DIA approves selling LaVilla property for apartments, grocery, rooftop beekeeping

Developer Paul Sifton plans to transform the former Lee & Cates Glass Inc. building at 905 W. Forsyth St.

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  • | 3:38 p.m. May 23, 2018
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A project for rooftop beekeeping, an urban grocery store and apartments could soon break ground after the Downtown Investment Authority approved selling a city-owned property in LaVilla to a private developer.

The DIA voted unanimously Wednesday to sell the former Lee & Cates Glass Inc. property at 905 W. Forsyth St. to SADS Inc., led by developer Paul Sifton.

Sifton plans to transform the quarter-acre site into a three-story, mixed-use project with 16 apartments along with two floors of retail and dining. He plans to incorporate a rooftop apiary for beekeeping.

“On the main floor, we’re going to put an upscale grocer,” Sifton said. “On the second floor, we’re going to put a small restaurant, with apartments above that.”

Sifton said he is partnering with Michael Smith and Randy Bowman, the former owners and operators of the BuyGO grocery store chain based in Fernandina Beach.

“We think we can take the old concept and put a new name on it,” said Sifton of the grocery store.

“You’ll be able to, on Tuesday, put your order in for what you would like, then on Thursday we’ll deliver it to you or you can pick it up,” he said.

Sifton is co-owner of Bee Friends Farm LLC, a Jacksonville-based commercial beekeeping operation with about 280 hives.

“We plan to put in the first retail outlet store for that company,” he said. 

Sifton said the rooftop apiary will create educational experiences for students interested in botany and beekeeping.

The interior space includes the 5,670-square-foot original structure built in 1908 and a 1,700-square-foot addition. The building has been vacant for several years and suffered interior fire damage.

Sifton, who also owns the 927 W. Forsyth St. building, said he plans to restore the original building as much as possible.

“It’s always my belief that if you can save an old historical structure, it fits in with what the original plan is for the neighborhood,” he said.

“That’s what I did at the 927 Events building and that’s what I’m going to attempt to do at this building,” Sifton said.

The DIA purchased the property from Lee & Cates Glass in 2003, which moved to nearby Houston Street.

While Jones Lang LaSalle IP Inc. appraised the property in September at $250,000, the DIA accepted a $60,000 offer from Sifton.

Sifton plans to invest about $3 million in private capital, but suggested that investment could increase when work begins.

“It may be more economical to tear it down and go back with a typical storefront, but that’s not what we want to do,” he said.

The DIA in November put the property out for bid and received responses from SADS Inc. and Arkest LLC.

According to the SADS proposal, construction could take 36 months.

Any build-out requires approval from the Downtown Development Review Board. Sifton also would need to secure development rights for the property from the DIA before applying for permits.

He said those conversations are premature.

“I’ve got to get the keys, clean it out and get my architect in there before we go in that direction,” he said.