As he presented the latest plan to renovate Downtown’s Laura Trio and old Barnett Bank Building, Linea LLC Managing Partner Stephen Atkins referenced the City’s current streetscape improvement project.
“The City is spending $3 million on Laura Street. We look at this project as the first return on investment,” said Atkins.
He detailed the plan to convert the Florida Life Building, Bisbee Building and the Marble Bank Building into mixed-use with retail on the street level and residential properties on the floors above. The east side of the plan also includes a new apartment structure with a modern architectural theme and a new eight-story parking garage to meet the needs of the tenants and patrons of the restaurant proposed for the former bank.
On the west side of Laura Street, the former headquarters of Barnett Bank is slated to become a combination of retail, apartments and a boutique hotel concept, including traditional guest rooms and an executive level with enhanced amenities.
“We believe these properties are the centerpiece of the Laura Street corridor,” said Atkins. “We chose these buildings for their historical significance. We will preserve their history and bring the properties back to life in a responsible way.”
More than once during his presentation, Atkins pointed out that what he was showing was “conceptual at this level” and after the presentation wouldn’t comment on the business side of the proposal. “We hope to close on the properties within 90 days but we have to have the development agreement” with the City before purchasing the four buildings, he said.
Linea is working on the project in conjunction with Capital City Partners, a Tallahassee-based developer with the 117-room Hotel Duval, a historic restoration a few blocks from the state capital, to its credit.
Atkins said the two firms joined forces when they discovered they were both looking at the Laura Street properties and felt the combination of goals could make a better overall project. Also, he said, the owner, who took over the properties when Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn defaulted on his loans, desires to sell the four buildings as a group.
Atkins said Linea is considering financial options including federal historic tax credits. “All types of incentives will be explored,” he said.
Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Executive Director Ron Barton said after the presentation that his office for two years has been a “revolving door” of people looking at the buildings. “But none of them generated this kind of effort.”
Barton also said he believes the buildings will not be saved unless the City takes a role. He wouldn’t comment on the possible structure of a development agreement other than to say, “My job is to be creative and use a different approach than we have in the past.” Barton also said the City’s Historic Trust Fund will have to be used as equity in the project.
“Now instead of wishing we had a use, we have a viable concept,” said Barton. “It compels us to start the discussion about how the City can take part.
“Now our work is to define the City’s role. We don’t have an answer now. That’s what we’ll work on over the next several weeks.”