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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Nov. 14, 201706:50 AM EST

DIA rejects 3 offers to buy vacant LaVilla building

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Offers well below appraisal, but developer says site will require costly renovation.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

After soliciting bids in April to develop a vacant LaVilla building near the Duval County Courthouse, the Downtown Investment Authority rejected three proposals at a Strategic Implementation Committee meeting last week. 

The space at 324 N. Broad St. has been vacant for a few decades, according to DIA staff. 

Acquired by the city in 1994 for $34,300, a September appraisal by Florida Valuation assessed the 4,104-square-foot building at $180,000.  

According to DIA Operations Manager Guy Parola, the roof and second story have caved in. 

“There’s little more than a facade left,” Parola said during the meeting. 

The storefront is sandwiched between a privately owned space, listed for sale at $525,000, and United Optical Lab Outlet, Inc. 

Bids from Arkest LLC, Harris Blue Investments LLC and La Villa Development Partners LLC proposed renovating the space as a combination of office, retail and dining. 

The Downtown Investment Authority has been searching for a person or group to redevelop this vacant property at 324 N. Broad St.

LaVilla Development Partners offered $3,000 for the property, according to the DIA agenda package. The offer did not say how much the group is willing to invest in the renovation and did not give a timeline. 

Harris Blue Investments offered the city $10,000, with plans to convert the property into a single-tenant office space. The estimated cost of the 24-month build-out would be $392,223, according to the agenda package. 

Arkest LLC, led by Downtown Development Review Board member Rafael Caldera, offered $9,188, with a plan to invest an additional $660,000 to renovate the property. 

Caldera, who attended the meeting, said the capital investment only accounts for initial construction costs and would most likely be higher. 

“The building is falling apart,” Caldera said when questioned by DIA board member Brenna Durden about his offer. 

 “The only way this project is going to be viable is to get the property at a low purchase price, because we’re going to have to invest a lot,” Caldera said. 

Durden suggested scrapping all three bids. 

“The purchase price isn’t good,” Durden said, who was backed by board members Ron Moody and Braxton Gillam. 

“We’d like to get it on the tax rolls, but we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers,” she said.  

Caldera said he’s been looking to develop vacant infill property in LaVilla for about four years, and that this strip of land has the potential to spark other commercial projects in the area. 

Nearly 400 affordable and workforce housing apartments are under development in LaVilla. Caldera said the increased housing will create a demand for nearby amenities like restaurants, grocery stores and other retail.  

Caldera’s plan would bring a bistro-style restaurant to the street level with office space above. 

“This is basically new construction,” Caldera said, describing the building as an empty shell surrounded by four walls. “There’s no electrical or plumbing, it’s all got to be replaced.”

Caldera said his construction estimate doesn’t include costs for environmental cleanup or other unforeseeable issues. 

The committee rejected all three bids to encourage other offers. 

When asked if he plans to revisit the idea with a new proposal, Caldera said he would give his attention to other projects. 

“That’s it for me,” he said. “This is going to sit here for another few years, empty, in my opinion.” 

Robert Murphy of Atlantic Beach leads Lavilla Development Partners. Sherry Harris Blue leads Bash Holding Inc., the managing member of Harris Blue Investments.

No one from those groups attended the meeting.

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