The Downtown Development Review Board delayed conceptual design approval Jan. 12 for First Coast Energy’s plan for a two-story, mixed-use Daily’s gas station and convenience store project in LaVilla, calling it “the antithesis” of the area’s design guidelines.
The board agreed with a request by Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow attorney Steve Diebenow, who represents First Coast Energy, to send the project to a workshop to address the board concerns.
The board could vote on conceptual approval after that workshop, which has not been scheduled.
First Coast Energy wants to bring a new company concept to what is now a mostly vacant lot with a rooftop bar, restaurant, neighborhood market or bodega along with 16 fuel pumps.
The site is at Forsyth, Jefferson, Bay and Broad streets near the Acosta Bridge.
In its report, the review board staff recommended the board require a total rewrite of the site plan or the project would need several deviations from the city’s Downtown design code.
Board member and civil engineer Bill Schilling said the gas station and its designs are not “consistent with the vision that’s been created for Downtown.”
The report says the project also might not meet the requirement that 50% of a newly constructed building’s ground-level walls be transparent.
The plans show a solid wall without windows facing Forsyth Street that would shield back-of-house operations. A mural on that wall does not reach pedestrian level, the report says, which board member Craig Davisson called “lazy architecture.”
The staff report says the Daily’s site plan also might not meet the code requirement that new buildings be pulled to the edge of the sidewalks and pedestrian zones.
In its report, the staff recommended approval of the conceptual design with conditions to correct the code discrepancies or submit requests to the board for deviations.
While critical of the design, the board acknowledged First Coast Energy and Daily’s decades of investment in Jacksonville and Downtown.
First Coast Energy owns and operates 37 Daily’s, primarily in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Gainesville and Broward County. According to Diebenow, Daily’s employs more than 750 people in North Florida.
It operates the Daily’s Foundation philanthropy and has the naming rights to the city-owned Daily’s Place Amphitheater attached to TIAA Bank Field.
“But I don’t want to be blinded by the fact that what’s proposed, certainly from a design standpoint, and the site plan that’s proposed just does not comply with our overlay,” Schilling said.
Schilling told First Coast Energy’s design and legal team that the LaVilla site is “a gateway” to Downtown.
It paid almost $3.3 million in August 2020 for the 1.4-acre block bounded by Forsyth, Jefferson, Bay and Broad streets. It is near the approach to the Acosta Bridge.
The company paid nearly $2.4 million for five parcels totaling 1.17 acres, including a closed bank drive-thru, from lawyer Mark L. Rosenberg. It paid Law Building LLC $900,000 for the 0.23-acre site where the demolished Kartouche nightclub once stood.
“The last thing that I would want to see, and the last thing that I would want the citizens of Jacksonville to see, is a bright yellow and red gas canopy coming down off the Acosta Bridge,” Schilling said.
“I think that is a huge miss in this design.”
The board also called the design “too suburban,” and some were concerned about adding a gas station to a busy intersection with one-way traffic coming off the Acosta Bridge.
“But the project fails completely in execution, and I think it even exacerbates the problem that we’ve created with this area in the past,” Davisson said.
“It’s just the antithesis of what the specific codes and the Downtown guidelines are,” he said.
A fit for LaVilla?
The city Downtown Investment Authority worked with area business and African American groups to approve a LaVilla strategy in 2019 with a goal of returning housing, retail, restaurants, parks and trails to the once thriving Black neighborhood.
The city LaVilla Heritage Trial & Gateway has been working on neighborhood branding and cultural programming with the 30-mile Emerald Trail planned to connect the neighborhood with other areas of the city.
Davisson said the site could be a “marquee” property in LaVilla.
The neighborhood was once called the Harlem of the South and was a sanctuary for Black culture and commerce post-Civil War. The late 20th century saw a decline in LaVilla’s influence as many of its historic homes and buildings were demolished.
City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman has been working with Black-owned business, groups and the committee to revitalize LaVilla.
Pittman said what’s built on that corner should represent the history of LaVilla because “that community has always been left behind.”
“We want to see a gateway of culture. We want to see the embrace of even more affordable housing in LaVilla,” Pittman said.
“We embrace growth, smart growth, historical growth, but I don’t really feel like this is a good fit (or) it aligns with what we’re doing in LaVilla,” she said.
The board also received letters from other groups in the city including Riverside Avondale Preservation, Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council and Scenic Jacksonville supporting changes to the site plan and design.
Board Vice Chair Linzee Ott said for the city’s Urban Core to follow the trajectory of Miami or Tampa “(in) Jacksonville we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard with our Downtown development projects.”
“That is what I would like to see for this flagship store,” Ott said.
Filling a need
Downtown zoning code allows for fuel station use at that site if it has a minimum 5,000 square feet of restaurant space as well as at least one other permitted use, such as office or retail.
Plans for the two-story Daily’s show a second-floor Daily’s Dash Restaurant of 4,139 square feet including stairwell access, storage and restrooms. The 4,125-square-foot rooftop bar/restaurant will include outdoor covered seating and a game area, the plan shows. The ground floor is a 4,350-square-foot market/bodega with a sales area.
Attorneys for Daily’s said the bodega and fuel station would fill a market need in LaVilla and the Downtown Northbank for access to fresh produce and other grocery items.
Board members acknowledged the use would likely be successful at that location but wanted to see Daily’s execute it with the city’s LaVilla strategy in mind.
“Every time we’re talking with you, we’re going to remind you that this is not just a gas station, and it’s not just a restaurant and it’s not just a rooftop bar. It’s all three. It’s all put together all in one place,” Diebenow said. “And there are needs for parking in order to serve customers.”