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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Aug. 6, 201905:20 AM EST

Vestcor plan recommended for LaVilla townhome development

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Three developers offer proposals for city-owned property.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

A proposal by Vestcor Companies Inc. to develop eight city-owned parcels in LaVilla was scored as the top choice by a Downtown Investment Authority committee.

Vestcor is one of three companies vying to develop for-sale townhomes in LaVilla at Adams, Johnson, Lee and Forsyth streets.

A scoring sheet for the proposed LaVilla developments, included in the DIA’s August board meeting packet released July 31, shows the committee ranked Vestcor over Johnson Commons LLC, with Blackwater Capital LLC in third place. 

The three-person committee, appointed by the DIA board, comprised DIA board member Oliver Barakat; DIA CEO Lori Boyer; and city Office of Economic Development Executive Director Kirk Wendland.

The proposals and each company’s ability to complete the project were scored from 1-100 under five criteria:

• 30 points: Consistency with the Downtown Northbank and LaVilla Redevelopment Strategy.

• 20 points: Previous development experience with bidded projects.

• 20 points: The company’s financial resources.

• 15 points: The city’s estimated return on investment.

• 15 points: Relationship to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park.

The committee took the average of the three scores to determine its recommendation out of 100.

Vestcor scored 85.67; Johnson Commons, 84.33; and Blackwater Capital, 67.67. 

Barakat, Boyer and Wendland’s individual scores for the Vestcor plan were similar — 87, 84 and 86, respectively. Barakat ranked Johnson Commons as his first choice with a score at 92. Wendland’s score of 79 for Johnson Commons pulled down the proposal’s average, putting Vestcor at the top. 

The DIA board created the scoring process for the LaVilla properties after receiving more interest in the property than initially expected.

Vestcor Companies started the process in May by submitting an unsolicited proposal to build 70 townhomes on the publicly owned land. The DIA then published a 30-day notice required by city code, seeking additional proposals from other interested developers. 

Blackwater Capital LLC and Johnson Commons LLC, which is a joint venture between JWB Real Estate and Corner Lot Development LLC, each replied with plans.

The board voted June 19 to reject all three bids and established a vetting process and scoring criteria.

Although Vestcor scored the highest, the committee’s rankings are a recommendation, and the winning bid will be decided by the full DIA board. The sale of the property will go to City Council for approval.

The three proposals are scheduled for discussion at the DIA board at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Lynwood Roberts Room at City Hall at 117 W. Duval St.

Vestcor would donate $100,000 to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park.

Vestcor

Vestcor’s updated proposal calls for 88 for-sale townhomes, an increase from its first submission in May which called for 70 units. The price point remains the same at $250,000. 

An alternative option in Vestcor’s latest pitch says the company also could build 50 for-sale townhomes in LaVilla and 77 market-rate apartments.

In a letter with the proposal, Vestcor President Clarence Moore said the second option could be used if economic conditions change.

“If selected, and only in the event that it is warranted, due to terms, conditions, or changes in the residential market, Vestcor stands ready to review this alternative model with the City,” Moore wrote. “Vestcor’s preparation of this model exemplifies our commitment and readiness to further invest in the LaVilla Neighborhood.”

Vestcor now says it will donate $100,000 to development of the LaVilla Heritage Trail — a key component in the city’s redevelopment plan for the Downtown neighborhood — in addition to the $100,000 the company offered to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park.

Vestcor again requested that the DIA approve donating the city-owned land for development minus a $100 title transfer fee. 

This differs from Johnson Commons, which offered to purchase the property for $100,000 plus $250,000 toward the design and development of the park.

Johnson Commons would offer 107 for-sale townhomes.

 Johnson Commons

The pitch by Johnson Commons co-lead Alex Sifakis in June took stylization of LaVilla’s historic townhomes into consideration in its townhome designs.

The company’s new proposal keeps the gabled design for the townhomes and increases the density of the development from 98 to 107 for-sale townhomes. Johnson Commons says construction on those single-family units would commence “immediately.”

The plan also keeps 9,500 square feet of retail space included in the Johnson Commons plan released in June. The development would have 3,500 square feet of retail along Lee Street that would be built “immediately,” with the additional 6,000 square feet along Lee and Forsyth streets beginning construction within seven years.

In addition to investment in the park, Johnson Commons would construct 450 feet of the LaVilla Heritage Trail along Lee Street, estimated at $235,000.

Blackwater Capital plans to build 64 for-sale townhomes at $239,000 per unit.

Blackwater Capital 

Blackwater would purchase the property for $325,000 to build 64 for-sale townhomes at $239,000 per unit.

The smaller residential density allows for Blackwater’s proposal to expand the layout for Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park to four blocks. 

The company also would pay for the expenses related to the new park layout including:

• Civil engineering of four blocks from Monroe to Bay streets.

• Initial landscaping of two blocks from Adams to Forsyth streets.

• Construction of a two-block, 14-foot-wide concrete trail from Adams to Forsyth streets.

• Installation of two blocks of underground utilities on Houston Street.

 Blackwater’s original proposal in June was not made public. 

 

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