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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 29, 201512:00 PM EST

East San Marco may finally get long-discussed development, including Publix

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A 13-year journey to develop the high-profile East San Marco center, featuring a Publix, could be reaching its destination at the corner of Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.

Regency Centers Inc. Vice President Tom Fleming confirmed Wednesday his group is “actively working” toward development of East San Marco, but said an announcement or timeline isn’t determined.

However, it’s closer, almost 10 months after the last attempt to complete a deal and start construction. The vacant 5-acre site continues to feature signage for the project.

City Council member Lori Boyer, who represents the district, said she met with Fleming last week.

“The last information I have is that they have secured a residential partner where they have a mutually agreeable deal and they have secured a financing partner,” Boyer said Wednesday.

“All of those stars have aligned and now they are working out the details of legal agreements, etc., in order to get close to a closing that would allow them to start. It was looking very positive,” she said.

The deal has come close before. Last April, residential development partner Whitehall Realty Partners LLC withdrew from the deal, saying it could not line up the financing.

“You can always hit snags in that process,” Boyer said.

It is a significant project for San Marco, an area rich in history and steeped with loyal residents who weighed in on the development plans.

Council enacted ordinances last March allowing development of 280 apartments, up to 63,000 square feet of commercial space, including the Publix, the existing Wells Fargo bank branch and additional commercial space.

The main parcel would include up to 46,000 square of commercial space, including Publix, and up to 245 multifamily units with a maximum six-story parking garage.

The deal last year called for Jacksonville-based Whitehall Realty Partners to buy the land at closing and develop the project.

Jacksonville-based Regency Centers, a national shopping center operator and developer, would have bought the retail component about a year after construction began, when the stores were built, and would have begun tenant improvements for Publix and other retail tenants.

However, Whitehall Realty Partners withdrew from the deal last spring, citing a lack of funding.

John Carey, managing member of Whitehall Realty Partners, has not returned three phone calls to discuss the past deal or respond to speculation that Whitehall is the current development partner.

Boyer would not comment on that speculation. “I don’t know that I am at liberty to discuss that,” she said, referring questions to Regency.

Fleming shared few details Wednesday about the East San Marco deal.

“It’s actively being worked,” said Fleming, Regency Centers vice president of investments. Fleming is the managing partner of the property owner, East San Marco LLC.

Fleming said Wednesday no residential development partner or time frame is being announced.

“No one would like better to get to where we could announce something than me,” Fleming said.

“We will be ecstatic when we get to that point.”

Publix Super Markets Inc. remains on board for the opportunity to satisfy the Southbank area neighborhoods that have long asked for a grocery store in the area.

“We remain committed to the space and project and look forward to serving this community,” said Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens, media and community relations manager.

East San Marco LLC was formed by The St. Joe Co., a former Jacksonville-based landowner and developer. Regency Realty Group Inc. took over as the LLC’s managing member in 2014.

“We continue to be hopeful that we can put something together that will allow us to get to where we can actually build it,” Fleming said.

He said it was “business as usual” to “figure out how to get a deal that works for the city, the community, for us, the grocer and everyone else.”

Fleming called East San Marco “a tremendously complex project.”

“We’ve got to get all those pieces to align,” he said.

Previous project documents indicated a full project build-out by 2017.

The development has been in discussion for at least 13 years.

In 2006, Regency Centers and The St. Joe Co. announced the project, including Publix and condominiums.

That was four years after initial discussions surfaced about a Publix and mixed-use development on the site.

The on-again, off-again Publix rumors seemed on in January 2007 when Publix said it signed a lease at the location. But late that year, the project was delayed as the recession took hold.

As the recovery led to retail and housing enthusiasm, the project was revived and agents filed applications with the city for conditional capacity availability statements to cover the two largest parcels of the five that comprise the project.

Boyer said there are no requests for changes in the numbers approved by the city.

However, she welcomed larger apartments. The March 18 Planned Unit Development Project Description stated the multifamily condominiums or apartments may range from 500 to 2,400 square feet.

The units were planned as apartments last year.

“If they want to make them bigger and make them condos, we’d love it,” Boyer said.

“The community would love to see some larger-size units and condos,” she said. Boyer said Southbank riverfront property is mostly sold out and the community is talking about the need for more.

The decision to develop apartments rather than condos is an economic one, she said.

Boyer did not have a specific time frame for the development. Once closed and permitted, “they would like to move forward as quickly as possible.”

There’s a No. 1 request in the San Marco community.

“The first thing people ask for is when are we going to see Publix,” Boyer said.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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