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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 2, 202108:20 PM EST

DIA approves $182.2 million Times-Union site plan with first-phase restaurant

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City Council will review the $31.59 million incentives deal for Atlanta-based Fuqua Development’s Brooklyn project.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Atlanta-based Fuqua Development LLC’s plans for a $182.2 million project at the former Florida Times-Union site in Brooklyn will include a riverfront restaurant in the first phase.

The Downtown Investment Authority Board voted 7-0 on Sept. 2 to approve a $31.59 million incentives package for the project after delaying the vote two weeks to push the developer to add the restaurant.

Board members David Ward and Craig Gibbs were absent.

Fuqua wants to demolish the T-U building and replace it with One Riverside Avenue, a residential and retail project along the St. Johns River. 

The project proposes developing the west portion of the property, about 13.42 acres, in two phases. It includes a grocer, retail uses and 271 apartments in two multifamily buildings. 

The plan also would restore McCoys Creek and add a public park to the east side of the property.

The DIA board tabled Resolution 2021-08-01 on Aug. 18 to negotiate the restaurant’s size, location and city-backed financing. 

“This is not a three-hour-per-day establishment,” DIA CEO Lori Boyer said. 

“We’re requiring that it be open six days per week, two meal periods a day …  to ensure it’s really the full-service restaurant we were looking for.”

The helipad at the Times-Union site is on the west side of the property.

The DIA pushed for a riverfront restaurant to open at the site as soon as possible.

The second phase includes a restaurant, but that would not begin construction until at least 2025 and relies on the city to complete the restoration and relocation of McCoys Creek.

The DIA agreed to give the developer a forgivable loan for up to half of the riverfront restaurant’s development cost. 

The loan cannot exceed $750,000, according to the term sheet negotiated by DIA and Fuqua. 

Board member Oliver Barakat, who pushed for the first-phase riverfront restaurant Aug. 18 with board member Bill Adams, said leaving the restaurant to phase two would have been “a huge missed opportunity.” 

The agreement needs City Council approval, but adding the restaurant increases the city incentives package for both phases from $30.84 million to $31.59 million. 

That includes: 

• A 20-year, 75% Recapture Enhanced Value Grant property tax refund not to exceed $28,419,169.

• A completion grant not to exceed $1,719,320. 

• A restaurant completion grant not to exceed $750,000.

• Dedication of city rights-of-way valued at $545,000.

• A mobility fee credit of $160,651. 

Fuqua plans to bring in an apartment developer for the multifamily project. 

According to the term sheet, the project developers will not receive the retail or residential REV grants if the restaurant is not built.

As part of the agreement, the city would purchase the proposed parkland from the developer for $6.04 million. 

A riverfront restaurant could be located at the property's helipad.

Restaurant requirements

The DIA’s terms require the restaurant to seat at least 100 people.

Fuqua proposed two options.

If it is located on the property’s former helipad, the restaurant will have a minimum of 2,500 square feet of indoor space and no less than 500 square feet of outdoor service area. 

If Fuqua decides to build it as part of a residential building, the term sheet says the restaurant must have 3,000 square feet of enclosed space and no less than 500 square feet of riverfront outdoor service area. 

The city will forgive the loan at 10% per year if the restaurant operates for a minimum of eight hours per day and six days per week, according to the term sheet.

If the restaurant changes operators, the city will allow it to be closed for a maximum of 60 days before it impacts the loan.

The deal requires the developer to receive the restaurant’s final design approval from the Downtown Development Review Board within six months of buying the land with a deadline of April 30, 2022. 

Fuqua and the DIA agreed to remove a liquidated damages clause from the agreement that would have entitled the developer up to $1,000 per day if the city fails to complete work to reroute McCoys Creek and prep the phase two site by September 2023.

Instead, Fuqua will have the option to require the city to purchase the phase two land if the work is not completed within six months of the deadline.

The term sheet states the city must complete the design and receive all permits to relocate the creek within 12 months of the parkland purchase, but no later than Dec. 31, 2022. 

A site plan for the Times-Union property with a park to the east.

Design questions

In a written statement, former American Institute of Architects President Ted Pappas, of Jacksonville, asked the DIA to reconsider Fuqua’s conceptual site plan that will replace the midcentury modern-style T-U building, which was built in 1967.

Pappas criticized the plan as a “congested grouping of suburban structures.”

“The developer seeks abundant taxpayer funding for this project,” Pappas wrote.

“The entire city has great expectations for an iconic design solution for this project that is positioned as the gateway to our city center.”

Nancy Powell, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Scenic Jacksonville, read the statement to the board.

Barakat, board member Carol Worsham and Chair Braxton Gillam agreed that architectural quality is important for a Downtown riverfront development but said it is too early to judge Fuqua’s plans.

The developer has not released renderings for One Riverside Avenue.

Worsham and Boyer noted the design quality will be reviewed when the project moves to the Downtown Development Review Board.

“We see a site plan that is probably not final, it’s very conceptual, and those of us as designers or architects or engineers or landscape architects look at that and think, ‘I want more.’ I think the devil is in the details,” Worsham said.

Barakat said he agrees that what Fuqua presented “feels like a high-density suburban site plan” but said the site comes with constraints like necessary riverview corridors and McCoys Creek.

Gillam said he was frustrated by the public’s criticism of a “design that’s yet to occur.” 

He said the development takes “unused, blightish-looking buildings” and redevelops part of the site into a minimum 4.5-acre public park with improved community access to the creek and St. Johns River.

The deal moves to the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee before Boyer files legislation with Council for a final vote on the incentives.

 

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