by Mike Sharkey
According to Al Battle, the managing director of the Downtown Development Authority, the future of the three historic buildings owned by the City is bright.
About a year ago, the City decided to purchase the Bisbee Building, the Florida Life Building and the Old Florida National Bank Building (commonly known as the Marble Bank Building) from their German owners. Led by City Council member Jim Overton, who is also the chair of the Historic Downtown Preservation Commission, the City went after the buildings in an attempt to make renovation and redevelopment easier. Private developers were having a hard time negotiating with the absentee owners.
Several months ago, the City did take control of all three early 20th Century buildings and started taking Requests for Proposals on the buildings. Wednesday afternoon on the third floor of City Hall, those RFPs will be made public.
In an e-mail to Mayor John Delaney last week, Battle wrote, “Based on the level of inquiry and dialogue that we have had with interested parties, I expect that we will not be disappointed with the level of sophistication and approaches to problem-solving used in the redevelopment of these buildings.”
Battle said Monday he expects several sealed RFPs to be delivered Wednesday afternoon, at which time he will open them and announce each developer’s proposal. The City and the DDA will then analyze those proposals, decide on a project and sell the buildings to the developer. Battle said he expects the proposals to be very typical of other recent downtown restoration projects.
“I look for things to run the spectrum of downtown, from commercial office to residential,” said Battle. “Some may have the ability to market to retail tenants.”
Battle said there isn’t a definitive time line for the project and believes that because the buildings are historical landmarks, physical work may be delayed while the developer snips the red tape attached to getting City incentives and historical tax credits.
“Because of the complexity of those things, it will probably take us longer to get through these. We have had significant dialogue with representatives who understand what they are presented with,” said Battle, adding the buildings may not be developed separately. “There is no opportunity to cut them in half. It’s all or nothing.’
Jason Thiel, a project manager with the DDA, said interest hasn’t been overwhelming, but several developers have returned RFPs.
“I would say we did speak to a number of people about the buildings and actually showed them and walked through them with a few,” said Thiel. “I would not say that people everywhere are interested in them, but there’s interest.”
Thiel added that as far as he knew, the RFP asked that the developers incorporate all three buildings into one restoration project.
Overton said he knew the process was entering a new phase, but hasn’t heard much about the possible developments.
“The only rumor I have heard is that Bob Broward is submitting an RFP and it’s pretty exciting,” said Overton. “We [the Historic Downtown Preservation Commission] put the wheels in motion, but we haven’t been in the loop.”
The three buildings are located at the corner of Adams and Laura streets and are three of Jacksonville’s oldest downtown structures. The 10-story Bisbee Building was built in 1908-09 and the 11-story Florida Life Building was built in 1911-12. Both were designed by legendary architect Henry Klutho. The Marble Bank Building is the oldest of the three — it was built in 1905-06 — and was designed by Edward Glidden. It was restored in 1978.
City Council member and mayoral candidate Matt Carlucci, who organized the Downtown Preservation Commission, was surprised the process is so far along.
“I knew they [the DDA] had put out RFPs, but I didn’t know they had gotten to this stage,” said Carlucci. “That’s good news. I can’t wait to see what’s proposed. I will be real, real interested.”