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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 18, 202109:50 PM EST

DIA board tables Times-Union site redevelopment, adds restaurant requirement

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Atlanta-based Fuqua Development plans a $182.2 million residential and retail project at the riverfront property in Brooklyn. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Downtown Investment Authority board won’t allow the $182.2 million redevelopment of the former Florida Times-Union site to proceed until the developer adds a riverfront restaurant to the first phase of the project.

The board voted 5-3 on Aug. 18 to table the development agreement and its $30.84 million incentives package until September.

Atlanta-based Fuqua Development LLC proposes One Riverside Avenue, a residential and retail project along the St. Johns River. 

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

The latest site plan for the Times-Union development. The x on the map is the site's helipad.

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

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

The requirement for the restaurant had not come up in previous board meetings.

“We are trying to make too many changes, I think, at the last minute and I hate it. I understand there is a timing constraint with the development,” Board Chair Braxton Gillam said. 

“We are trying to do something too fast at this meeting and I’m very worried about it.”

Board members Oliver Barakat, Bill Adams, Todd Froats, Carol Worsham and Gillam voted to table the resolution. 

Jim Citrano, Ron Moody and Craig Gibbs voted against the delay.

The board will convert the scheduled Sept. 2 workshop into a board meeting so it can reassess and vote on the deal. It also will give DIA staff time to get additional details from the developer.

Restaurant requirements

The DIA board negotiated a similar riverfront restaurant with The Related Group on its plans for a 327-unit apartment community at the former River City Brewing Co. site on the Downtown Southbank.

Before it tabled the Times-Union deal, the board voted 5-3 to amend the term sheet to require a restaurant in the project’s first phase with recommendations:

• A 2,500- to 3,500-square-foot restaurant.

• The ability to serve at least 100  patrons at one time.

• Derive at least 51% of revenue from food sales. 

• Additional outdoor seating along the river.

• Rooftop seating “strongly encouraged.” 

• Cannot block the river view corridor.

Froats, Barakat and Adams voted against the amendment.

Fuqua’s attorney, Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, said his client was willing to agree to determine if building a free-standing restaurant at the site’s riverfront helipad or adding it to a residential building is feasible.

He said Fuqua also wants the city to pay 50% of the restaurant’s development costs. 

In a breakdown provided to the board, Fuqua estimates it would cost $2.27 million to build the free-standing restaurant. Diebenow did not have a cost estimate to add one to a residential building, but said it would be less.

The board did not pass an amendment by Gibbs to cap the city’s contribution for a restaurant at $1 million.

A question of timing

The deal’s incentives package comprises REV grants totaling $28,419,169 that provide a 20-year, 75% refund on the property’s real estate tax growth. There also is a mobility fee credit.

Board member Oliver Barakat questioned whether the DIA needed to offer the 75% REV grant, which is the maximum tax refund allowed by the city’s investment policy, to attract development to the former Times-Union site. 

Barakat, a real estate executive at the CBRE real estate firm, said demand for riverfront multifamily development in Downtown Jacksonville has increased in the past five years to the point where the city could consider easing incentives. 

He also opposed the offer to build a free-standing restaurant on the helipad and said he would not support the REV grant if riverfront retail/restaurant was not included in the project’s first phase. 

“We don’t have any drawings. We have no idea what a random 3,000-square-foot building on a former helipad is going to look like. It’s going to look like someone attempted to fit retail just to check a box. It’s going to look low quality,” Barakat said.

“I appreciate the developer trying to make it work, but I’m still just perplexed in an urban environment on the riverfront that we can’t make a little bit of retail happen in the building envelope.” 

Diebenow told the board Fuqua wanted to solve the issue Aug. 18 to meet the timeline to purchase the property by the end of the year.

According to the developer agreement, Fuqua is required to begin construction by September 2023 and complete it by September 2025.

Diebenow said work on the second phase, which includes riverfront retail and a restaurant along McCoys Creek, cannot begin until the creek is rerouted.

He called adding a first-phase restaurant a “curveball.” 

“Unless you can tell me where the restaurant is going to be and give me the particulars of it, there’s a whole lot of variability in there, Steve (Diebenow),” Adams said. “I can’t decide on the fly.” 

If the DIA approves a deal with Fuqua it would also need to pass City Council. 

The Florida Times-Union staff has moved to the Wells Fargo Center Downtown.

 

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