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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 30, 200712:00 PM EST

DRC: all ayes for 3 Downtown projects

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

By Max Marbut

Staff Writer

The Design Review Committee of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission met Thursday and approved a trio of new projects, one at Government Square and two on the Southbank.

All three agenda items were up for conceptual approval only but by the time the meeting adjourned one, a project to add 19,000 square feet to Baptist Medical Center’s surgery department, was granted final approval.

Stephan Gartman, senior project manager for Gresham, Smith and Partners, said Baptist Medical Center requested final approval Thursday based on the need to serve the current number of surgery patients as well as address short-term projections of future increases.

He pointed out the project will not increase the bed count or the traffic to the building but will provide more support space for the department’s post-surgery recovery rooms.

Gartman said the project would also fill in an architectural gap created by several phases of expansion at the facility since it opened.

“The design creates a continuous facade along the river to match the existing architecture. It gives a unified look and gets away from institutional architecture to create a healing environment.”

The design is also consistent with the potential extension of the Riverwalk south of the Fuller Warren Bridge to Nemours Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.

Final approval was granted with the condition that if changes are made, the project will be brought back to the JEDC for review and staff will approve the construction plan.

Carl Craft from KBJ Architects presented the conceptual design for the exterior facade of the Police & Fire Pension Fund City Hall Annex at Hemming Plaza. When exterior and interior renovation is complete, the 60,000 square-foot building will be leased and occupied by the City of Jacksonville.

Craft pointed out the structure was originally an office building once occupied by the New York Life Insurance company and at one time the site of the YMCA, including a swimming pool in the basement. Years later, it was the Haverty’s Furniture store. It has undergone two previous appearance modifications, first in 1930 and again in 1945.

The design will not change the facade other than replacing the building’s original double-hung wooden windows as well as removing the existing storefront windows on the ground floor and replacing them with an office-type design.

“We’re trying to mimic as close as possible the historic design of the building,” said Craft.

The plan would also preserve as many of the existing trees around the building as possible and more trees will be planted.

Craft also said the project, when complete, will be a “Green” building (environmentally-friendly) including a recycling area in the alley adjacent to the existing parking garage.

After viewing historic photographs of the building as it was originally designed and constructed, members suggested minor changes to KBJ’s elevations and approved the concept of the design.

The committee also approved the conceptual design of the South Shore Marina, a public facility with boat slips available for lease adjacent to the Aetna Building and the St. Johns condominium development site.

The design calls for a 128-slip pile-supported floating concrete dock marina that meets the City’s guidelines for promoting the waterfront as a pedestrian-friendly community resource. The project also includes park improvements and interior modifications to expand retail and restaurant space inside the Aetna Building.

Of the 128 docking slips indicated on the design presented Thursday, 98 would accommodate vessels from 50 feet to 70 feet in length. Committee members pointed out the popularity of smaller boats in the market and suggested that redesigning the slip layout to allow more of the smaller vessels to use the marina would better fit the needs of the local boating community.

The committee also recommended widening the Riverwalk beyond the current 10 feet and the installation of trees that provide a shade canopy instead of the palm trees in the design presented.

Concerns about the number of available parking spaces for marina customers and the distance from the parking lot to the docks were also voiced and will have to be addressed before final approval is granted.

The Riverwalk will be extended to include the marina and “The Rock,” a piece of the Rock Of Gibraltar that has been a fixture at the building since the Prudential Insurance Company dedicated it in 1955, will be relocated to a new park area on the site.

Bob Tate from the Phoenix Environmental Group said applications for environmental permits from the State and the Army Corps of Engineers have been filed and the developer will also have to be granted a submerged land lease for the project.

He also said the marina construction schedule would be concurrent with or slightly behind the construction of the condominium project, which is expected to begin in 2008.

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