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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 21, 202102:39 PM EST

DIA board approves two historic renovation projects in Urban Core  

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JWB Real Estate Capital plans to redevelop the Old Federal Reserve Bank and Florida Baptist Convention buildings while Regions Bank looks at a five-year plan for headquarters improvements
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Downtown Investment Authority board approved the first two private development projects Jan. 20 that applied for financing from its enhanced historic incentive program.

The board voted 8-1 to grant JWB Real Estate Capital’s request for $8,706,356 from the Downtown Preservation and Restoration Program to renovate and restore the Florida Baptist Convention Building at 218 W. Church St. and the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building at 424 N. Hogan St.

A request by Regions Bank for $900,000 in historic preservation program assistance and a $200,000 economic development loan for the $2.633 million rehabilitation and preservation of its headquarters building Downtown at 51 W. Bay St. along with temporary parking expenses was approved 9-0.

JWB Real Estate Capital

JWB, led by company President Alex Sifakis, plans 24 studio and one-bedroom market-rate apartments for the Church Street building. 

The Florida Baptist Convention Building also will have two 2,000-square-foot restaurant spaces and two retail spaces of 655 square feet and 492 square feet on the first floor and in the basement.

JWB plans to renovate the Hogan Street building to include two restaurant spaces: 4,500 square feet on the first floor and 2,900 square feet in the basement.

The second and third floors of the property each will offer 4,500 square feet of event space.

Plans for the redevelopment will link the buildings via an outdoor courtyard to the adjacent Seminole Building. JWB Real Estate Capital owns the three structures.

The DIA staff reports show the incentives comprising forgivable loans totaling $3,370,170; Code Compliance Forgivable Loans totaling $3,325,900; and Downtown Preservation and Revitalization Program Deferred Principal Loans totaling $1,727,864.

Board member Braxton Gillam voted no on the incentives. He noted the city’s projected return on investment of 50 cents for every $1 of taxpayer money is near the low end of what the DIA’s public investment policy allows.

Gillam said he doesn’t like that the developer will pay for more than 50% of the roughly $16 million project with federal and city incentives. 

“I hate that this project comes to us combined. I think it covers up what could be, if not here, a future way to abuse the program,” Gilliam said. “This is too much to ask the city and the taxpayers to bear.” 

Board member Jim Citrano Jr. said the ROI should not take precedent over rehabilitating and revitalizing buildings that sit idle. 

“It’s logical to me that the first applicant under this program would have the lowest ROI to us because they are taking the most risk,” Citrano said. “The priority here is to get these vacant, run-down buildings back into production. I think this is a model project in that regard.”

Regions Bank at 51 W. Bay St.

Regions Bank

Regions Bank received a guarantee from the DIA board that it will receive $900,000 in forgivable historic preservation loans to execute its five-year capital plan when it’s ready to move forward.

According to the staff report, Regions will replace windows and make other exterior renovations, remove plant growth and better seal the structure against the elements. 

Future phases will focus on code compliance to make the property more accessible and functional as part of Regions’ growth strategy in the Jacksonville market, states the staff report about the request.

Regions’ attorney, Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, said the bank wants the money guaranteed but not allocated because its capital plan will not be ready to execute immediately and the building’s landmark status is pending at City Council. 

The bank will be able to make five draws on the $900,000 and will be required to return to the DIA to approve each phase of the plan.

The $200,000 grant will be used to mitigate costs incurred with the sale of its surface parking lot adjacent to its headquarters to accommodate the plans of neighboring VyStar Credit Union to build a parking garage along Forsyth Street between Main and Laura Streets. 

Regions negotiated the property sale to VyStar for the garage being constructed under a redevelopment agreement executed with the DIA and the city July 15. 

A parking agreement with VyStar will make 250 spaces available to the city for the benefit of retail businesses. However, construction of the parking garage will block existing Regions’ signage.

Regions incurred legal fees during the negotiations in addition to other costs related to the planning, design and implementation of new signs to mitigate the impact of the garage. 

Regions also anticipates costs related to the temporary parking requirements for employees and customers that will be eligible for reimbursement under the agreement. 

The grant would be used for construction of access from the bank to the garage as well as moving signage. The funding will require verification of expenses incurred and inspection of work.

Board member Oliver Barakat said Regions’ incentive request is “unorthodox,” but he is willing to support the deal because the bank was a “willing partner” in getting the long-discussed VyStar garage with its ground-floor retail built.

The property, the historic Old Bisbee Building, was constructed in 1909. It is considered one of the most historic properties Downtown for its contribution to the resurgence of the city following the Great Fire of 1901 and for its architecture.

The site was recommended for local landmark status by the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Committee on Oct. 28 and is under consideration for final designation by Council under Ordinance 2020-0728.

Both the JWB and Regions projects will now head to Council for final approval. 
 

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