DIA agrees to lease historic Brewster Hospital to nonprofit
City Council will decide soon if a proposal to lease the historic Brewster Hospital in Downtown’s LaVilla neighborhood will move ahead.
The Downtown Investment Authority on Wednesday approved an agreement for North Florida Land Trust, a local nonprofit, to lease the city-owned building at 843 Monroe St.
“We wanted to make a statement,” said North Florida Land Trust President Jim McCarthy.
According to the lease agreement, the land trust is offering to provide about $250,000 in interior repairs for the almost 5,700-square-foot former hospital, built in the late 1800s.
McCarthy said those costs could end up being as high as $340,000, “depending on unforeseeable circumstances.”
McCarthy said the money would go toward upgrading the interior of the building, including installing a small elevator, adding a kitchen and making it ADA compliant.
“The city has put a lot of money in the building’s exterior, but the inside needs a good amount of work,” he said.
Previously the city spent $2.3 million to restore the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Property records show the two-story building was developed in 1885.
It has been vacant since the 1960s and has fallen into neglect.
In exchange, the city would allow the land trust to occupy the building rent-free for five years, or until the principal and accrued interest resulting from the improvements is paid off.
After that, the land trust would have the option to lease the building for $12.50 per square foot, roughly $71,250 a year, for two five-year terms.
McCarthy said the land trust eventually would like to own the building.
“We do a lot of work here at City Hall, and we’re planning on doing more work,” McCarthy said. “So, we plan to stay here for a long time.”
Phases of Brewster Hospital were built during the mid- to late-1800s as a private residence.
When it opened as Brewster Hospital in 1901, it was Jacksonville’s hospital for African-Americans and a teaching hospital for nurses.
McCarthy said the property’s historic significance is one reason the land trust was attracted to the site.
It’s that historic legacy that has caused concern from the Brewster and Community Nurses Association when lease or purchase agreements were presented.
McCarthy said the land trust will designate space on the first floor for the Brewster and Community Nurses Association to exhibit its history.
“It’s important for us to maintain that,” he said. “I haven’t had any direct communication with the nurses association, but through the DIA I’ve been told they support our efforts.”
McCarthy said the company wasn’t ready to lease the building in 2016 when the city announced it would be accepting request-for-proposal bids.
At the May DIA meeting, board members announced that any other proposals would have 30 days to submit their bids.
North Florida Land Trust was the sole bid.
According to McCarthy, since 1999 the Land Trust has worked as a nonprofit conservation organization, “focusing on preserving natural resources and historic assets here in the region.”
“Part of our mission as a company is historic restoration, and this was a perfect fit to go with that mission,” he said.
McCarthy said the building is slightly larger than what the nonprofit needs now, but that as the trust grows, it will fill the space.
Legislation will be filed with City Council in the coming weeks to approve the lease agreement.
In the meantime, McCarthy said, the land trust will have a better estimate on the scope of work.
He said work on the building will begin after council approves the agreement.