The Downtown Development Review Board deferred conceptual design review for Miami-based Related Group’s proposed $92 million apartment project on the River City Brewing Co. site on the Downtown waterfront, voicing concerns that the architecture did not fit along the St. Johns River.
The DDRB’s 9-0 vote Jan. 14 came hours after a Downtown Investment Authority committee approved a $500,000 increase to the project’s pending public incentives package, now valued at nearly $15.95 million.
In its project presentation, MSA Architects Inc. disputed DDRB staff findings that the eight-story, 333-unit apartment is “reminiscent of resort-style architecture” from Key West, Seaside or St. Augustine.
The DDRB report states that “staff is unsure how this fits contextually along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.”
MSA partner Beatriz Hernandez said the apartment design was “transitional” and contemporary. She said the building’s metal roof, smooth cut stone and gray and white color palette complemented the surrounding Southbank architecture.
Board members said they want the Miami condominium, apartment and office developer to build in Jacksonville, but agreed with issues raised by staff.
“It seems to me like it’s just not ready to be in front of us,” board member Christian Harden said. “To me, it doesn’t seem to make sense in Jacksonville. I looked at it and it looks like some kind of mix of the Grand Floridian and Polynesian resorts at Disney World.”
Board member Matt Brockelman said he sees the presented midrise product as a better fit on the Intracoastal Waterway in St. Johns and Flagler counties.
“The next time we discuss this project, if the architects simply make (a few) tweaks here and there, that’s not going to be enough for me to support the project,” he said.
Attorney Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow represents Related Group in Jacksonville.
He said Related Group pushed DDRB staff to schedule the Jan. 14 meeting as a conceptual review despite a recommendation for an informal workshop.
Diebenow said Related Group wants to meet a tight timeline to close on negotiations with the property leaseholder, Maritime Concepts. The developer will buy Maritime’s interest in the property and buy out the remaining 77 years in its long-term land lease with the city.
Board members also said the building’s eight-story elevations would look imposing from the park and Riverwalk and used language in the Downtown Zoning Overlay to work around required setbacks from the Riverwalk.
Board member Brenna Durden said the design was “going against the spirit” of the Downtown Zoning Overlay.
The site is 3.43 acres bounded to the north by the St. Johns River, to the east by the Museum of Science & History and Friendship Fountain, to the south by Museum Circle and to the west by the St. Johns Marina boat ramp.
Related Group plans to demolish the River City Brewing restaurant as soon as it closes on its agreement with Maritime.
The developer plans to close on the land July 31 and complete its final design Sept. 30.
After permitting, River City Brewing’s demolition is expected to be completed Sept. 30, 2022, and Related will complete construction no later than April 30, 2025.
DDRB suggestions to reconsider the location of the stand-alone restaurant facing St. Johns River Park and the position of the Southbank Riverwalk along the development were blocked by conditions in the DIA’s development agreement with Related Group.
Board member Joesph Loretta asked DIA CEO Lori Boyer to provide the DDRB more context in the future on project agreement provisions that could impact building site plans.
Loretta said some times the DDRB feels “pigeonholed” to approve projects that are “political.”
“Sometimes it’s difficult because the project gets to us and we have to approve it because it’s been negotiated with yourself (Boyer) or with staff,” Loretta said.
More public money
Earlier Jan. 14, the DIA Strategic Implementation Committee voted 4-0 to advance a revised term sheet on the Related Group project that includes additional money to offset costs related to unexpected soil conditions at the site.
Related Group Vice President of Development Jeff Robbins told the committee that the company’s soil borings found concrete fill 15 feet to 30 feet below the surface that prevents a stable foundation for the apartment building.
The committee approved a $500,000 infrastructure completion grant to offset what Robbins said would be an estimated $1.3 million fix to inject grout into the subsurface debris to stabilize it.
DIA staff said that drops the city’s return on investment for the project from $1.05 to $1.02 for every $1 invested.
In November, the DIA offered Related Group an $11.9 million Recapture Enhanced Value Grant; a $500,000 restaurant completion grant; and $3.04 million for improvements to the marina, boat ramp parking and Riverwalk and sidewalk improvements.
The full DIA board is scheduled to vote on the amended agreement Jan. 20.
The deal then will be sent to City Council for final approval.