make up one component of the first three phases the developers have planned. (See story page 13).

Groundbreaking scheduled for the first phase is slated for early to mid-summer 2016, with the first apartment homes completed and ready for residents to move in 18 months later, according to Munz.

New apartments on Crawdaddy’s site

Meanwhile on the other side of the Duval County School Board Building on the site of the former Crawdaddy’s Restaurant, Alliance Residential Company, a development firm based in Phoenix, Ariz., plans to build Broadstone River House, a 300-unit apartment building.

Alliance Residential representatives have consulted with DIA staff about the project, but at this time the company isn’t seeking tax incentives; instead the firm is asking DIA to help expedite entitlements to hurry the project along, according to information obtained on the company website.

“Alliance is working through the conceptual design. We should see a final design soon,” said Wallace.

Planned for the three-acre parcel is a five- to six-story structure of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as a parking garage. According to the company website, Broadstone Riverhouse will be similar to the ultra-modern Broadstone Hyde Park, which the development firm opened in Tampa. Broadstone Hyde Park offers apartments with nine-foot ceilings, gourmet kitchens and wood flooring.

The community amenities will include a pool, courtyard, fire pit and game areas, social clubroom and billiards lounge as well as a health club that will feature yoga and spin studios and top-grade fitness equipment.

Monthly rental rates will range from $1,100 for a studio to $2,000 per month for the largest two-bedroom unit.

Former Wyndham Hotel changed hands

In June 2015, an affiliate of the Vantage Hospitality Group of Coral Gables purchased the former Wyndham Hotel and the five acres it resides on, located at 1515 Prudential Dr., for $9 million and rebranded it to the Lexington Hotel & Conference Center.

Since then, the hospitality group applied to the city for a permit to make renovations and expects to spend $2.46 million refurbishing the structure.

Meanwhile, according to Duval County records, on Aug. 31, Miami developer Ramon Llorens purchased the 11-acre, doughnut-shaped parcel surrounding the hotel, which includes riverfront acreage, a 1.41-acre parking lot and the Chart House Restaurant. The seller was Riverwalk Jacksonville Development LLC of Miami, which sold the property as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Llorens, who owns multiple properties in Jacksonville, could not be reached about his intention for the property. Wallace said Llorens purchased the property, yet has not revealed plans for it. “I’m not sure what his plans are. He has not shared them with us,” he said.

Other future construction activity on the Southbank includes property at 1444 Home Street, where Dr. Robert Bass, a gastroenterologist from Jacksonville Beach intends to develop his property behind Clara’s Tidbits Restaurant and Catering into a 50-unit apartment complex. (See story page 5.)

Also, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority currently has the old North Florida Transportation Organization building on Prudential Drive up for sale. “The TPO Building is a key parcel,” Wallace said. “We are closely monitoring that property.”

Hospital District expands

Along with the new MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is slated for construction in San Marco on Palm Avenue across from Nemours Specialty Care, Baptist Health expanded its foothold in the Southbank in June, when it purchased the duPont Center, two office buildings, which are in close proximity to The District.

The buildings, located at 1650 and 1660 Prudential Drive, provide a “strategic investment” for the health system, which has its principal campus at 800 Prudential Drive, said Scott Wooten, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Baptist Health. Baptist Health established its main hospital on the Southbank in 1955.

The health system paid $16 million for the Class A office buildings, which comprise 80,000 square feet of office space over nine acres. Parking and two vacant acres are included in the deal, Wooten said.

Baptist Health purchased the buildings from Flagler Development Company, which built them in 1989.

The multi-tenant office buildings are 89 percent leased, Wooten said. “We want all current tenants to know we are committed to maintaining an excellent work environment for them,” he said.

“We own some buildings and lease space in others. We know that long-term, owning is more cost-effective than renting so this was a purchase decision that made sense,” he continued. “We plan to occupy some of the available space in the buildings. Gradually, over an extended period of time, as additional space becomes available, we will look at creating efficiencies by centralizing some of our administrative offices as well as a few clinical services, which are currently scattered in leased spaces throughout the city.”

Clearly, with several new developments in the works, by this time in 2017, the Southbank may be well on its way to looking very different from what it is now.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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