Second try at LaVilla town house project heads to Council

Johnson Commons LLC could pay $1 for 3.45 acres in the historic Downtown neighborhood to build a 91-home development.

An artist's rendering of the town house community planned for LaVilla.
An artist's rendering of the town house community planned for LaVilla.
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For the second time in 18 months, the Jacksonville City Council will consider a bill giving 3.45 acres in LaVilla to a private developer to build a town house community next to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park.

The Mayor’s Budget Review Committee voted 7-0 on July 12 to file legislation with Council giving the city-owned property to Johnson Commons LLC for its proposed 91-unit town house and retail project.

Johnson Commons — a partnership between JWB Real Estate Capital LLC and Corner Lot Development — finished second to Vestcor Companies Inc. in a 2019 Downtown Investment Authority request for proposals to develop the site, bounded by Adams, Lee, Houston and Forsyth streets.

City Council signed off on the redevelopment agreement with Vestcor in January 2020 to convey the land appraised in 2019 by the DIA at $3.58 million.

The DIA allowed JWB and Corner Lot to take over the project in March after Vestcor subsidiary VC LaVilla Townhomes Ltd. abandoned the project and returned the land to the city.

Ryan Hoover,  president of Vestcor subsidiary TVC Development Inc., said March 5 that Vestcor’s decision to return the land to the city and end the project was market-driven because of the pandemic and the company did not want to slow the city’s goal to redevelop the property.

According to JWB Real Estate Capital President Alex Sifakis, the development team plans an $18 million investment in the project.

Sifakis says a for-sale product can work in LaVilla.

According to DIA Director of Downtown Real Estate and Development Steve Kelley, the developer will pay $1 for the land. 

If the developer sells the town houses for more than $250,250 each, Johnson Commons will be required to give the city 50% of the net sale proceeds above the base sale price.

Johnson Commons says its townhouses are designed as shotgun-style houses with gabled roofs, inspired by LaVilla’s architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was a thriving and predominately African American neighborhood.

The Downtown Development Review Board granted the Johnson Commons project conceptual design approval in June. It has to return for a final review before the developer can break ground.

According to a June 19 memo from DIA CEO Lori Boyer, the developer is considering a second phase with 10,000 square feet of stand-alone retail fronting Lee and Forsyth streets or a multifamily residential project with at least 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

Increasing for-sale housing is part of the city’s LaVilla development strategy, returning vibrancy to an area of Downtown where nearly all of the historic homes have been torn down. 

The DIA board approved $250,000 in June as part of its 2021-22 fiscal year budget to restore the exterior of the three historic shogun homes that remain and are owned by the city. 



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