Plans call for George Doro Fixture building to torn down for apartments, retail despite opposition from historic preservation advocates.
The Downtown Development Review Board approved final designs May 14 for an eight-story apartment and retail project to replace the George Doro Fixture Co. building, despite objection from local historic preservation advocates.
The DDRB voted 6-1 to clear plans by Valdosta, Georgia-based Rise: A Real Estate Company for a 247-unit apartment building and seven-story parking garage at 102 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
Plans call for 7,527 square feet of combined ground-floor and rooftop retail, outdoor patio and public gathering spaces.
The board’s 2½-hour debate included public comments from more than 20 opponents of demolishing the at least century-old Doro Fixtures building on the 1.63-acre site near the Sports Complex.
“Please let the board know that the Jacksonville Historical Society stands with those who seek to preserve some components of the Doro Fixtures building,” Jacksonville Historical Society Executive Director Alan Bliss said in an email to the DDRB.
“The owner’s demolition proposal was a surprise and, accordingly, we have added the property to the JSHS most endangered buildings list released this week,” Bliss wrote. “Preservation of the Doro building would lend critical authenticity to the eastside sports entertainment district of Downtown.”
Rise applied to the city for a demolition permit in April after the DDRB made the permit a condition for final approval when it cleared the conceptual design in March. The permit is in review.
The Doro Fixture Co. building is not in Jacksonville’s Downtown National Register District and does not have local landmark status to protect it from demolition, according to a Downtown Investment Authority staff report.
DIA staff consulted with Christian Popoli, city planner supervisor for the Community Planning Division, Historic Preservation Section, for the report.
Documents from the Florida Division of Historical Resources show the building was reviewed by state officials in 1983, 1991 and 2003 and found the structure potentially eligible for a local historic designation.
The oldest building on the Doro property dates to 1914 and more structures were added through 1954, according to the DDRB report, while the state review dates the original building’s construction in 1904.
DIA Operations Manager Guy Parola said May 14 officials in the city Historic Preservation Section do not intend to review the Doro Fixture building for historic preservation.
“Staff gets and very much appreciates why people have strong sentiments toward preserving the building,” Parola said. “Would staff like to have, at least, seen the street-facing facades preserved and incorporated into the development? Absolutely. We encouraged that several times in our meetings with the developer.
“But at the end of the day, absent historic designation protections, DDRB, neither the board nor staff, can compel the property owner nor the developer to preserve the building,” he said.
DDRB member Brenna Durden, a Lewis Longman & Walker land use attorney, voted against the application and objected to the building’s demolition because of its possible historic significance.
Durden said she didn’t think the proposed height and design fit with the surrounding architecture in the Sports and Entertainment District, citing the adjacent Manifest Distilling and Intuition Ale Works building, both adaptive reuse projects.
Durden said she supports the concept of mixed-use and residential.
“But I can’t support it because of the overall architecture and the elimination of that Doro Fixture facade that I know full well could be incorporated into their development,” Durden said.
Board member Trevor Lee countered that the proposed project matches the architecture scale of a majority of the surrounding structures.
“To me, when the city decided to build the arena, the adjacent parking garage and the (121 Financial) Ballpark and turn this into a sports complex area, they fundamentally changed the scale of the neighborhood,” Lee said.
The majority of the board praised the project for considering pedestrian engagement around the building and the developer’s work to conform to Downtown design regulations.
The board approved The Doro design with the condition that Rise obtain a building permit for vertical construction before demolishing the existing Doro Fixtures structure.
The condition doesn’t apply to interior demolition of the structure.
The board agreed to add language proposed by Rise attorney Paul Harden that the hold on demolition pending a permit is a binding condition as long as no one seeks a local landmark designation on the structure.
Board member J. Brent Allen said that demolition should not move forward without certainty that the mixed-use project will be built.
“If we’ve been told once — and I’m not saying that that’s this project — but if we’ve been told once ‘Hey, we’re going to tear down this building and we’re going to build this lovely high-rise’ and it didn’t happen, we’d all be rich and retired,” Allen said.
Matthew Marshall, Rise vice president of development, told the board his company would not proceed with demolition or site work on any project until debt equity financing is secured.
“The fact that there’s any concern that we would buy the building, tear it down and spend all those millions of dollars and not proceed forward, that’s not something we’ve ever done nor would we do here,” Marshall said.
The developer said in March it has the property under contract and he anticipates Rise will buy the property in May or June from Jacksonville real estate investors Farley and Paul Grainger.
Marshall said in March that Rise hopes to break ground by the end of the summer and he expects a 22-month construction period.
Conflict of interest?
After the vote during a public comment, a speaker said DDRB Chair Christian Harden is related to lawyer Paul Harden, who represents the developer in the project’s regulatory approval process. The speaker said the DDRB chair’s vote presented a conflict of interest and questioned Christian Harden’s inclusion of Paul Harden’s language in the condition.
The DDRB chair acknowledged that Paul Harden is his uncle, but defended his actions.
“I can assure you that I am in no way influenced, and if you talk to anybody that knows me understands that I carry myself to the highest level of integrity and ethical (standards),” Christian Harden said.
Allen also defended Harden and the language in the condition.
Emails to the city Office of General Counsel and to city Ethics Director Carla Miller were not immediately returned May 14.