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The former Community Connections building at 325 E. Duval St. could soon be designated as a historic landmark and be converted into apartments.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 9, 201712:00 PM EST

Cathedral District development moves to council

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The ordinance would turn part of Community Connections' building into a historic landmark.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

A project to transform a Downtown Cathedral District block will head to City Council.

Ordinance 2017-436 was filed this week and designates part of the former Community Connections building at 325 E. Duval St. as a historic landmark.

It’s the latest step for Jacksonville-based Chase Properties Inc. President Mike Balanky and his efforts to buy the 1.5-acre property, which includes several buildings, and turn it into a multifamily, mixed-use development.

Balanky’s plan would bring 115-120 market-rate apartments and some workforce housing to the area, a project he described in May as a “catalyst for the Cathedral District.”

The road to council, however, hasn’t been easy for Balanky and the property’s owner, Community Connections of Jacksonville Inc.

During two contentious meetings in April and May, they sparred with the Historic Preservation Commission about what to do with the Colonial Revival-style structure, built in 1949.

At a lengthy meeting April 26, Community Connections withdrew its application to tear down the 45,000-square-foot building to make room for the project. The withdrawal came after the commission voiced concerns.

The commission can deny demolition if a building meets at least four of seven standards set for historic preservation.

During the May meeting, the parties regrouped and found common ground with commissioners.

Balanky and Ginny Myrick of Cathedral District Jax Inc. offered a new plan that saves the most “significant parts” of the building — an L-shaped section facing East Duval Street and Shields Place — while demolishing a small, interior-facing section.

That section, which features a flat roof and a less-ornate exterior, they contended, didn’t match the rest of the building, and wouldn’t be missed.

Commissioners agreed and approved partial demolition with one caveat.

Community Connections is required to seek historic landmark designation for the L-shaped building because it is considered a contributing property in the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District, as listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building was developed for the YWCA to house young women and in 1978 it began to shelter homeless women and children.

Community Connections of Jacksonville used the building until December, when it shut down because of financial struggles.

The property is facing foreclosure from the city, the first lienholder on debt the charity accrued from the Florida Housing Finance Corp. to upgrade the facility.

In 1995, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. awarded Community Connections a $288,200 State Apartment Incentive Loan to rehab the building.

Balanky said in May the project wouldn’t be feasible if the property went into foreclosure.

If the landmark designation is approved by council, Balanky said he will move ahead with more concrete plans, eventually submitting the vision to the Downtown Investment Authority.

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