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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Nov. 12, 202009:00 PM EST

DDRB awards conceptual approval for Central National Bank restoration

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The estimated $30 million project would create a 139-unit, mixed-use project in Downtown’s North Core.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

The Downtown Development Review Board gave conceptual approval Nov. 12 to AXIS 404 Julia LLC’s proposed mixed-use restoration of the historic Central National Bank Building Downtown.

The St. Augustine-based developer plans to renovate the 1950s-era building at 404 N. Julia St. and add an eight-story apartment building.

Augustine Development Group, which manages the development company, has two other adaptive reuse projects in the two-block area.

Company President Bryan Greiner and CEO George Bochis are working toward renovating the historic Ambassador Hotel at 420 N. Julia St. and the 19-story Independent Life Building at 233 W. Duval St.

On Nov. 9, Bochis estimated the Central National Bank restoration and new construction as a $30 million investment.

Dasher Hurst Architects Principal Thomas Hurst told DDRB on Nov. 12 that the historic bank building will be returned to its midcentury modern look. He plans to replace and reveal bricked-in windows to add light and views for residents.

The developer intends to convert the former bank into the main lobby of a 139-unit mixed-use apartment project, according to DDRB documents released Nov. 6. 

Renderings and a site plan submitted to DDRB show 36 residential apartments and 3,240 square feet of commercial retail space in the historic structure. The remaining 103 apartments will be new construction in an eight-story building, according to the DDRB staff report. 

The former Central National Bank Building at 404 N. Julia St.

The DDRB voted 7-1 to advance the proposal which requires the board’s final approval before the developer can break ground.

Board member Craig Davisson was the only vote against the approval. Member Christian Harden was absent.

Several board members want changes to the 487-space parking garage’s design.

Board member J. Brent Allen noted that guests staying in rooms at a restored Ambassador hotel facing the shared alleyway will look at a plain parking structure with no rooftop features.

“It’s an inward-facing facade, so we saw that as less of a priority,” Hurst said. “On projects like this where we do, honestly, have a limited budget. We have to pick and choose where we spend our money.” 

Davisson said he’d like to see more retail similar to a recently proposed parking structure by VyStar Credit Union at Laura and Forsyth streets.

Dasher Hurst also is the project architect on that proposal. 

Davisson said he’d like to see more engagement with pedestrians on the parking garage ground floor by possibly including more retail. 

“I think what’s happening on grade on the three sides is pretty underwhelming. If we saw the kind of energy that the Laura (Street) garage has at grade, I think it would be an opportunity to really square this block off.”

The garage will serve all three Augustine Development projects and the nearby Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department headquarters. 

City Council approved the developer’s request to designate the property a local landmark in September. 

The historic status will make the project eligible for city-backed forgivable loans for adaptive reuse of existing structures in Jacksonville’s Downtown National Register District.

According to the legislation, the Central National Bank Building was the first modern bank building constructed Downtown after World War II.

Edwin T. Reeder, one of the state’s leading architects at the time, designed it. The legislation said he is known for work on civic buildings, financial institutions, military facilities, hospitals, commercial buildings and private residences.

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