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2013 in review: Bostwick Building survives push to tear it down; Shad Khan finances purchase of Downtown buildings

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

There was much talk about improving Downtown in 2013, but those results might not be seen until 2014 — or after.

Dormant for years, the Laura Street Trio and Barnett Bank Building again made headlines in April when a group led by developer Stephen Atkins bought the historic structures. It was accomplished with $3 million of financial backing from Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

Details have been scarce on plans, but in September Atkins confirmed that Marriott International had approved a franchise for part of the project.

Atkins said at the time that the next step was to propose a public private partnership to the city, which has not happened.

The Shipyards parcel, which has remained vacant the past several years, also was a hot topic in 2013. Yet unlike the Laura Street Trio, there has been no deal, just ideas both formalized and not.

In December, a Ponte Vedra developer pitched the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund on a $1 billion investment centered on a 1,000-foot-tall tower. It would be the tallest structure in Florida and the development could include a convention center and aquarium.

Months before, Khan said he was interested in developing the property, saying it "can be greatly enhanced" to bring economic vibrancy Downtown. In June he said his organization talked to the city, which owns the land. In November, team President Mark Lamping said the vacant land posed a risk of instability for the franchise and that if no other group would step up in a reasonable timeframe, "we'll step in and do it."

The saga of the Bostwick Building continues. Attempts to sell the dilapidated structure at Ocean and Bay streets ultimately failed after an agreement between the owners and a group led by Jacques Klempf dissolved. The group wanted to turn the building into an upscale restaurant, but let the contract expire when it could not be finalized.

The issue then fell into the hands of City Council, which for months deferred a decision to approve the building as a historic landmark while also considering the owner's appeal to demolish the building.

Council in late November decided to approve the designation and deny permission to destroy the building. The next day, the city foreclosed on the building to recoup more than $60,000 in fines. A foreclosure hearing is scheduled this month.

The continued development of 220 Riverside has been a visible growth indicator. The mixed-use development broke ground in November 2012 and has made headway since. It will include 300 apartments, 18,000 square feet of retail and a public, programmed park called Unity Plaza.

Releasing the funds for the park portion of the project created an issue in the latter part of the year, but council ultimately approved the transaction in its final meeting of 2013.

An adjacent project in Riverside also made progress. Pollack Shores Real Estate will develop "The Brooklyn Riverside," a 310-unit apartment project. The first phase could be completed in late summer or early fall.

A use for the former Haydon Burns Library also emerged this year. The Jessie Ball duPont Fund signed an agreement for the building in March and announced it would convert the historic structure into a center for nonprofits.

In other Downtown developments, the Riverwalk improvements began, Hemming Plaza continued to be addressed, the city's homeless day center opened, noise at and the use of Metropolitan Park raged, the crowdsourcing festival One Spark brought thousands Downtown and will seek to improve upon that success in April, and the group behind the USS Adams gained ground in its quest to bring the historic ship Downtown and make it a museum.

Through all of it, the Downtown Investment Authority board finished its first year, highlighted by its hiring of CEO Aundra Wallace, who started in August.

Despite the hire, there remained a lack of confidence in the group by many within council. A lack of results and the group's close ties to the city's Office of Economic Development were the main concerns, which culminated during the budget process when council took back portions of $9 million Mayor Alvin Brown sought to allocate for Downtown.

"There were rumblings of shutting the whole thing at that point," council member Richard Clark said in September, discussing an authority board vote to turn projects over to the OED.

In the months since, the group has assigned liaisons to the projects and Wallace has been involved. The authority has also approved a renovation program worth $750,000 in grants for businesses to match and improve Downtown storefronts. Council must approve that plan.

This year, the authority will wrap up its work on a redevelopment and business plan for Downtown, both of which must be approved by council before it turns control to the authority.

It's a step that would make it independent while establishing Downtown goals and guiding growth principles for years to come. It could be a major step toward quieting those critical of the DIA's lack of results.

dchapman@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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