Vestcor tries again for state, local incentives for Lofts at Cathedral

The DIA board is scheduled to vote July 29 on a $625,000 loan for the housing project.

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Jacksonville-based housing developer The Vestcor Companies will try again to secure state and local government funding for its proposed mixed-income, multifamily renovation of the former Community Connections building Downtown.

The Downtown Investment Authority board is scheduled to vote July 29 for the second time since Aug. 19 on a $625,000 loan for Vestcor’s estimated $28.78 million Lofts at Cathedral project at 325-327 E. Duval St. in the Cathedral District. 

The board first approved the loan last year contingent upon Vestcor winning a 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit award from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

The Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority selects local projects for the tax credit.

“JHFA chose a competing project for funding which precluded Lofts at Cathedral from receiving the tax credits under FHFC RFA 2020-202 as required,” DIA Marketing and Communications Specialist Ina Mezini said in a Jan. 4 email.

“As such, the development is not eligible for funding through the DIA as approved in August 2020,” she said.

Vestcor told DIA officials it will again apply for the low-income tax credits expected to pay for $17.7 million of the housing project, according to a staff report in the DIA board’s July 29 meeting packet.

The report states Vestcor would be awarded points in the scoring process if it secures a minimum $610,000 from local government. 

According to the DIA, Vestcor plans to ask DIA and the city for another $400,000 through the Downtown Preservation and Revitalization Program. 

In the deal approved in August, Vestcor asked for that money through the Downtown Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

Changes to that program will require Vestcor to apply through a different incentive, DIA Director of Downtown Real Estate and Development Steve Kelley said in an email July 28. 

The $400,000 will be considered under a separate resolution in the future, according to the DIA report.

The report says Vestcor also will use $9.25 million in conventional financing to pay for the project. 

The term sheet limits the city’s total contribution to the project  to $1.025 million 

The 120-unit housing project will have studio, one- and two-bedroom units, according to the report.

The staff report says Vestcor will reserve about 18 units for tenants earning 30% of area median income; 39 units for tenants earning 60%; 27 units for tenants earning 80%; and 36 market-rate apartments.

A chart released by DIA shows monthly rents in Lofts at Cathedral will range from $343 for a studio housing tenants at 30% of the area’s median income to $1,300 per month for a two-bedroom market rate unit. 

Vestcor purchased what was at the time called the Community Connections building and adjacent property for $1.4 million in September 2019 and Feb. 28,  2020, respectively, from Billy Goat Hill Inc., a subsidiary of the nonprofit Cathedral District-Jax Inc.

Vestcor bought the 1.25-acre property through VC Cathedral LLC, according to Duval County Clerk of Courts records.

Built in 1949, the Community Connections building was part of the Florence Davis YWCA and was awarded local landmark status in June 2017, according to the DIA. 

City Council voted 19-0 on June 22 to landmark a second section of the building at Vestcor’s request. 

If the board approves the development agreement July 29, Council will have to approve legislation finalizing the loan agreement with Vestcor.