Developer Mike Balanky proposes to redevelop the Community Connections property in the Cathedral District Downtown

Developer wants to transform former Community Connections site into a 'very special' mixed-use residential project

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  • | 12:00 p.m. May 25, 2017
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With approval late Wednesday from the city Historic Preservation Commission, developer Mike Balanky intends to take the next steps toward transforming a block in Jacksonville’s Downtown Cathedral District.

“We want to do something very special with this space that’s going to add to the residential development for Downtown,” said Balanky, president of Jacksonville-based Chase Properties Inc.

The project eventually will support 115-120 apartments, with at least 15 percent set aside for workforce housing over the next 10 years, he said.

No other uses were specified and Balanky said designs are being determined.

Community Connections of Jacksonville Inc. is trying to sell the 1.5-acre site at Duval, Liberty and Church Streets and Shields Place to Chase Properties to develop a mixed-use residential project.

Originally the YWCA, Community Connections operated at 325 E. Duval St., next to Saint John’s Cathedral, to shelter homeless women and children. It shut down in December because of financial struggles.

Community Connections received approval from the commission to demolish part of the building for Balanky’s project.

As a condition of approval, commissioners requested that the nonprofit seek designation as a historic landmark before that demolition can begin.

It was the second attempt by Community Connections to advance the project. Chase Properties wanted to tear down the structure, built as a YMCA in 1949, but those plans were scrapped after commissioners pushed back at an April 26 meeting.

The plan now allows Community Connections to remove an interior-facing section of the 45,000-square-foot structure, leaving an L-shape building intact.

“This is a win, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Ginny Myrick with Cathedral District Jax Inc., who spoke about the project at the commission on behalf of Community Connections.

Myrick said the section to be demolished is less attractive than the rest of the building and doesn’t have the same architectural significance. The section has a flat roof and a less-detailed exterior than sections facing Duval Street and Shields Place.

The Colonial Revival building has three floors and a basement, with more than 70 single rooms at 100 square feet each. The most prominent part of the building faces Duval Street and Shields Place.

Balanky, who described the project as a catalyst for the Cathedral District, said plans for the site are in the early stages.

Renderings presented to the commission show a square-shaped complex with parking in the center.

One of the main sticking points for the Historic Preservation Commission was keeping what they called “one of the best examples of Colonial Revival in all of Downtown Jacksonville.”

The plans described by Myrick would extend that style to new construction.

Had the group been denied, it planned to appeal the decision to City Council, a process that would take six to 10 weeks to complete.

With approval from the commission, Balanky said the project can begin moving through the Downtown Investment Authority and Downtown Development Review Board.

“Out of respect for those agencies, we’ve been very hesitant to go to them with this and waste their time until we covered this base,” Balanky said. “This is a very preliminary discussion.”

The property is facing foreclosure from the city, the first lienholder on debt the charity accrued from the Florida Housing Finance Corp. to upgrade the facility.

In 1995, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. awarded Community Connections a $288,200 State Apartment Incentive Loan to rehab the building.

The land is considered a contributing property in the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District as listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and any demolition requires approval by the Historic Preservation Commission.

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