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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 14, 201512:00 PM EST

Florida State College at Jacksonville eyes Downtown student housing

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by: David Chapman

Florida State College at Jacksonville annually provides the college experience for thousands of students, but it’s always missed out on one key element.

Student housing.

President Cynthia Bioteau seeks to change that. And she wants to bring that experience to the heart of Downtown, blocks away from FSCJ’s urban core campus.

Bioteau and other school officials for months have talked to city leaders about its “Downtown Immersion” project, a goal of initially acquiring two buildings for up to 50 residential units and the creation of a civic engagement and culinary center.

The residential complex would spring from the abandoned 218 W. Church St. building, about four blocks from the Downtown campus. At five stories and more than 26,000 square feet, it could be converted into up to 50 units.

Across the street at 502 N. Hogan St. lies the building that currently houses the Farah’s of Uptown Deli restaurant. The school wants to convert the storefront into a culinary enterprise, while the Church Street frontage could house office and meeting space for the FSCJ Center of Civic Engagement.

“I believe it’s very, very important for FSCJ to have a presence in the core and heart of Downtown Jacksonville,” Bioteau said Friday. “As Jacksonville tries to revitalize itself to be very vibrant for everyone … the presence of students 24 hours a day lends such a dimension of vitality.”

The housing would provide for the needs of students — both local and international — who come out of high school thinking dorm-living is a part of the college experience, she said.

“We need to have housing,” she said. “This would serve that need looking forward, plus it would benefit the city.”

The abandoned-building approach is a model she said has worked at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The housing component in the Church Street building would cost an estimated $4.8 million, which comprises acquisition and renovation. To offset that, the school would seek $2 million in support for the Downtown Investment Authority and another $75,000 from the city, possibly along with historic preservation grants, according to a school document.

Also known as the Florida Baptist Convention Building, the historic site is listed for $900,000, according to LoopNet, an online commercial real estate marketplace.

Bioteau said the plan uses a public-private partnership model, with private donors assisting the school. Additionally, Bioteau said the school has land in the Bartram area of south Jacksonville it wants to sell at some point and proceeds from that could be applied to the student housing project.

The Hogan Street building is listed for sale for $550,000 and needs renovations, she said. If the plan went accordingly, its contents would help the school reach a formal classification as an institute of civic engagement by the Carnegie Foundation.

Bioteau said that’s been a professional passion of hers throughout her career.

There could be complications to the Hogan Street building, though.

As the Daily Record reported in May, Sweet Pete’s partner Marcus Lemonis had a verbal agreement to buy the building to expand the growing business. Building listing broker Simon Garwood said Friday there was no movement on the building since that report.

A spokeswoman for Lemonis said Friday she hoped to have an update on the project within a week.

Bioteau said she was unaware of the other interest, but if the school couldn’t acquire both buildings it “probably would go back to the drawing board” although several Downtown buildings have been reviewed.

Bioteau said she and FSCJ officials in the past six months had talked to former Mayor Alvin Brown about the plan and wanted to continue those talks with Mayor Lenny Curry. Additionally, she said there had been discussions with Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace, City Council member Bill Gulliford and JAX Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis.

All have been “very supportive” of the concept, she said.

Bioteau’s goal is to have the buildings renovated and students living Downtown by the fall 2016 semester.

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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