Architects high on Downtown - three floors worth

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

When an award-winning architectural and design firm already has offices in Nashville, Memphis, Dallas and Princeton, N.J. plus two offices in Florida, what do they do next?

If you’re Looney Ricks Kiss Architects you open an office in Jacksonville and then design a work space in a historic building Downtown. LRK is building out the top three floors at 315 E. Bay St., the former site of the Suddath warehouse.

It would be hard to travel through Memphis and not see one of LRK’s projects including the FedEx World Technology Center, the AutoZone headquarters and the FedEx Forum, an 18,400-seat arena that’s home to the Memphis Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association. LRK also created the STAX Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis and converted a former dry goods building there that opened in 1913 into eight floors of Class-A office space now called the Toyota Center. LRK’s Memphis office is one of the tenants.

Since its founding in 1983, the firm has received more than 380 design awards including recognition from the Congress for New Urbanism, the Urban Land Institute and the American Planning Association.

According to Principal Architect Mike Sullivan, the firm decided to open a permanent office in Jacksonville to serve several clients. LRK designed Old San Jose on the River and The Villas of St. Johns in Riverside and is working on RiverTown for the St. Joe Co. and master-planning the JEA property on the Southbank for the Cowford partnership, said Sullivan.

“We’ve been working in and out of Jacksonville for six or seven years. We fell in love with Jacksonville,” he said. “We have never gone to a city to chase a project. We’ve always gone to a city to serve a client. That’s how we landed here.”

As for why LRK decided to design and build a 15,000 square foot space on three floors in the Bay Street Town Center, Sullivan said, “We love historic buildings. We were looking for something that was real Downtown, something that had some authenticity and history and connection. We were looking for something that had the potential to become great space. When we saw this building, we said, ‘This is it’. Being able to find this kind of place was phenomenal.”

Julia Suddath said she is also thrilled with the new life for the building that opened in 1910 as a shoe warehouse, then became a variety store and piano store as the years passed. The building closed for business in 2000.

“The City had asked people who were going to redevelop Downtown to bring in out-of-town companies,” said Suddath. “They felt Downtown needed an infusion of new companies rather than relocating existing businesses. We’re very happy that they (LRK) chose Downtown instead of the suburbs.”

Sullivan said that LRK chose the location not only for what it offers today, but what they believe it represents for the future.

“Springfield is moving from one direction supporting Downtown. The Brooklyn neighborhood and LaVilla are moving to support Downtown from that direction,” said Sullivan. “There is an incredible opportunity for the Southbank and the sports venues to support more mixed-use and full-time residential on this side of the river.

“We think we’re in the center of everything and we wanted to get in on the ground floor.”

He added that the space would be complete and the 27-member staff is scheduled to move in the first week of September.