Council awards landmark status Downtown to former YWCA, Project 323

The historic designations could make both projects eligible for DIA loans and grant incentives.

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Two historic Downtown buildings — one with plans for a concert venue and rooftop bar and the other the proposed Lofts at Cathedral apartments — now are designated local landmarks. 

The Jacksonville City Council voted 19-0 on June 22 to grant both structures local historic designations.

Lofts at Cathedral

The Vestcor Companies subsidiary VC Cathedral LLC wanted the final portion of the former YWCA at 325 E. Duval St. to be designated a historic landmark.

Vestcor wants to convert both portions of the building into 120 apartment units.

Ryan Hoover, president of Vestcor subsidiary TVC Development Inc., said June 21 the company plans to apply for loans and historic incentives through the Downtown Investment Authority to help finance the estimated $28.8 million redevelopment.

The Downtown Preservation and Revitalization Program can provide adaptive reuse projects that have a local landmark designation with city-backed forgivable and deferred principal loans for interior and exterior renovations as well as code compliance issues.

Hoover said that Vestcor will apply for the city incentives after it completes the apartment project design drawings. 

He said Vestcor targets a third- or fourth-quarter 2022 groundbreaking.

“We’re working toward it,” he said. 

Vestcor bought the YWCA/Community Connections buildings and 1.25-acre adjacent property in September 2019 and February 2020 for $1.4 million.

In August, the DIA board approved a $625,000 loan to Vestcor for the multifamily housing project at 325 and 327 E. Duval St. 

DIA Marketing & Communications Specialist Ina Mezini said in January that the deal was contingent on Vestcor receiving an allocation of 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corp. 

The development will have a mix of income requirements. Eighteen units are reserved for tenants at 30% of the area’s median income, 39 units at 60% of the median income and 27 units at 80% of the median income. There also will be 36 market-rate units.

Hoover said in January there could be some changes over the following months.

The Community Connections building was built in 1949 and originally was the Florence Davis YWCA. A portion of the structure was awarded local landmark status in June 2017, according to the DIA. 

DIA awarded development rights to the Community Connections building to Vestcor in August 2019.

Project 323

Developer 323 E Bay Street RE LLC requested historic status for the building it rebranded Project 323 —  a planned stage and 2,250-square-foot, covered open-air bar on top of the two-story structure next to a parking lot and the Live Bar Seafood and Justice Pub.

The Downtown Development Review Board granted the music venue and bar conceptual design approval in February.

The Miami-based development group paid $1.4 million for the building Jan. 22.

The 323 E Bay Street RE LLC group comprises Eric Fuller, Aleksander Lukaj and Albacore Jax LLC, which is led by Manjola Rajta of Jacksonville Beach.

The group bought the property from Insetta Family Properties LLC, which previously attempted to sell the property for an entertainment venue.

The East Bay Street building is a contributing structure to the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District recognized by the National Park Service and could be eligible for DIA loans.