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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Mar. 10, 202009:36 AM EST

City posts condemnation signs at former Thunderbird site

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The Municipal Code Compliance Division says new ownership triggered new notices and the property will be inspected in April.

An ownership change led to re-issued condemnation signs on the closed Bethelite property along the Arlington Expressway warning that it faces demolition.

“This structure is unsafe and unfit for human habitation and subject to demolition,” says an orange “condemned” sign dated March 3 on the fence at 5865 Arlington Expressway.

Longtime Jacksonville residents remember it as the former Thunderbird Motor Hotel and Dinner Theatre when Arlington was a thriving suburb.

The city Municipal Code Compliance Division ordered the condemnation of the property, which was built in 1964. A sign also says the property owner is required to bring the property into compliance.

“This structure is unsafe and unfit for human habitation and subject to demolition,” says an orange “condemned” sign dated March 3 on the fence at 5865 Arlington Expressway.

The city provided a comment from the Municipal Code Compliance Division:

“New ownership was discovered and the unsafe cases were superseded. The new placards were posted at the property, new notices were sent out to the new owners,” it said.

“We will perform a subsequent inspection in April once due process has been provided to the property owner to respond and begin to take action on the property.”

Property records show 770 Inn and Suites LLC of Miami transferred ownership to Happy New Good Year 770 LLC on Oct. 25.

Happy New Good Year 770’s address in Wilmington, Delaware, is that of CSC North America. CSC is a document recording service.

A posted final notice refers to the owner as Osvaldo Gutkowski in Palermo, Italy.

District 1 City Council member Joyce Morgan said March 10 that she hasn't had contact with the new owners.

“I really don't know what's in their plans and I don't know them,” she said.

Morgan said if owners don't contact her within a few weeks, she would try to reach them. 

She has long advocated for redevelopment of the site.

“This is right at the entrance to Arlington,” she said, noting that it is next to the former Town & Country Shopping Center that is under revitalization into College Park.

She said the Thunderbird site “is a spot that for as long as I've been in office, even way before then, has been an eyesore.”

In November, fire destroyed part of the property, which is not far from the base of the Mathew's Bridge.

Developer Shmuel Bonnardel in Miami said then the fire, which engulfed an empty storage building, would not affect proposed redevelopment.

Bonnardel could not be reached for comment.

A red-and-white “Do Not Enter” sign says it is an unsafe structure and violators will be prosecuted.

A yellow sign dated March 3 indicates owners are violating the code with nuisance vegetation higher than 15 inches; garbage, trash, rubbish and/or debris; and overgrown bushes and shrubbery.

A “Final Notice (Demolition)” posting cites 13 violations whose remedy is “demolish.”

The Bethelite property is at 5865 Arlington Expressway.

Those violations conclude the property is a fire hazard, violates codes, is unfit for human habitation and “structure has parts in danger of falling or being dislodged by the elements.”

Duval County Tax Collector records list 770 Inn and Suites LLC as the owner. The office calculated nuisance and demolition liens of $56,537 for 2018 and 2019 and delinquent taxes of $33,954 for 2018.

Since it was the Thunderbird, the 11-building, 277-room property also served as a Ramada Inn Conference Center. It has been sold several times, including to Bethelite Inc., affiliated with Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. 

The property has been unused for more than a decade.

Bonnardel’s 770 Inn and Suites LLC bought the property in 2017.

Bonnardel said in January 2019 he planned to redevelop the 18.7-acre site in phases, starting with a 68-room motel and lobby building.

In 2018, the city issued 14 notices of violations, including fire and windstorm hazards, accumulation of junk and debris and electrical plumbing violations.

Other citations included failure to keep signs or billboards in repair; nuisance vegetation; trash and debris; graffiti; fences in disrepair; broken doors and windows; unsanitary conditions; missing handrails; deteriorated soffit; an abandoned vehicle; and more.

The site is referred to as the Bethelite property because the monument sign remains. Records show the property is assessed at $1.12 million.

The property anchors the southern part of the Renew Arlington boundary. The Community Redevelopment Area runs from the Arlington Expressway north past Jacksonville University and east along Merrill Road from JU almost to the Southside Connector.

Bethelite and the adjacent Town & Country Shopping Center are in what the CRA’s zoning overlay calls the “catalyst character area.”

Town & Country now is College Park and undergoing renovation.

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