Eight acres in the New Springfield area north of Downtown Jacksonville are filled with old warehouses, empty lots and the colorful murals of its identity as the Phoenix Arts District.
Now, a new use is rising as the Phoenix Arts & Innovation District, or PHX JAX, which is near the historic Springfield and Eastside areas.
Since 2020, Miami-based Future of Cities has been buying the property to regenerate the neighborhood into affordable housing, innovation, markets, food trucks, events, green space and more.
“Cities thrive when we enrich historic neighborhoods,” said Tony Cho, founder and CEO of Future of Cities, in an emailed statement.
“Springfield and the Eastside have a rich cultural heritage that Future of Cities will celebrate and support as we co-create the Phoenix Arts + Innovation District with local residents, artists, non-profits, and business owners to be a catalyst for equity and growth,” he said.
Companies owned by Future of Cities in Miami have been investing in about two dozen parcels east of Main Street to Liberty Street, south of East 15th Street and generally north of the rail line.
Property records show that between 2020 and 2023 Future of Cities companies, led by Anthony Cho, have paid about $8.3 million for most of 8.3 acres along Market, Hubbard, Main, Liberty and East 15th streets.
It has been buying the parcels from multiple property owners.
PHXJAX.com previews the plans.
“Founded by real estate artist and visionary, Tony Cho and a group of investors with a passion for regenerative development, Future of Cities will build up the PHX Arts & Innovation District and surrounding community to create affordable housing and business opportunities, provide infrastructure for sustainable food options, and build quality of life, wellness, culture, and collective transformation.”
Regeneration of the area has been envisioned for years.
PHXJAX.com says the mission of the Phoenix Arts & Innovation District is “to sustainably build equity through community, arts & culture and provide a global platform for business incubation and innovation in Jacksonville’s North Springfield neighborhood.”
It says the team at Future of Cities “seeks to co-create a community with artists, residents, cultural instigators and change makers in Jacksonville, Florida.”
It says that providing access to educational opportunities, innovative programming, technology and community events, the team “hopes to build a vibrant and diverse neighborhood.”
The PHXJAX.com site says the area is “just steps away from the Springfield Historic District.”
Kelly Lezama, president of the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization board, said the group looks forward to seeing “the Phoenix Arts District/Future of Cities project continue to progress.”
“Their vision is moving closer to reality, and we are thrilled to be a collaborative neighbor,” Lezama said.
While Cho is reserving details, his vision is emerging.
In December, city utility JEA issued service availability letters for 33,000 square feet of event space, a 15,000-square-foot office building, green space, a community garden, storage and parking.
In January, the utility issued letters for about 20,280 square feet of warehouse and storage space and 11 empty lots.
Future of Cities, through lawyer Emily Pierce of the Jacksonville-based Rogers Towers firm, applied to the Jacksonville Planning and Development Department to review The Phoenix Arts + Innovation District Planned Unit Development
The district is described as 8.09 acres south of 15th Street east of Main Street, north of the rail line and west of Liberty Street.
Three parcels are south of the rail line.
Future of Cities wants to rezone the property from industrial light, industrial business park, residential medium density-B and planned unit development into one planned unit development.
The site is within areas designated for development assistance and attention.
The property is within the Urban Priority Development Area and designated a Level 1 Economic Distress Area based on income and unemployment.
One parcel is in the Springfield Overlay District.
The property north of the rail line is in a designated Opportunity Zone, which is a federal program created to foster economic development and job creation in economically distressed communities.
The proposed PUD is within the Warehouse District of the Urban Core Vision Plan.
The Phoenix Arts + Innovation District PUD is dated Feb. 10, 2023.
The team includes Gresham Smith as an architect and Agency Landscape + Planning as a landscape architect.
Future of Cities also has been working with JAA Architecture and HOTA Design Studio LLC and expects to engage additional design firms through the duration of the project.
According to the application, the zoning “is being sought for a unique infill redevelopment project that will feature a mix of commercial, entertainment, recreational, light industrial/warehouse, office and similar uses that will be developed in phases.”
Future of Cities wants to “activate the Property by employing adaptive reuse concepts for many of the existing buildings and by providing outdoor entertainment, food and sports options to the surrounding community.”
It will incorporate the Emerald Trail on the southern edge for biking and will include multiple pedestrian corridors with a goal of about 40% of the property being open and green space.
Groundwork Jacksonville is creating the 30-mile Emerald Trail that when completed, anticipated by 2029, will link at least 14 neighborhoods to Downtown, Hogans Creek, McCoys Creek and the St. Johns River with a bicycle and pedestrian trail and linear park system.
Future of Cities intends to seek approvals later for residential uses through the development.
New home for HabiJax
The most recent property sale is that of HabiJax, which sold 11 parcels, including its 20,000-square-foot building at 2404 Hubbard St. that was developed in 1951.
Jon Galbraith is vice president of talent management and communications for Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville Inc., which operates as HabiJax.
Galbraith said Habitat for Humanity Jacksonville LLC sold 1.71 acres to Future of Cities on April 11 for $1.76 million.
HabiJax supports Future of Cities’ “efforts to regenerate the Springfield and Eastside areas in Jacksonville,” he said.
Galbraith said that while HabiJax is not directly a part of the Future of Cities regeneration efforts, it is a partner with the LIFT JAX revitalization efforts on the Eastside.
He said HabiJax will move its program and administrative offices in June to the Jessie Ball duPont Center at 40 E. Adams St. Downtown.
It will move its construction operations warehouse and offices by year-end to a location to be determined.
“Our Hubbard Street property has served us well for more than two decades, and we believe these moves will help us with our program and growth strategies as we move forward,” Galbraith said.
He also said that having begun its 35th year of service in Jacksonville, HabiJax is working on initiatives to serve more families in need of affordable housing in the Jacksonville area.
“Future of Cities is working with us to allow us several months to move our administrative and construction offices,” he said.
Galbraith said Octavious Carr, HabiJax director of real estate and mortgage portfolio, served as the nonprofit’s broker.
Juan Andres Nava, managing director of Cho’s Metro 1 commercial real estate company, represented the Future of Cities.
Suzanne Pickett, president of Historic Eastside Community Development Corp., is an adviser to Future of Cities.
A visual artist by trade, Pickett said Future of Cities plans a place for artists to engage with the communities of Eastside, Phoenix and Springfield.
She is helping to identify organizations to work with the group.
“I hope to see a destination in Jacksonville where artists can have studios but also a creative place for people to come,” she said,
“A cultural district in and around the urban core is what I would like to see.”
Pickett said she hopes that Future of Cities retains the murals on the warehouses and the buildings for artists’ use in what was known as the Phoenix Arts District.
“We really would like for it to be community-centered and we would like this community to be beneficiaries of this project,” she said.
Pickett said there are about 3,300 families on the Eastside who can benefit, in addition to residents of Springfield.
Pickett said she also hopes the district has affordable housing for creatives, such as artists, teachers, firefighters and others in the middle-income range.
“I am always hopeful for more affordable housing,” she said.
The Phoenix area
PHXJAX.com shares the history of the Phoenix community.
“After the Great Fire of 1901 burned most of Downtown Jacksonville, businesses began moving just 2 miles north. Telfair Stockton & Company began developing the Springfield Warehouse District in the Phoenix neighborhood in the 1920’s where it has housed everything from door and car manufacturers to bottling companies,” it says.
“This area, aptly named after the mythological bird who cyclically rises from the ashes to be reborn, is now home to the Phoenix Arts & Innovation District (PHX JAX) with a goal of regenerating the neighborhood to rise once again.”
Christy Frazier, the previous owner of what was called the Phoenix Arts District property, sold those parcels in September 2020 and April 2022 to Future of Cities as manager of Phoenix Arts District LLC.
“Christy’s vision was the start of something special,” says PHXJAX.com.
It said Frazier, an artist, entrepreneur and “cultural instigator, founded the original “Phoenix Arts District” in 2016 with plans “to convert a set of warehouses into a state-of-the-art school for artists to continue training, refine their crafts and provide studio space.”
“She had the vision for rehabilitating these properties and truly laid the foundation for this artist area to grow,” it said.
The site says Future of Cities is now “at the helm of regenerative development.”
It says that with Groundwork Jacksonville, PHX JAX will create a walkable and bikeable district, with the Emerald Trail running through the property.
“In addition to the original trail, Future of Cities has committed to giving back 40% greenspace in the form of additional trails and pocket parks throughout the 8+ acre footprint.”
FOCities.com says that its “regenerative placemaking” addresses “urban design logic.”
It says that “harnessing the power of Holistic Urban Planning, implementation of ESG Standards, Public-Private Partnerships, Opportunity Zones, aligned capital and next-gen technologies sourced from a global family of industry experts, we are driving outsized returns and positive impact across diverse communities.”
The Phoenix Arts + Innovation District already has a local team at the 2320 N. Liberty St. building.
It plans the Phoenix Flea for All there on April 15, “in the greenway at PHX Arts District.”
More than two dozen community vendors are expected at the noon-5 p.m. event.
Tony Cho and Metro 1
Future of Cities says that it has more than 20 years of experience across $2 billion in affiliated transactions.
At FOCities.com, the group says its experience includes neighborhood co-creation; covered land assemblages; large-scale mixed-use development; adaptive repurposing of existing assets; arts, culture and innovation districts; opportunity zones; public-private partnerships; historic preservation; and tax credits, tax increment districts and community development companies.
Cho also is founder and CEO of Metro 1, described as “a real estate brokerage, management and development firm focused on shaping neighborhoods and developing sustainable cities in South Florida and beyond.”
The company says it has completed more than $3.5 billion in real estate transactions since 2005.
One of its Cho’s projects is the Wynwood Arts District in Miami.
Wynwood is described as a district in the urban core of Miami and home to art galleries, retail stores, antique shops, eclectic bars, artisanal” eateries “and one of the largest open-air street-art installations in the world.”
The site says Cho started working with the artistic community in the early 2000s to identify spaces that could support the creative class in Wynwood.
He became a founding board member of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, resulting in investments.
Metro 1 has been influential in shaping the neighborhood bringing original retail brands like Panther Coffee and Zak the Baker.
Metro 1 has brought developers into Wynwood: The Related Group of Florida’s Wynwood 29, a high-density micro-unit development; The Collective, the neighborhood’s first large-scale co-living project; and numerous warehouse conversions.
Throughout the mid-to-late 1900s, Wynwood was an enclave for Caribbean immigrants and home to Miami’s Garment District.
“Following a decade of economic exodus and depression, in the early 2000s, forward thinking developers and property owners rehabilitated neglected warehouses, shuttered factories, and other unused buildings, transforming them into the innovative businesses that are visible today.”
Today, it says, Wynwood is recognized globally as a premier destination for art, fashion, innovation and creative enterprise.
While he exited the partnership last year, Cho also was a co-founder of the Magic City Innovation District, which is transforming 18 acres of industrial warehouses and land in Little Haiti into an 8 million-square-foot, multiyear, mixed-use project to “spur economic, social, and cultural growth while providing an access point for center for innovation, jobs and creativity.”