by Mike Sharkey
Getting to know the members of Main Branch, LLC is a lot like talking to several lifelong friends or close siblings at one time — they seem to know each other so well that they often finish each other’s sentences or answer a question that may or may not have been directed at them.
Main Branch, LLC is the group behind the renovation of the former main library at Adams and Ocean streets. Thursday, the project received approval from the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and now only needs the OK from City Council. The group is buying the Taylor Hardwick-designed building from the City for $3.25 million and has plans to invest another $10 million to $15 million into the project.
When completed, the old library will retain its current exterior look — that 1960s architectural style that, while chunky, also employed the use of mosaic tile — that folks seem to either love or hate with little middle ground. Inside, plans call for a mixed-use space incorporating residential, retail and office components.
The entire process started over a year ago when the City issued a request for proposal for the building. Five bids were submitted and Main Branch found themselves ranked third behind Atkins Group and Peterbrooke Chocolatier. The JEDC entered into negotiations with both at some point.
“We negotiated with them through early 2006 and both pulled out for totally different reasons,” said JEDC Executive Director Ron Barton.
Re-enter Main Branch, an eclectic group of urban planners, architects, engineers and a spokesman/restaurant owner.
“We all know each other from different contexts,” said partner Jack Shad of The Shad Company and the Shad family that once owned car dealerships in town (The “Mike Shad” — Jack’s father — name remains but the ownership is different.)
“It’s a long story,” said chemical engineer Mark Rinaman of Rinaman Associates, whose father is attorney and former Jacksonville Bar Association President Jim Rinaman.
“We actually started putting together the RFP four years,” said Shad. His company is also renovating the Five Points Theater in Riverside, a project that is nearly complete.
Progress came to a near stop at one point earlier this year when Rinaman was deployed to Afghanistan. Since coming together, however, the group has refocused and, with Thursday’s JEDC approval, can start moving forward on the project.
“There are no drawings yet, but we have been waiting for this exciting moment,” said architect Melody Bishop of Akel Logan Shafer. Her husband Bill is also an architect, partner in the project and aspiring politician. “He’s running for City Council, District 2, which is Lynette Self’s district.”
Allegretti is the group’s spokesman/marketer. He’s also a part owner of the building across the street and the popular Burrito Gallery.
“I’ll be helping Jack with tenant lease-ups and the marketing of the commercial space,” said Allegretti.
“I’m an urban planner and I worked for the City for two years,” said Shad.
Two others round out the team: Colin Bois, whom Shad said is “our numbers guy” and over the program management and proformas of the project, and Robert Van Winkle, a civil engineer who owns a few buildings around town and once owned 11E when it was the American Heritage life building.
With JEDC approval the project now heads to Council where it will likely be assigned to at least two Council committees for review.
“We expect the Council to vote on the project in November,” said Shad.
Once Council approves the project, Main Branch and the JEDC will enter into negotiations and the sides have 60 days to close on the deal. According to the terms of the agreements, construction must begin within a year, but Rinaman says it won’t take nearly that long.
“That’s part of the contract, but I can tell you we will be in deep trouble if we carry the contract that long (without starting construction),” said Rinaman. “Market forces will drive the project.”
Phase I calls for a complete renovation of the building’s first floor into 122,000-144,000 square feet of retail and office space. Phase 2 consists of the residential side that could include the addition of two or three floors. Rinaman said the building can easily withstand the additional weight. Also, Hardwick has even been consulted on the design aspects.
“It’s a warehouse when you get down to it. It was built to hold hundreds of tons of books,” said Rinaman.
“It’s environmentally sound and can carry a really heavy load,” said Shad.
“It’s also a work of art that you either love or hate,” said Rinaman.
“There are other buildings from the ‘60s, but the library really epitomizes that look,” said Shad.
“It’s a unique property. It will still look similar to the original,” said Rinaman.
“We have worked with Taylor Hardwick,” said Bishop.
“He has a clear understanding of what we want to do,” said Rinaman.
“We sat down with him a couple of years ago,” said Shad.
“He designed it with the plan of expanding,” said Rinaman.
And this team needs a spokesperson?