The new from West Ashley Street and North Julia Street.
Investors Jim and Ellen Wiss are moving forward with a plan to invest $55 million to rehabilitate two historic buildings and connect two new structures to create a 184-unit, mixed-use apartment development in Downtown’s North Core neighborhood.
Named “The Den,” conceptual renderings released May 5 by the Downtown Development Review Board show the project will comprise nearly a full city block bounded by Ashley, Hogan, Beaver and Julia streets.
According to the plans and a DDRB staff report, two new six-story buildings will have 175 apartments and a combined 89 ground-floor parking spaces.
The four-story historic building at 211 W. Ashley St. would have nine apartments and a common amenity area and rooftop terrace.
The two-story historic structure at 604 N. Hogan St. will provide retail and office space.
The board is expected to vote May 12 on conceptual design approval for the project.
Jim Wiss is the president and founder of Homkor Companies. Ellen Wiss is vice president of Homkor Companies and president of Homkor of Florida Inc.
The Kansas City, Missouri-based company has experience with historic renovations in its home city and in Colorado.
Jim Wiss said May 9 that a nearly 50% increase in construction costs over the past six to 12 months pushed the estimated project investment from $45 million to $55 million.
Wiss said historic sensibilities, like using blocks and brick materials on the new apartment additions to match the historic building, will “tie into that Florida theme” in the neighborhood’s 1960s-era construction, but add to the cost.
“It (construction costs) does create a wrinkle. Not only are you seeing costs going up but you’re seeing interest rates going up. Downtown is still a bit of a new frontier, per se,” Wiss said.
“We are trying to move forward with some financing. Right now we’re reasonably optimistic with the process.”
Wiss said they would like to start construction no later than the second quarter of 2023.
He said they submitted a preliminary report to the city Downtown Investment Authority to seek incentives to help make the project work financially.
Wiss expects the city Historic Preservation Commission to vote in May to recommend City Council grant the building local landmark status, making the project eligible for certain DIA incentives.
Homkor recruited Kansas City-based Rosin Preservation, led by CEO and Principal Elizabeth Rosin, as a consultant to help with the government historic restoration regulations.
Wiss said Rosin is working toward National Park Service Part 1 and Part 2 approvals needed to enact the plan.
The federal agency regulates building construction design in National Register Districts like Downtown Jacksonville.
The renderings in the DDRB report are by Studio 9 Architecture. Civil engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. and land use/real estate legal firm Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow are part of The Den’s development team.
Wiss said The Den will have about 12,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, but he does not anticipate signing a tenant until the residential units are occupied.
The DDRB staff recommended that the board approve the conceptual designs.
The report questions whether the project’s parking plan would comply with Downtown’s design overlay code. The code says no more than 75% of the building’s ground-floor frontage can be parking.
The report asks the developer for that parking percentage calculation or to apply for a deviation from the design code.
The Wisses bought a majority of the 1.32-acre project site through EJPC LLC in 2020 from the First Baptist Church Jacksonville.
The site includes the 20,000-square-foot 211 W. Ashley St. structure built in 1954 and the 10,000-square-foot 604 N. Hogan St. building completed in 1947.
EJPC LLC bought 241 W. Ashley St. in February 2020 from Ashley and Julia LLC.
The Wisses also own 0.48-acres at 331 W. Ashley St. through AWP331 LLC south of The Den site.
Jim Wiss said they did not have other development projects far enough along in planning to disclose, but said “we’re always looking.”