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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 21, 201902:02 PM EST

DIA tables Blackwater Capital offer to buy, develop city-owned property in LaVilla

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The Downtown Investment Authority plans to create a policy for handling unsolicited bids and offers to purchase city-owned property.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

An unsolicited offer by Blackwater Capital LLC to purchase 4.95 acres of city-owned land in LaVilla was tabled Wednesday by the Downtown Investment Authority board.

The DIA pushed any action on the proposal to at least Sept. 18 as the authority drafts a policy for unsolicited bids within the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area. 

Blackwater managing member William Stanly III sent two letters of intent to DIA CEO Lori Boyer on Aug. 7, both proposing mixed-use projects to “complement” the proposed Vestcor Companies townhome development on the adjacent properties.

Blackwater was one of two companies that lost the bid to Vestcor on Aug. 8 to develop the for-sale townhomes in LaVilla at Adams, Johnson, Lee and Forsyth streets.

Blackwater’s first letter offered $125,000 for six parcels at Forsyth, Lee, Bay and Johnson streets, a vacant lot east of the JTA Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center that is under construction.

Its second letter suggests Blackwater would purchase the parcel at 200 N. Lee St. for $350,000 on the north side of the future townhome site. Apex Color, a wholesale printing company with a 30,000-square-foot facility and 55 employees, is leasing the site. 

According to Stanly, his proposal would keep Apex on the site and Blackwater would become its landlord.

At the DIA board meeting, Stanly said he agreed with the board’s move to set a policy on unsolicited bids, but urged the DIA not to “drag your feet.” 

“These offers were not contingent on the outcome of the LaVilla townhome vote,” Stanly said. “I see opportunity there and I want to leverage and grow that opportunity.”

Blackwater, Johnson Commons LLC and Vestcor bid on the townhome project, with Vestcor selected by the DIA. 

Blackwater’s letters did not specify what it is planning for the properties. Following Wednesday’s meeting, Boyer said the lack of detail in the proposals and Apex’s long-term lease were reasons to table the solicitation until a permanent vetting process is in place. 

Bidding criteria

Before its September board meeting, DIA officials will hold a Strategic Implementation Committee meeting to determine criteria when considering unsolicited bids.

Some of the requirements already are set by city code. The DIA is authorized to receive all unsolicited bids, but it is not required by law to respond. According to DIA draft criteria, any bid under $25,000 is not subject to City Council approval.

Other limitations or mandatory filings by the bidder will have to be set by the board.

However, Boyer said losing a month while the board completes its policy doesn’t come without risk.

“It’s always a concern, especially with all the talks of the recession. But I would say, if one had forced us to respond to the particular unsolicited proposal, my recommendation would be to reject them,” she said. “It’s not like it’s a piece of property on the market.”

Boyer said JTA transportation infrastructure planned on Forsyth Street could put the property at a disadvantage for some development uses. 

A 10-set meeting Monday between DIA Operations Manager Guy Parola and JTA officials focused on a proposal to widen Forsyth street to accommodate two dedicated bus lanes. Boyer said if that project results in more traffic, it may not be ideal for first-floor retail.

Board members Ron Moody and Todd Froats said they agreed with Stanly that they need to act quickly in the redevelopment of LaVilla, but also stressed proper procedure. 

“If, in fact, we’re going to have road improvements on Forsyth or Bay Street, we darn sure don’t want to transfer ownership of a parcel and then have to take it back through the process of eminent domain. That’s very expensive,” Moody said. “Let’s do this properly.”

LaVilla townhome project

A meeting between Vestco and Boyer this week produced a tentative agreement to convert some first-floor units facing Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park into retail.

Boyer told Vestcor officials the DIA board preferred the Johnson Commons’ architectural style and retail elements, but chose Vestcor because of its project completion rate Downtown and financial capacity.

Boyer said Vestcor agreed to consider architectural changes to “show more of the LaVilla flavor and history in their designs.” She hopes to have the redevelopment agreement for that project to the board by Sept. 19.

“A community is much more than just residential units. If I just build residential units, I’m just building another suburb. It just happens to be located Downtown,” Boyer said.

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