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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 17, 201805:20 AM EST

Ambassador Hotel block Downtown sold for redevelopment

Buyers plan to restore building and add luxury apartments on city block.

Two St. Augustine developers plan to bring the historic Ambassador Hotel in Downtown Jacksonville back to its “original luster” and add an apartment complex and retail space on the same block.

The partners of Augustine Development Group provided details of their plans Monday, days after they purchased five lots totaling 1.5 acres for $5.4 million.

The adjoining parcels take up an entire city block bordered by Duval, Julia, Church and Pearl streets, directly north of the State Attorney’s Office.

Bryan Greiner and George Bochis said they plan to renovate the Ambassador and are in talks with several hotel chains to operate the 100 rooms inside the storied structure. They confirmed that Cambria and La Quinta are two companies being considered.

Buyers intend to demolish this 3-story former bank building at Julia and Duval streets for construction of apartments.

In addition to rehabbing the hotel, they plan to construct a 200-unit luxury apartment building with 15,000 square feet of retail. To do that, they will demolish the old bank building at 404 N. Julia St., which they said doesn’t have historical significance. It was buit in 1926.

The apartments will come in one- and two-bedroom units and the complex will have a fitness center and a rooftop pool.

Bochis will be the CEO of the project, called Axis Hotels, but management of the facilities will fall to Integrity Hospitality Management, with whom the developers have an existing relationship.

“We hope to cater on the multifamily side for people who work at the State Attorney’s Office and the courthouse,” Greiner said, adding that this is their first project in Jacksonville. The company has worked on dozens of other projects throughout Florida.

They noted that other developers are doing the same type of projects nearby, like the Barnett and Laura Street Trio renovations. 

Sam Easton, of Easton Sanderson & Company, has been the owner of the 95-year-old Ambassador Hotel since 1971. He said he’s happy to see the property go to a “visionary” developer who is “creative and a risk taker.”

He said the Downtown area is in dire need of renovation and that nothing was happening for years but now things are really starting to “take off.”

“People are really signing deals,” he said. 

The developers said they haven’t determined what incentives are available, like federal tax credits, as part of the hotel being in the National Register of Historic Places. 

They also said they have had only preliminary meetings with members of the Downtown Investment Authority and the city of Jacksonville to discuss additional grants or incentives, and that they don’t have any specific funding resources to divulge yet.

Aundra Wallace, DIA CEO, was not available for comment Monday afternoon. 

The Ambassador Hotel at 420 N. Julia St. was sold last week.

The developers said they plan on submitting permit applications in the next few weeks and that the first phase of the project will be to renovate the hotel and then demolish the old bank building next door.

“It was once a very high-end hotel back in the day,” Greiner said. “We want to really bring it back to its original luster, by bringing it up to code with new mechanical, electrical and plumbing.”

The two estimate that the project will take two years to complete, and that their hope is that it gets underway within 90 days.

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