Historic 323 E. Bay St. approved for $3.3 million renovation

Owners of the Downtown building plan to convert the property into a music venue, bar and rooftop use.

  • By
  • | 3:35 p.m. March 1, 2023
An artist's rendering of the renovated building at 323 E. Bay St. planned for a music venue, bar and lounge.
An artist's rendering of the renovated building at 323 E. Bay St. planned for a music venue, bar and lounge.
  • Restaurants
  • Share

Owners of the historic building at 323 E. Bay St. can start redeveloping it as a music venue, bar and lounge.

Plans label it “Decca.”

The city issued a permit Feb. 28 for First Impression Contractors of Jacksonville to renovate the building at a project cost of almost $3.31 million.

The work includes a new roof and supporting structure; a third-floor addition for a rooftop bar; interior alterations of stairs, restrooms and bars; structural modifications to increase the size of the opening between the first and second floors and reconfiguring the stage; and a new exterior storefront, ramp and steps.

The permit says 17,706 square feet of enclosed area will be renovated.

Jacksonville City Council voted in July 2022 to approve a $1.53 million incentives package to help finance a Miami-based developer’s plans to renovate the building. It approved Ordinance 2022-0452.

Council approved a forgivable and deferred loan deal brokered by the Downtown Investment Authority with 323 E Bay Street RE LLC for its $4.8 million plan for the vacant two-story building. 

The package includes:

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

• A $414,050 Code Compliance Forgivable Loan.

• A $498,142 Deferred Principal Loan.

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

Plans include a 2,250-square-foot covered space on the rooftop along with an open-air bar.

Plans for the music venue at 323 E. Bay St. include a third-floor addition for a rooftop bar.

The money will be awarded through the DIA and the city’s Downtown Preservation and Revitalization Program. 

DIA Director of Downtown Real Estate and Development Steve Kelley told Council members July 19 that a bulk of the city loan will help repair water infiltration in the basement to create a dry storage area for the club.

The company’s plan to expand the rooftop with an outdoor bar will not be financed by city money, Kelley said. 

The draft redevelopment agreement with the city includes a clawback provision that would require 323 E Bay Street RE to pay back a percentage of the forgivable loans if it sells the property within five years. 

The payback would reduce by 20% each year of the agreement. 

323 E Bay Street RE will pay the interest on the deferred principal loan and repay the balance in full after 10 years.

In June 2021, Council approved the company’s request to give the building local landmark status, which made the project eligible for the DIA incentive program.

Real estate attorney Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, who represents 323 E Bay Street RE, told the DIA board in January 2022 that ShayCore LLC is the project’s general contractor consultant.

Jacksonville-based JAA Architecture led the design team.

According to Kelley, work is expected to start on the club within four months after the deal is approved by Council and will take 18 months to finish. 

The development group paid $1.4 million in January 2021 for the now 119-year-old building and 0.13 acre from Insetta Family Properties LLC, which previously attempted to sell the property for an entertainment venue.

The two-story building at 323 E. Bay St. was developed in 1904. It was renovated in 1982.

Retired NFL wide receiver Laveranues Coles Jr. intended to create the Levels Nightclub at the 323-325 E. Bay St. structure in 2013, but in November 2015 conveyed the Downtown building back to the Insettas.

Coles, through Past Trouble LLC, bought the building in October 2013 for $750,000 from 325 East Bay Street LLC, whose manager is Insetta Family Properties LLC.

Insetta Family Properties issued a $640,000 mortgage the day of the purchase to Past Trouble LLC.

Coles planned the nightclub among the building’s two floors and basement and sought approvals and permits.

The Downtown Development Review Board approved the design with conditions in February 2014. Work was suspended at the site by late 2014.

Past Trouble LLC granted the property back to Insetta Family Properties LLC on Nov. 18, 2015, for consideration of $634,724, which is the balance of the loan Insetta made to Coles.

Insetta Family Properties LLC bought the 323-325 E. Bay St. building in April 2008 for $1 million.

It had been vacant for at least five years and formerly was used for state offices.

Jonathan Insetta said previously the family initially considered developing a bar in that building but changed its focus to restaurants.

The two-story building was developed in 1904. It was renovated in 1982.