by Mike Sharkey
E’clate Jazz Club and Cafe is one step closer to becoming the first business to jump start the fledgling entertainment district on East Bay Street. Wednesday morning, the Downtown Development Authority unanimously approved partial financing for the club, leaving only the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and City Council as final legislative hurdles.
Club owner and E’clate LLC president Vince O’Rourke plans to put $680,000 of private capital into the project while the JEDC will contribute $50,000 from the Downtown Tax Increment Trust Fund. The fund is a source of low-interest financial assistance available to downtown business and property owners looking to make capital improvements in the business or property.
O’Rourke expects to begin renovating the building at 331 E. Bay St., which is directly across the street from the county courthouse, as soon as Council approves the loan.
“I’m hoping to open by late summer,” said O’Rourke, who will hire three full-time and four part-time employees during the first year while maintaining his position as director of manufacturing systems for Kraft Foods.
Initially, the club will serve lunch Tuesday through Friday with a limited menu on weekend afternoons. In the evening, E’clate will offer imported beer and wine and a menu of appetizers complemented by live jazz acts, ranging from aspiring local students to well-known acts.
O’Rourke, who sold his home in Ponte Vedra Beach and moved downtown to help finance the club, said opening a jazz club has been something he’s wanted to do for years, especially after seeing the concept’s potential in other cities.
“I went with this concept for a couple of reasons,” explained O’Rourke. “One, I’ve always been interested in opening a family-owned business. I do a significant amount of traveling and I have seen this work in cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York. Two, in that area of downtown there isn’t anything today and this will help the entertainment district get started.”
O’Rourke said he’s fully aware that it may take time before his business — and the entertainment district — takes off.
“It’s a gamble,” he said. “Our business plan recognizes that it could be slow. Our first customer base will be the after work and hotel crowd.”
DDA board members said it’s good to see someone willing to be the catalyst to a vital entertainment district.
“I’m glad you’re offering lunch. The people at the courthouse need another lunch option,” said DDA member Denise Watson. “I think it’s beautiful and I’m glad it’s a family business.”
DDA managing director Al Battle said, after spending so much time, money and energy the past couple of years on downtown residential projects, it was good to see entertainment venues starting to come on line.
“The question always was, what do we do after housing? This project meets that need,” said Battle.