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The former Florida National Bank, part of the historic Laura Street Trio, has been leased by restaurateur Scott Schwartz, who owns 29 South Restaurant in Fernandina Beach.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 23, 201412:00 PM EST

'Bullbriar' slated for Laura Street Trio; developer still hoping for $8M from city

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

While the developer of the Barnett Bank Building and Laura Street Trio continues to negotiate with the city over its potential financial participation in the $70 million project, the owner of a Fernandina Beach restaurant has signed a long-term lease to operate in one of the buildings.

Scott Schwartz, chef and owner of the 29 South Restaurant, said Monday he signed a 10-year lease with two five-year renewals for the former Florida National Bank building, often referred to as the “Marble Bank.”

The full-service restaurant and bar will be named “The Bullbriar” after a North Florida native plant once used to make sarsaparilla and beer.

The menu will feature upscale Southern-style food, with many ingredients obtained locally. Schwartz said it will be at least 12 months after building permits are issued for the renovation before he will be ready to print menus for the restaurant.

But, he said, “anyone who has spent any time in the South will recognize the cuisine.”

Plans include 175 seats in the restaurant, a bar and private dining rooms and a wine cellar in the former bank vaults in the basement.

Schwartz said he is evaluating candidates to design the restaurant in keeping with the historic nature of the building and its ambiance.

“When you walk into that building, it speaks to you,” he said. “It’s from an era of architectural elegance.”

Steve Atkins, principal and managing director of SouthEast Group, the developer of the project, previously announced a 131-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel would be built in one of the Laura Street Trio buildings.

Atkins said Monday he continues to work on securing about $8 million of the four-building project’s $70 million budget from the city to cover the public portion of the proposed public-private partnership.

After Atkins presented the project in September to the World Affairs Council, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said the city did not have that much capital available for the project.

Two weeks ago, Wallace said he has been in negotiations with SouthEast, but “it’s really difficult to try to make the numbers work.”

Atkins and his partners own the Laura Street Trio “debt-free.” But for the hotel and restaurant to move forward, he said, the city needs to commit to the entire project, including renovation of the former Barnett Bank building. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan loaned the developers $3 million to buy the building.

“The trio is still on hold until the city decides its involvement,” he said Monday.

Wallace placed a deadline of April 1 for the city to make a “go or no go” decision on whether to contribute funds to the project. Atkins said that time frame matches his. “We hope to be able to come to resolution with the city,” he said. “It’s progressing nicely. We hope to be off and running in the new year.”

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