Restart of LaVilla town house project takes step

A Downtown Investment Authority board resolution would allow its staff to complete negotiations with Johnson Commons LLC if no other bids are received.

An artist's rendering of the Johnson Commons town house project proposed for LaVilla.
An artist's rendering of the Johnson Commons town house project proposed for LaVilla.
  • Government
  • Share

Downtown Investment Authority board members signaled March 15 they still want for-sale town houses in the historic LaVilla neighborhood west of Downtown.

The board’s Retail Enhancement and Property Disposition Committee voted 4-0 to support a 30-day notice of disposition on the 3.45-acre parcel after The Vestcor Companies Inc. abandoned its plan to build on the site.

If approved by the full board March 17, the resolution will direct DIA CEO Lori Boyer to negotiate with Johnson Commons LLC, which bid on the site in August 2019.

The DIA board preferred the retail component and LaVilla shotgun-style design cues in Johnson Commons’ bid but it fell short in DIA’s scoring criteria.

Boyer said previously that it was Vestcor’s access to financing and past project performance Downtown that convinced her and project scorers that the multifamily residential developer execute the town house project. 

Johnson Commons is a partnership of JWB Real Estate Capital LLC and Corner Lot Development.

DIA staff reinstated negotiations with Johnson Commons LLC after Vestcor told authority officials in November that the company no longer was interested in the development and returned the property adjacent to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park to the city. 

According to Boyer, the JWB and Corner Lot remain interested in building town houses in LaVilla despite narrowly losing the project to Vestcor in 2019.

Must wait 30 days

The DIA board cannot vote on a term sheet with Johnson Commons until it’s given any other interested parties 30 days to submit a proposal.

Vestcor’s town house project faced months of delays which company subsidiary TVC Development Inc. President Ryan Hoover said March 5 were market-driven because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hoover said the company did not want to slow the city’s goal to redevelop the property.

The Johnson Commons proposal includes at least 91 three-story, 1,400 square-foot town houses, each with a one-car garage. 

Both developers pitched a for-sale project to the DIA, but Vestcor’s product design was less dense at 88 units.

JWB and Corner Lot plan a more dense, mixed-use development than Vestcor. Johnson Commons would have a minimum 10,000-square-foot retail second phase at Lee and Forsyth streets. 

DIA documents say the second phase also could include more multifamily residential.

The deal would retain the required monetary donation to the historic Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park. Johnson Commons has offered a $150,000 cash contribution and will install LaVilla heritage signs. 

The DIA documents say Johnson Commons will take ownership of the site at no cost if the deal is approved. The report says the property was appraised in 2019 at $3.58 million.

DIA staff calculated a $1.06 return to the city for every $1 invested in the project.

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.

JWB Real Estate Capital President Alex Sifakis said March 5 the development team plans an $18 million investment for the town houses.

Johnson Commons removed eight town houses from its original design to make room for a community swimming pool amenity and for more second-phase retail, he said.

The company’s latest bid shifts retail to the second phase that would be built within seven years of opening the town houses, according to the proposed agreement. Johnson Commons’ 2019 bid would have opened 4,500 square feet of retail in conjunction with the town houses. 

DIA board Chair Ron Moody said he thinks the retail component is needed to make the area “pop.”

Sifakis said the planned Emerald Trail route from Brooklyn through LaVilla, as well as future transit-oriented development around the nearby Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s headquarters, will make the second-phase retail viable.

“We think that retail is extremely important down there on that Lee and Forsyth (streets) corridor,” Sifakis said. “It’s not the best time right now to have new retail on the street, but we’re really hoping to beat that timeframe (of seven years).”

JWB would construct and maintain a public park on the phase two site until the retail is built.

Sifakis told the committee Johnson Commons will have a design competition for local artists to complete a public art display in the park.


The DIA board could vote on the Johnson Commons project in April if the city receives no other competitive bids for the property from the disposition.

Boyer said March 4 that she hopes the project gains Council approval by June 30. 

Johnson Commons intends to simultaneously submit permit applications to the city and designs to the Downtown Development Review Board for review, she said.

If there are no delays, Sifakis said Johnson Commons could break ground on the town houses by January.




Special Offer: $5 for 2 Months!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.