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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Oct. 12, 202105:00 AM EST

Downtown Vision Inc. offices, retail proposed for Duval Street Garage

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The city is reviewing a permit for interior improvements of almost $1.8 million.

By Karen Brune Mathis & Mike Mendenhall

The city is reviewing a permit application for almost $1.78 million of interior work within about 16,500 square feet for Downtown Vision Inc.’s new offices and other public uses in the Duval Street Garage.

The expansion accompanies growth in the nonprofit’s boundaries and staff.

“As a partnership with the city, we said let’s make it vibrant,” said DVI CEO Jake Gordon.

“We could have more visibility, and have visibility related to creating a great street-level experience, which is obviously what Downtown Vision’s all about.”

DVI CEO Jake Gordon.

No contractor is listed for the project on the ground level of the 33 W. Duval St. city-owned garage, which serves the Jacksonville Main Library. Plans indicate the main DVI space at 14,625 square feet, with the remaining area the corridor, electrical room and mechanical space.

Ervin Lovett Miller is the architect. 

Gordon said Oct. 5 that DVI now uses about 1,800 square feet in the city-owned Ed Ball Building at 214 N. Hogan St. The locations are a few blocks apart.

The permit calls the project the second phase for mixed occupancy. 

Plans show an eventual entry hall, a retail use, restrooms, a meeting room, training space, a break room, DVI offices, open work area and more.

The city also has been reviewing the $99,000 first-phase project to prepare the space.

The city built the six-level garage in 2005. Gordon said the street-level space has been empty.

“For us to be able to focus on this one space and to bring it back to life is a big part of why we want to do that,” he said.

DVI was created in 2000 to provide advocacy and services to a business improvement district in a half-square-mile area of Downtown’s core. Its boundaries have been expanded to 1.3 square miles on the Northbank and Southbank.

Its Downtown Ambassadors greet visitors and help to keep the area clean and safe.

Gordon said the garage project comprises offices for his staff, office/storage/garage space for the ambassadors, and a welcome center offering Downtown information. 

He said DVI also is looking for a food component with a sidewalk cafe, community conference space and retail use.

Gordon said he has a staff of seven and will add three, “but we’re building to probably accommodate double that.”

He said he will add 14 ambassadors by the end of 2022 to the crew of 16, creating a team of 30. 

That creates a staff of at least 40 comprising the office team and Ambassadors.

“We’ve been Downtown for 20 years and hope to be in this space for a long, long time,” Gordon said.

The Jacksonville City Council voted 16-2 on June 8 to enact Ordinance 2021-0292 that increased the size of the DVI district from 0.5 to 1.3 square miles. 

The vote increased DVI’s budget from $1.699 million in fiscal year 2020-21 to a proposed $2.514 million in fiscal 2021-22.

The legislation increased the city’s contribution to DVI from $510,615 to $661,898.

The city’s Capital Improvement Plan allocates $2.1 million for construction for the “Main Library Parking Garage Retail Space Buildout” in fiscal 2021-22.

The project is described as the first-floor retail space in the Main Library Parking Garage to include: administrative office, storage, and amenity space, equipment storage space, community meeting space, and two retail storefronts.

“Since its construction, the first floor retail space of the Main Library has remained in a raw, unused state, underutilizing a potential asset in terms of street level activity in Downtown,” says the CIP description.

“This buildout will render the space suitable for direct retail, administrative, and community use, to be activated by the non-profit Downtown Vision Inc, raising the value of the City-owned property and contributing to Downtown vibrancy through expanded office capacity and street level activation,” it says.

Gordon said previously he was working with Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration to share the cost to build-out the ground-floor garage space.

Gordon said this week the city’s portion of the build-out would come from money set aside in the 2021-22 Capital Improvement Plan approved by Council in September.

The CIP line item Main Library Parking Garage Retail Space Buildout reserves $2.21 million, but Gordon said he is unsure if the total line item will be used for the DVI space. He said DVI will finalize an agreement with the city that will likely need to go back to Council for further approval.

He said that in addition to its offices, the space would have a coffee shop and a store that sells “made in Jax” products.

That build-out will be separately reviewed.

Gordon he hopes filling the long-empty space would boost foot traffic and complement nearby Main Street Park.

Pending the city funding, Gordon said work could begin in late 2021 or early 2022. 

DVI will occupy the space under a lease agreement with the city, he said.

“We’ll be taking an agreement to partner with the city and a lease to Council,” he said.

“That’s city money reinvesting in city space.”

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