Gateway Jax CEO drawn to ‘the next best place in Florida’

Bryan Moll, who led the $4 billion Water Street Tampa downtown redevelopment, shares what attracted him to the development.

Conceptual renderings of Gateway Jax development Downtown shows new buildings surrounded by green space.
Conceptual renderings of Gateway Jax development Downtown shows new buildings surrounded by green space.
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Gateway Jax CEO Bryan Moll says the first five-block piece of the Pearl Street District will be the $500 million heart of the 20-plus blocks the group controls Downtown that he says will transform Jacksonville’s urban core.

“That space is meant to be the heart of that first phase of development for us,” Moll said Sept. 19.

The group’s total 22 acres represents a $2 billion build-out over a decade, Gateway says.

Gateway Jax CEO Bryan Moll

Moll said his group expects to develop at least 1,000 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom market-rate apartments and at least one grocery store in the first phase that begins development in mid-2024.

That phase, which he refers to as Pearl Square, will comprise one 22-story and two seven-floor residential buildings along with walkable retail and green space.

Moll, DLP Capital CEO and founder Don Wenner and JWB Real Estate Capital President Alex Sifakis are scheduled to present the project at a news conference at 11 a.m. Sept. 20.

They hope to present the project to the Downtown Investment Authority in October in a bid for assistance that initially was estimated at $135.64 million, covering up to 29% of the project.

The city’s return on public investment had been calculated at $1.04 for every $1 invested.

The location

The initial phase of Blocks N4, N5, N8, N9 and N11 are bordered by Union, Julia, Church and Clay streets and bisected by Pearl, Beaver and Ashley streets.

Plans show Pearl Street would be used as needed for a festival street between Beaver and Ashley.

Block N5 is the First Baptist “lighthouse garage” that JWB bought in December 2021.

The Downtown Development Review Board supports conceptual review of the application.

The design team comprises architect Elkus Manfredi; landscape architect Hoerr Schaudt; and engineer England-Thims & Miller Inc. 

The Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow law firm is the agent to obtain the DDRB approval for development and related work.

The site of the Pearl Street District Multi-Phase Plan proposed by Gateway Jax LLC.

Gateway announced Sept. 20 that it has acquired buildings and development sites across much of the North Core area of Downtown. JWB initially acquired the majority of the properties that are now in the Gateway Jax portfolio.

Moll, who led the $4 billion Water Street Tampa downtown redevelopment and the Amazon HQ2 National Landing site in the Washington, D.C., area, said he and his husband wanted to return to Florida.

“When this opportunity popped up on my radar,” he said, “I started looking at the data, the numbers, and everything pointed at Jacksonville being the next best place in Florida.”

Moll said Jacksonville’s job growth is strong and its quality of life is appealing to people moving from out of town and out of state because it is relatively affordable.

Moll said he met with city and business leaders, including Sifakis and Wenner, and walked Downtown.

He said he saw the “bones” Downtown, including a tree canopy and city leadership “investing in the public spaces.”

“All of the potential Downtown is obvious,” he said.

Moll said he saw the transformative potential in Jacksonville that he saw in Tampa and D.C.

“I see it here in Jacksonville, where all of the pieces are coming together and you have the fundamentals,” Moll said.

“We are going to play a big part of it.”

Moll said the location in the center of the city provided existing infrastructure.

He said Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects CEO David Manfredi worked on “a larger big-picture plan to think about what to do.”

Manfredi immediately focused on Pearl Street.

“He said this has got to be some of the best bones a city can offer,” Moll said.

“That is why we see opportunity there.”

The site plan for the Pearl Street District Multi-Phase Plan proposed by Gateway Jax LLC.
Photo by Mezini, Ina

The site is a 10-minute walk to the St. Johns River and within blocks of City Hall and James Weldon Johnson Park.

“This is very close to the very center of Downtown,” he said.

Moll said the other properties are concentrated throughout and around the city center.

Gateway began assembling the land just more than a year ago. 

The group plans to launch with Pearl Street and “get that right, get that started” before expanding.

Moll refers to the first phase as including “Pearl Square” The remaining property sites will be developed or renovated over time.

Moll said each site will have its own personality and name as “distinct little districts within the larger neighborhood.”

He said JWB contributed Downtown parcels into the fund that is developing the district, but that JWB also continues to own real estate, such as The Greenleaf Building.

Moll explained that Gateway Jax is the owner and controller of the real estate through the equity fund sponsored by Jacksonville-based JWB and St. Augustine-based DLP.

Apartments and groceries

Moll said the “Pearl Square” area is expanding from no apartments to more than 1,600, counting others nearby approved by the city.

“If you use 1.5 people per unit, that is 2,400-plus in that district or adjoining it.”

Moll said Gateway has been talking with grocers of different sizes that offer options, from full-service to smaller-scale grocery-and-wine bistro concepts, especially those targeting young professionals who are expected to rent the apartments.

An aerial conceptual rendering of the Gateway Jax project looking south. The buildings with what looks like grass on the roofs are new. The development area is bordered by Union, Julia, Church and Clay streets and bisected by Pearl, Beaver and Ashley streets. At the bottom left is the former First Baptist Church parking garage along Union Street.

Gateway is working with The Urban Division at Colliers, led by Senior Vice President Matthew Clark, to lease the 120,000-square-foot grocery-anchored retail portion.

“There has been tremendous interest in the site from a retail perspective,” Moll said.

“It is very hard to find retail space in the inner core of Downtown. The vacancy rate is incredibly low and a lot of retailers are trying to find space.”

He said Block N8 will be the 22-story tower and Block N4 and N11 will be seven-story buildings.

Moll said it is too early to say for certain whether the structures all will be apartments. “If for some reason we need to sell condos there, we are not opposed to doing that,” he said.

He said Block N11 is ahead from a design standpoint, so it appears to be the first.

Development is expected to start in the second or third quarter next year.

Funding and the future

Moll said DLP Capital is providing majority funding.

He said DLP is a two-thirds equity holder and JWB owns one-third.

Moll said the DIA incentives could differ from the initial estimate as a result of changes in the buildings.

A conceptual rendering of the Gateway Jax development Downtown shows a fountain plaza. The $500 million mixed-used development on 22 acres of Downtown Jacksonville includes apartments, a grocery and retail space.

He said the parking garage that is part of the first phase, Block N5, will supplement parking needs, which contributes to bringing down construction prices and generating a better return on investment to the city.

“We have been working with the DIA over the last several months,” he said. “We hope to get in front of the DIA board in October.”

Moll said the time is good.

“I truly believe Downtown Jacksonville is at a tipping point with all of the public and private investment Downtown,” Moll said.

“Our project is going to be offering something that doesn’t exist Downtown, which is this 18-hour-a-day district where everything you need in your day-to-day life you can walk to,” he said.

“It’s all going to be there.”

Gateway Jax’s offices are at 218 Broad St. Downtown.

Moll might live nearby, too.

He said he and his husband, an interior designer, have rented in Brooklyn and at the Beaches. They continue to own a home in Tampa, where his husband has clients.

They would like to find “something historic” to buy in Jacksonville.



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