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Marcus Lemonis
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 21, 201512:00 PM EST

Sweet Pete's investor Marcus Lemonis says he would yield to FSCJ's plans, but wants to hear more

by: David Chapman

Florida State College at Jacksonville leadership likes the idea of turning one particular Downtown building into a culinary enterprise and civic engagement center.

The 502 N. Hogan St. building would be an attractive complement to student housing the school would like to pursue across the street.

One problem? That Hogan Street building is under contract by Marcus Lemonis, the high-profile partner of Sweet Pete’s who has expansion ideas of his own for the confectioner.

Yet, after media reports last week surfaced about FSCJ’s interest, Lemonis said he’s willing to listen.

“If there is real interest on the city and college’s part … we would love to have that discussion,” Lemonis said.

Lemonis in May agreed to purchase the building and another at 424 N. Hogan St. for additional parking, event and storage space.

However, he said if the school has a better use and it means the 218 W. Church St. building behind Sweet Pete’s also is restored he’d be willing to walk away or work with the school about the Hogan Street building.

The Church Street building — the former Florida Baptist Convention Building — is the parcel FSCJ would like to acquire and renovate for 50 or so student housing units.

“I would come up with an alternative,” Lemonis said, “if I thought 218 (W. Church St.) could be restored and renovated.”

Told of the school’s concept for the culinary enterprise and civic engagement center, Lemonis called the idea “fantastic.”

“Anything that would help Downtown, we’d love to learn more,” he said.

FSCJ President Cynthia Bioteau said she was appreciative of Lemonis’ willingness to talk and that discussions would continue about the project.

“We both share a common enthusiasm to do what’s right for the revitalization of Downtown,” she said.

The college’s plans to pursue the project haven’t changed, she said.

Colin Bingham, founder and CEO of Community Development Coalition Corp., has been working with the school on the student housing project. He said he’d love to talk with Lemonis about the concept.

“I just think that there is a need for student activity in the Downtown core,” he said.

Under an early proposal being pitched, Bingham would work with the school to renovate the 218 Church St. building for residential in exchange for a long-term lease with FSCJ.

The total cost is expected to be $4.8 million, according to the documents.

That would be offset by a $2 million request from the Downtown Investment Authority and another $75,000 from the city, with historic preservation grants also being sought.

Aundra Wallace, DIA CEO, said he loves FSCJ’s concept but it’s still early. He said conversations on the student housing idea started early last year when Bioteau came aboard the school.

Another building at 233 W. Duval St. — the former JEA building — was toured then to see if it was suitable.

Wallace reached out to Bioteau and FSCJ last week to schedule meetings this week to move the discussion forward.

Until the college reaches an agreement with a developer, it’s premature to come to the DIA board, he said.

But, the concept of having FSCJ expand Downtown would be “a great starting point” in both having students and additional residents in the urban core.

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