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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 26, 201905:20 AM EST

The Mendenhall Report: No retail included in Vestcor’s LaVilla plan

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The DIA and the developer will share the profits from any townhome sold for more than the initial $250,000 price point.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Vestcor Companies’ 88-unit townhome development in LaVilla will not include retail space.

Officials from the Jacksonville-based housing developer told Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer before the board’s Sept. 18 vote approving a term sheet for the project that Vestcor would not add first-floor restaurants or shops.

Boyer said at the DIA’s Aug. 7 meeting that Vestcor officials would re-examine their plans to see if the market in LaVilla would support retail at the site.

A 5-2 vote Aug. 7 awarding Vestcor the project also produced a desire from board members that Vestcor consider adding retail space and make architectural design changes to its townhome designs that would honor the neighborhood’s architectural heritage.

Board members made the request after a competing bid from JWB Real Estate and Corner Lot Development LLC collaboration Johnson Commons LLC included 9,500 square feet of retail space in addition to their 107-unit townhome proposal.

Board members and Boyer said they thought the Johnson Commons proposal more closely aligned with the city and Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s LaVilla Master Plan, but the Vestcor bid overall scored higher.  

It was Vestcor’s level of experience, with six residential multifamily projects and 675 units under construction throughout Florida and in Downtown, that won over the DIA board. 

Vestcor President Steve Moore

Vestcor President Steve Moore told the board the company is making changes to the townhome designs to honor LaVilla’s historic architecture.  

Boyer said Vestcor attorneys asked her to replace “shall” in the phrase “peaked roofs shall be added to facades facing Lee Street” with “may.” 

She was asked to remove other language referencing architectural nods to LaVilla heritage — a historic black neighborhood. 

Moore said the language change was not to push away from Vestcor’s commitment to amend the townhome design. The Vestcor president said he “never liked the word ‘shall’ in a legal document.”

“We are currently making changes as requested to add gabled roofs …. taking away some of the more modern look of the building,” Moore said.

“Maybe a little more nod to the old shotgun-style houses that were there. That’s being done with, instead of storefront glass, maybe windows and those type of things,” he said.

Vestcor will purchase city-owned property at Adams, Johnson, Lee and Forsyth streets and build two- and three-story townhomes, priced at $250,000.

DIA officials plan to complete negotiations with Vestcor by Oct. 15, according to the term sheet. City Council will then need to approve the term sheet as well as the land sale.

Closing on the property is expected by Dec. 31, but the designs will have to be approved by the Downtown Development Review Board before the project can break ground.

The terms

The term sheet closely mirrors Vestcor’s proposal accepted by the board. The developer will buy the 3.93-acre property from the city for $100.

Vestcor and the DIA will enter a profit-sharing agreement. The DIA will receive 75% of the sale amount over the $250,000 price point.

On its end, Vestcor has agreed to make two $100,000 donations — one to develop Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park and the other to the LaVilla Heritage Trail project.  

The developer also will build and dedicate right-of-way and the street between the townhome complex and the park that will include on-street parking. 

The term sheet also states that Vestcor will make improvements to Johnson Street while leaving intact all other right-of-ways adjacent to the development.

Vestcor will agree to pay a $500 per day penalty to the city if construction does not start within four months of final DDRB approval.

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