Trey Mills and his partners decided that the Downtown corner of East Bay Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard was a spirited site for their new business, Manifest Distilling.
It was near the city’s sports venues, the riverfront Shipyards site awaiting development, and in the same building as Intuition Ale Works.
With all that in their backyard, they decided to tap into energy.
“Let’s generate buzz,” he said.
Mills echoed other panelists at an Urban Land Institute North Florida District Council program about infill development.
Eight developers, planners and owners shared their views about investing in vacant or under-used land and buildings in areas surrounded by activity.
“We take that responsibility seriously as a social-justice calling,” said Chris Holland, Florida State College at Jacksonville vice president of student services.
The college intends to lease a 106-year-old building under renovation by the landlord for student housing. The historic Lerner Building, at 20 W. Adams St., was long vacant.
Part of that calling, Holland said, “is looking at our urban core and really thinking about how we can help invigorate and reinforce” the need for infill investment.
Panelists posited many reasons and results: Infill development stimulates the economy, spurs more investment, increases safety, raises property values, puts underused properties on the tax rolls and generates employment.
“We’ve added density to the market and created jobs,” said Patrick McKinley, vice president at Regency Centers Corp., developer of Brooklyn Station on Riverside.
Brooklyn Station is the almost-full retail center anchored by The Fresh Market and filled with restaurants like Zoës Kitchen, Burrito Gallery and BurgerFi.
“Brooklyn, as it continues to develop, is going to change the shopping and dining patterns of the people that live in Riverside and Downtown,” McKinley said.
On the single-family residential side, Alex Sifakis, president of JWB Real Estate Capital LLC, is heavily invested in infill development.
He said he started the company 11 years ago and has bought more than 2,100 properties, comprising 1,300 houses and about 800 infill lots.
The company is a single-family development and redevelopment company that exclusively deals with infill projects.
Sifakis said it currently has 117 properties under construction and 224 in pre-construction.
JWB invests all over town and focuses on properties of $200,000 and below. Sifakis said the houses are rented to tenants – some are sold to investors, while JWB retains management, and others are held in JWB’s portfolio.
His acquisition team sorts through thousands of leads to figure out which lots will work. A lot of the properties were bank-owned, and JWB has begun infill development.
Its first is a former mobile-home park redeveloped into 90 lots. JWB also has been buying lots in subdivisions that went belly-up, he said.
Sifakis also is investing in lots in the Springfield neighborhood north of Downtown.
He said there was opportunity in infill development.
“You have a lot less competition because it’s really hard,” he said, noting matters with utilities, zoning and permitting.
“There are a lot of issues that you have to deal with on infill that you don’t when you are building a subdivision,” Sifakis said.
Another point is pulling together enough property to complete a deal.
“The ability to assemble is difficult to do,” said Bill Mann, Jacksonville Beach planning and development director.
Sifakis and others credited the Downtown Investment Authority for assisting infill development within its boundaries, although he said it needs more money.
Despite that, he sees Downtown filling in.
“Downtown, I believe is going to happen regardless of how much the city does to help because of the way demographics are shifting,” Sifakis said.
Or, as McKinley said, activity generates activity.
Infill in action
Manifest Distilling, 960 E. Forsyth St.
Its founders saw a confluence of positive energy: the Doro District’s entertainment complex; Daily’s Place amphitheater and flex field; the expected transformation of the Shipyards; and EverBank Field.
Lerner Building, 20 W. Adams St.
FSCJ calls it the “Downtown Immersion Project” — creating student housing and a first-floor culinary program in the renovated six-story building.
Brooklyn Station on Riverside, 150 Riverside Ave.
With a mix of restaurants and The Fresh Market, Regency Centers envisioned “a place where the residents and the people who work around the area would want to come and hang out,” said Regency’s Patrick McKinley.
Winston Family YMCA, 221 Riverside Ave.
The Winston Family YMCA in Riverside replaced the 63-year-old Yates Family YMCA in a grand way.
The new $21 million center was developed along the riverfront near Downtown and opened at 221 Riverside Ave. on Aug. 26.
During the construction, the smaller Yates YMCA on the street front remained in operation. Last fall, it came down, revealing the gleaming new structure.
“It took over 25 years,” said Penny Zuber, executive vice president, COO and CFO of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast about the redevelopment.
One of the lessons learned, she said, was convincing the community and members that this time it really was going to happen.
Once designed, it took another two years to start.
Challenges included keeping the site open during construction financing, fundraising and parking — now and in the future.
The opportunities outweighed that: A riverfront site and view, a striking design, the use of local businesses to design and build the center and serving as a stimulus for the renaissance of Downtown and Brooklyn.
Gresham, Smith and Partners, One Enterprise Center, 225 Water St.
Gresham, Smith and Partners moved Downtown after 17 years at Butler Boulevard and Belfort Road. In return, it found room with a view.
The architecture, planning and design firm moved to the top floor of the 22-story One Enterprise Center at 225 Water St., a building that had plenty of space for lease.
Now marketed for sale, the building is 51.2 percent occupied.
Filling in the top of the tower was a design opportunity as well as a chance to experience Downtown. Glass windows line the walls, angling to the top.
To capitalize on that, Principal Trevor Lee said the firm moved the boardroom and other space that can be used by community groups to the front and lined the perimeter with workstations, providing staff and guests with a direct view.
Moving from a suburban office center to the urban core presented challenges, but he found those were offset with some cost savings.
Lee said that if half of the estimated 30,000 workers Downtown came out of their offices for lunch, there would be another 15,000 people populating the streets.
The firm’s move also gave staff and Lee another focus. “We needed to get involved,” he said.
University and Merrill, Complete Streets, University Boulevard and Merrill Road
Allan Iosue, director of development for Pond & Co., is a driver of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Complete Streets program in Arlington.
It is part of the Renew Arlington effort emanating from Jacksonville University east and south, a comprehensive plan to re-energize the Arlington area.
The area was once one of Jacksonville’s original suburban neighborhoods and popular with Downtown executives looking for a place to settle.
As the city expanded, the retail stores, housing and jobs moved to other parts of town with newer developments. Arlington didn’t keep pace.
JTA wants to help spur commercial redevelopment by upgrading the University Boulevard and Merrill Road corridors radiating from JU.
That includes street redesigns, shelters, bicycle and pedestrian access, sidewalks, lighting and landscaping and crosswalks, as well as “traffic calming” features.
“Context Zones” include the JU collegiate village and areas assigned as greenway, commercial civic, residential and town center. Pond and JTA say that the addition of space for sidewalk cafes and street redesign for pedestrians typically are followed by private investment in housing, stores and offices.
“We want to drive that development,” Iosue said.