DIA could take 105 days to negotiate high-rise at former Jacksonville Landing site

New York City-based American Lions proposes a $166.6 million residential tower to integrate into the planned riverfront park.

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The Downtown Investment Authority board is preparing to enter into a nearly 3½-month negotiation with New York-based development partnership American Lions LLC for its $166.6 million residential high-rise proposal at Riverfront Plaza, the former Jacksonville Landing.

The DIA board Retail Enhancement a Property Disposition Committee voted 5-0 on May 16 to advance a resolution to the full board that would give its staff the authority to broker terms with American Lions 

The full board is scheduled to meet and take a final vote to start negotiations May 18. 

American Lions was the sole bidder in the DIA’s property disposition to redevelop 1 acre of the 7-acre parcel at 2 Independent Drive. 

The city plans for the remainder of the site to be a public park. 

On April 26, the developer outlined its conceptual plan for a tower with 332 apartments, a 330-space parking garage and a 7,500-square-foot restaurant on the 44th floor. The design is by the Bjarke Ingels Group architecture firm.

Several DIA board members said they were disappointed only one developer responded with a plan for property but were “wowed” by the design. 

DIA CEO Lori Boyer said four to five hotel developers contacted the DIA’s real estate consultant, CBRE, with interest in the property. 

The hotel developers soured on the site because of rising construction costs and interest rates along with low room rates in the Downtown market, according to Boyer.

“From a hotel perspective, it is a riskier decision because our current room rates just don’t support the investment the way our residential rents do and the residential demand is,” Boyer said.

CBRE Senior Vice President Joe Ayers said April 26 there were other reasons for the light response, including tight bid requirements and a brief 30-day timeline.

The resolution will give Boyer and the DIA staff 105 days to reach an agreement on city-backed incentives that board member Jim Citrano said need to be reasonable and “palatable” for taxpayers. 

“I would not have voted for the economic package that they are asking for,” said Citrano, who was on the scoring committee.

The project includes 332 apartments, a 330-space parking garage and a 7,500-square-foot restaurant.
The project includes 332 apartments, a 330-space parking garage and a 7,500-square-foot restaurant.

Citrano said he is confident the developer has the financial means to complete the high-rise.

American Lions LLC is a joint venture of Fetner Properties and the Lions Group. The companies individually own, manage and build large-scale developments and residential properties throughout New York City.

Bjarke Ingels Group has headquarters in Copenhagen; New York; London; Barcelona, Spain; and Shenzhen, China. 

According to Boyer, American Lions is asking for more incentives than real estate developer Carter wants for The Hardwick, its proposed $150 million residential/retail project at the former Duval County Courthouse site on Bay Street. 

Carter is asking for more than $41 million in incentives through a mix of property tax rebates, a cash completion grant and a discounted purchase price on the city-owned land.

During the May 16 meeting, Citrano said the American Lions’ experience building high-rises in New York City will help it build on what he called a complicated and compact site at the former Landing.

“I believe that this group is immensely capable of developing this project both from a financial standpoint and an experience standpoint,” he said. 

Committee Chair Oliver Barakat said he thinks the design integrates well with the Riverfront Plaza park plans despite his initial concern about approving a high-rise on the site.

“This comes across as an iconic design, one that will have a profound impact on the skyline,” Barakat said.

Boyer told Barakat that Downtown should be able to absorb the 330-plus residential units from the American Lions site. Hundreds more apartments are planned Downtown. 

Barakat said he wants to “see if we can make the numbers work.”