Downtown’s dark day: The fiery destruction of the Rise Doro

The apartment developer plans to rebuild. “We still have that commitment strong in our hearts. We want to be Downtown.”

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 12:05 a.m. February 2, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
Flames and smoke cast a glow over the top of the Rise Doro apartment building at 960 E. Adams St. in the Downtown Sports and Entertainment District.
Flames and smoke cast a glow over the top of the Rise Doro apartment building at 960 E. Adams St. in the Downtown Sports and Entertainment District.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department
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As Mayor Donna Deegan and City Council President Ron Salem viewed the fire-ravaged Rise Doro apartment building Jan. 29, it was possible to imagine them coming to the site under different circumstances.

If the $65 million project at 960 E. Adams St. had been completed, elected officials like Deegan and Salem would no doubt have taken part in the ribbon-cutting. 

City leaders had hoped that Rise Doro, the first major residential development in the Sports and Entertainment District, would jump-start similar projects and help propel Jacksonville’s yearslong Downtown revitalization effort. 

But Deegan and Salem weren’t at the site for a celebration. Instead, they were there for a status report on the fire that ripped through the eight-story building overnight and kept burning for days after, turning the nearly completed structure into a fragile shell of ashes and soot. 

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers, left, and Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan watch the smoking Rise Doro apartment building in this photo Deegan posted on social media Jan. 29.

With the finish line so close that the developer had leased units to eight people and had scheduled move-ins, engineering inspections concluded that Rise Doro would instead have to be at least partially demolished. 

“I’m just devastated that this has occurred, because this was a real catalyst for this area,” Salem said. 

“It’s so unfortunate. When I drove up and saw the smoke coming out, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Deegan called the fire a setback, saying “we were all very much looking forward to a lot of pride” in the building’s completion. 

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see because we were so close,” Deegan said.

What might have been a cause for rejoicing had become a subject of questions and concerns about the future of the project and the site, how the fire might affect Downtown redevelopment, the suitability of the wood framing that made up part of the building, and more. 

As firefighters continued to work, at least one of the uncertainties was resolved. 

Greg Blais, president of Rise: A Real Estate Co.

Greg Blais, the president of the property’s developer, Rise: A Real Estate Co., said the building was insured and that Rise intends to rebuild if possible.

“We chose to move the company to Jacksonville and made a commitment to be Downtown,” said Blais, whose company relocated from Valdosta, Georgia, to Jacksonville after launching the Rise Doro project.

“We still have that commitment strong in our hearts. We want to be Downtown.”

On Jan. 31, ELEV8 Demolition partner Ben Pfotenhauer said the company would begin “mobilizing immediately to clean up the area” after a demoliton permit was filed with the city on Jan. 30.

A description in the permit application said the concrete portions of the building would remain. Pfotenhauer said crews would begin tearing down the wood portions “once all safety and preparation protocols have been met.”

The road ahead

Blais said reconstruction would involve another design and construction estimation process, plus working through insurance issues. 

Another consideration is how much of the building will need to be demolished. Deegan said engineers had concluded that the wood-framed portion of the development was unstable and would need to be torn down. 

Blais said it had yet to be determined whether the concrete garage and cap could remain standing. 

The ruined Rise Doro apartment building shown in a Jan. 30 WJXT TV-4 drone image.

Lori Boyer, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, said it was likely that Rise and the DIA would need to renegotiate a 2020 development agreement that provided a $5.75 million city incentive for the building. 

Boyer said the new agreement would reflect increases in construction costs, new performance schedules, updated property values and other changes since the original agreement was signed. 

Deegan and City Council member Jimmy Peluso, whose district includes Downtown, said they supported Rise and would do what they could to expedite reconstruction. 

Deegan said the sight of the smoke-spewing building made her think of the Berkman Plaza II, the Downtown condominium that went unfinished for more than a decade after construction was halted following a fatal construction accident. The riverfront building was imploded in 2022.

“It was one of the first things that I thought about, once I learned everybody was safe,” she said of the Doro fire.

“We don’t want to see this sit here for a long time and have it not developed.”

‘Rise is intending to be a fixture’

The Rise Doro building, which is south of VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, was designed with 247 residential units in a five-story wood-framed structure and a seven-level, 284-space parking garage with rooftop amenities. 

Rise bought the property in September 2020 for $5.2 million. The 1.77-acre block was the home of the George Doro Fixture Co., which fabricated architectural woodwork, casework and millwork. 

The George Doro Fixture Co. building.

In December 2020, the city issued a permit for Rise to demolish the 107-year-old Doro warehouse buildings on the site and build its project. Demolition work began in March 2021.

In April 2021, Rise executives told reporters they expected construction to take about 22 months. 

“Talk about a fixture, using a pun off The Doro. They were a fixture in Downtown for a long, long, time,” Blais said. 

“Rise is intending to be a fixture in the Jacksonville area for a long, long time.”

In 2020, the DIA approved the $5.75 million incentive for Rise in the form of a 15-year, 65% Recapture Enhanced Value Grant. 

That grant was calculated on a total investment of $65.64 million for the project. Under the city’s development agreement with Rise, the grant is payable the first full year after completion of construction of the project and its inclusion at full assessed value on the tax rolls. 

The DIA says none of the grant money has been paid, and none would be due until 2025 at the earliest. 

The view from above the ruined Rise Doro apartment building shown in 30 WJXT TV-4 drone image.

There are no provisions in the city’s development agreement with Rise for the developer to capture any portion of the grant in the event of a fire or other catastrophic event. 

Blais said Rise was expecting construction to wrap up in March. 

Banners on the building read “Now Leasing Tour Today” and offer studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments and lofts. 

The Rise Doro website promotes the property’s amenities and walkable proximity to VyStar arena, EverBank Stadium, 121 Financial Ballpark and nearby eating and drinking establishments. 

“Find your new apartment home in Downtown Jacksonville next to the most energetic venues and entertainment the city has to offer,” the site reads. 

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department crews battle a fire Jan. 28 at the nearly completed Rise Doro apartments at 960 E. Adams St. south of VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in the Downtown Sports and Entertainment District.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department

The complex’s website listed such community amenities as a rooftop pool, clubroom lounge, a pet spa, 24-hour fitness center, electric vehicle charging stations and a creative studio. 

Apartment and loft amenities include stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, full-size washers and dryers, linen closets and electronic door locks.

At the Jan. 17 DIA board meeting, Boyer displayed photos of final touches being applied to the project. 

Cabinetry was hung in one of the building’s living units. New carpeting and lighting lined a hallway. 

‘Some heroic things’

Eleven days after Boyer presented the photos to the board, a security officer at Rise Doro reported the fire. 

News4Jax reported that about 11 p.m. Jan. 28, JFRD signaled that the fire was under control. About an hour later, it appeared to reignite. 

Firefighters initially entered the building to attack the fire floor by floor, but obstacles like uncompleted stairwells made it unsafe for them to remain. 

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said the fire spread through openings for pipes and wiring. 

“Once it’s completed, those are all sealed up,” he said. 

“But during the construction phase they’re open, and that allows fire to get into hidden voids and move throughout the building. That makes it more difficult for us to extinguish it.” 

More than 100 Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department personnel battled the fire at the Rise Doro apartment building.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department

By midday Jan. 29, exterior walls were bulging in places and it appeared that at least one floor had collapsed. Powers said firefighters had done “some heroic things” overnight to keep the south wall from collapsing and possibly damaging the adjacent Intuition Ale Works and Manifest Distilling building. 

“It was mainly keeping the fire from progressing up there and compromising that south-facing wall that could have fallen over into Intuition,” he said. 

“And then obviously they have spirits that are inside that building which are highly flammable and could have created a bigger catastrophe than we already have.” 

As the fire continued to burn, firefighters were sent to the corners of the building to protect them and their equipment in case of a wall collapse. Using drones with heat-detecting sensors, crews sprayed up to 5,000 gallons of water a minute from ladder trucks into the hottest parts of the fire. 

At a ground-level view, clear sky that hours before would have been obscured by the roof could be seen through shattered windows framed with smoke stains. Water cascaded from balconies and splashed into debris-speckled sidewalks and streets.

Construction crew work on the Rise Doro apartment building in June. Nearby is Manifest Distilling.
Photo by Monty Zickuhr

Officials closed streets around the site and announced that Intuition Ale Works and Manifest Distilling would remain closed until the south wall could be razed.

Salem, the Council president, said that when  public safety measures were in place, “then we can begin thinking about what the next step is.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation by state authorities. No injuries were reported. More than 100 firefighters were sent to the scene. 

‘Our hearts are broken’

Peluso heard about the fire from a friend before dawn Jan. 29, then found a news article about it around 6 a.m. He described his reaction as “heavy disappointment.”

“It’s a good thing that there were no residents, so there is a sigh of relief with that,” he said.

“But we were so close to having a really good project that could have helped us kind of see where the market is going in Jacksonville. Now we’ll have to wait for the next market-rate buildings to come online. And it’s going to be a while.”

Council member Jimmy Peluso

Peluso said the fire also was disappointing in that it would give ammunition to naysayers of Downtown redevelopment. 

That dour outlook is unfair, he said, because Rise Doro was only one of several projects underway Downtown.

Among them are Lofts at Cathedral, a $39 million workforce-housing complex at 325 and 327 E. Duval St.; Johnson Commons, a 91-unit condo project in LaVilla; and One Riverside, a multiuse development at 1 Riverside Ave. 

One Riverside’s $59.9 million first phase, which includes 225 apartments on 18 acres, is under construction. 

Public projects also are moving forward. They include Riverfront Plaza, where work recently began on bulkhead improvements and construction of a cafe and playground; an update of Friendship Fountain that will include a synchronized light-and-water display; and the Emerald Trail, a system of about 30 miles of trails, greenways and parks that link neighborhoods around the city.

Peluso cited a recent Forbes story to help illustrate how much development is happening Downtown. That article’s headline: Jacksonville Poised For Boom Times Downtown.

Donna Deegan

He said he didn’t believe the fire would affect the momentum overall.

“We’ve got Northerners and Midwesterners, young people, who are looking for a place that is affordable and where the weather is good,” he said. 

“And the natural beauty of Jacksonville pulls people in. With all the projects we have coming online, the Emerald Trail being one of them, I think we have a lot going for us.” 

Deegan expressed similar thoughts.

“This is clearly a setback for us, and all of our hearts are broken about it,” she said at the site.

“It’s not going to stop our forward momentum.”

Wood and sprinklers

On social and news media, the intensity of the fire and the extent of the devastation prompted discussion about fire safety and the wood-frame construction of much of the Rise Doro building. 

Wood framing is common in Northeast Florida apartment buildings, including several under construction Downtown. 

Peluso, while stressing that he is not a building contractor, questioned the prevalence of wood construction in Florida considering the state’s vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding. 

The parking garage for Rise Doro apartments is shown in this WJXT TV-4 drone image.

Concrete block buildings were common when he and his family moved to the state in the 1990s, he said, but there’s been a shift to more wooden construction and “podium”-style buildings in which four- or five-story wood structures are built over concrete bases used for retail, amenities or parking.

Peluso said he believed the construction at Rise Doro was high quality, but he felt discussion was warranted on whether the state should require greater use of fire- and weather-resistant building materials in its building codes.  

“I’m certainly not going to be in a position to say, ‘Oh, I wish this was all concrete,’” Peluso said. “It’s something that needs to be looked at by our state folks.” 

Rise Doro was a podium-style building. Blais said it had yet to be determined whether the concrete portions could remain standing.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department crews battle a fire at the nearly completed Rise Doro apartments at 960 E. Adams St.

A sprinkler system had been installed in the building but had yet to be activated. A pressure test was required before the system could be turned on, and the test would have been conducted shortly before the apartments were occupied. 

“The timing was just, it was terrible,” said Powers, the fire and rescue chief.

“No fault of anyone’s. It’s a timeline thing, and the timeline just wasn’t there yet.”

Whether a sprinkler system would have stopped the fire is unknown. 

After the fire

As night fell Jan. 29, Blais reflected on what he called a “rough day” for his company. 

“There’s a lot of heartbroken people in the office of Rise,” he said.

“We all kind of held hands together today and tried to be strong and faithful while we deal with this tragedy.”

A renndering of the completed Rise:Doro apartment near 121 Financial Ballpark and VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and near EverBank Stadium.

Blais also looked forward to a better time, saying the rebuild would happen “just as soon as we can get through our process.”

Similarly, Peluso said brighter times are ahead for Downtown after the smoke clears, the firefighters wrap up their work and the streets around the building are reopened. 

“This was such a disappointing moment for anyone who wants to see Downtown start doing the good work we want it to,” he said. 

“But we’ve got a lot of things in the pipeline,” he said.

“By 2027, we’re going to have a lot of things that we can point to and say, ‘Hey, look at that new tower. Look at these cranes up in the air.’ I think that’s our future.”



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