DIA board advances $1.5 million incentives for Bay Street music venue

Owners of the historic 115-year-old building plan a nearly $4.8 million project to renovate the two-story space that will include a rooftop patio.

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A Miami-based developer’s request for $1,536,350 in public loans for the renovation of a historic Bay Street building into a music venue is headed to the Jacksonville City Council. 

The Downtown Investment Authority board voted 6-0 on Jan. 19 to recommend that Council award the forgivable and deferred loan package to 323 E Bay Street RE LLC for its almost $4.8 million plan for the vacant two-story building. 

The development group comprises Eric Fuller and Miami-based Fuller Entertainment LLC, Aleksander Lukaj and Albacore Jax LLC, which is led by Manjola Rajta of Jacksonville Beach.

The group paid $1.4 million in January 2021 for the 115-year-old building and 0.13 acres from Insetta Family Properties LLC, which previously attempted to sell the property for an entertainment venue.

The forgivable and deferred loan package would be paid through the DIA and the city’s Downtown Preservation and Revitalization Program. 

The deal would include: 

• A $624,158 Historic Preservation, Restoration, and Rehabilitation Forgivable Loan.

• A $414,050 Code Compliance Forgivable Loan.

• A $498,142 Deferred Principal Loan.

Plans for the venue include a 2,250-square-foot covered and open-air rooftop bar.
Plans for the venue include a 2,250-square-foot covered and open-air rooftop bar.

DIA board members Bill Adams and Braxton Gillam attended the Jan. 19 meeting via Zoom and could not vote on the deal. Ron Moody was absent. 

In August, the Downtown Development Review Board approved exterior design plans for the renovations that the owners call Project 323. 

The group, managed by Fuller, wants to prepare 10,400 square feet of the 15,759-square-foot building for a tenant who will operate the space as a live music venue. 

Plans for the venue include a 2,250-square-foot covered and open-air rooftop bar. 

The owner/developer also will replace entryway doors and windows, add signage and install new glass canopies on the building’s ground level.

Real estate attorney Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow represents 323 E Bay Street RE. He told the DIA board Jan. 19 that ShayCore LLC is the project’s general contractor consultant. 

Jacksonville-based JAA Architecture led the design team.

According to DIA Director of Downtown Real Estate Development Steve Kelley, the city loans will help pay for water infiltration in the basement, an elevator for Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility and other building needs.  

Council voted 19-0 on June 22 to grant the developer’s request to classify the building a local historic landmark.

The DIA and city have awarded nearly $40 million in forgivable and deferred loans to developers working on historic projects Downtown since creating the incentives program in October 2020. 

Kelley said the DIA expects the venue tenant also will request incentives through the Food and Beverage Retail Enhancement Program.

DIA board members cautioned its staff to ensure the historic loan incentives were being considered for projects with needed renovations and not property owners who have neglected to maintain their buildings. 

Oliver Barakat said that with a project cost of more than $300 per square foot, he is concerned that the venue owners might have overpaid for the property. 

He said the incentives for Project 323 appear warranted. 

“We need to be very careful about not bailing out those who overpaid for properties,” Barakat said.