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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 28, 200212:00 PM EST

Southbank Strand project moving forward

by: Sean McManus

by Sean McManus

Staff Writer

American Land Housing Ventures, the Miami Beach firm developing The Strand at St. Johns project on the Southbank, has the property under contract, which means the deal will close in the fall, but they still don’t know when construction will actually begin.

The Washington, D.C.-based architectural firm of Dorsky Hodgson & Partners has released renderings of the project, but according to Sandy Brown, vice president of American Land, the design is still evolving and nothing has been finalized.

The Strand project will have three “pads,” or towers, which will sit on four acres. The two residential pads will contain 700 multi-family units and will face the St. Johns River. The third tower, on Riverplace Boulevard, will be used for office space.

“We’re confident the project is moving forward as expected,” said Kirk Wendland, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, which along with the City Council approved the plan last year. “There were a couple bumps in the road at the beginning, but now everything is on track.”

Early last year when American Land first inquired about the property, which is at the site of the old Southside Generating Plant, they weren’t the only interested buyers.

“We knew there was a lot of interest,” said Brown. “One of the plans called for a one million square-foot commercial building with a hotel component and a condo component. It was very ambitious and very complex.”

American Land stepped in with a plan that took advantage of untapped residential potential.

“Our research showed that there are anywhere between 60,000-100,000 jobs in and around downtown and yet there are less than a thousand residential units and none that were built in the last 30 years,” said Brown.

Since that initial research, Berkman Plaza and a handful of other loft-style developments have emerged downtown.

“This project will definitely have the quality of projects we’ve done in South Florida,” said Brown, whose firm recently completed a residential community called New River Village in Ft. Lauderdale and The Strand in West Palm Beach. “But the design is still in motion and while exterior may be changed around before final decisions are made, we think it’s going to be a great fit for Jacksonville.”

Brown said their intention is to use local civil engineering and consulting firms.

American Land Housing Ventures is a 15-year-old developer that started in the land business. They have since moved into residential properties and have developed over 4,000 units in South Florida. The Strand project in Jacksonville is their first venture outside the lower half of the state.

“Jacksonville has a tremendous amount of local flavor and history,” said Brown. “We are going to be sensitive to how well The Strand will blend into that context. We’re not going to impose a South Florida design temperament on North Florida.”

Regardless of the temperament, Wendland said The Strand is a vital part of the overall revitalization of the Southbank.

“Sure, the Southbank isn’t in as bad a shape as the Northbank or the core,” said Wendland. “But things can deteriorate quickly if you don’t stabilize.”

Calling The Strand “first class,” Wendland placed the riverfront project in the context of an overall boom for San Marco and the corridor connecting that neighborhood to downtown.

“There is actually a bill before City Council requesting money for a pilot shuttle system that would take people back-and-fourth from the Southbank to San Marco,” said Wendland. “We are hoping that whole strip will improve as a result of projects like The Strand.”

Wendland also noted that the Southbank hotels would benefit from that service.

“We’re going to continue to explore where exactly it would run and which hours, whether it would be for lunch as well as dinner.”

The Strand is estimated to cost about $150 million, with $19 million in incentives from the City — $4 million up front and the rest in the form of tax breaks spread over 30 years. Standard rents at The Strand are expected to run from about $1,000 - $2,000 a month, with some penthouses going for upwards of $2,500. Pools, fitness centers and even a cyber cafe are planned for the towers.

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