New owners spend millions to give Towers of Jacksonville makeover

New owners spend millions to give Towers of Jacksonville makeover

For the first time since it was built in 1972, the Towers of Jacksonville is getting a makeover.

Six years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a million dollars was spent to install new windows to comply with hurricane codes, but that has been the only real improvement to the building in 44 years, said Towers administrator Michael McClernon, who has managed the property for the past 10 years.

Over a month ago, the Retirement Housing Foundation, a non-profit in Long Beach, Calif., and its general partner, The Towers of Jacksonville paid $10.38 million for the riverfront high-rise, located at 1400 E. LeBaron Ave. in San Marco. The housing complex includes 194 apartments for residents ages 62 and older.

The Towers of Jacksonville is governed by a not-for-profit Board of Directors and operates under the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide affordable housing for the elderly. Retirement Housing Foundation specializes in providing affordable housing for seniors in 26 states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, McClernon said. The Foundation has been active for 51 years.

A new sign will replace Baptist Towers with The Towers of Jacksonville

A new sign will replace Baptist Towers with The Towers of Jacksonville

RHF is spending $8.5 million to renovate the building, and will replace the plumbing, HVAC, wiring, elevators and other infrastructure throughout the building, said Chris Ragon, a spokesperson for RHF in Long Beach, Calif. At present, the building still sports the name Baptist Towers, but the signage will change once the building is renovated, she said.

In 2005, the owners of the community changed the name of the building from Baptist Towers to The Towers of Jacksonville. The change was initiated because there was some confusion on the part of the seniors who thought they had to be a member of the Baptist faith in order to move into the building, said Ragon. At that time, the community changed all its marketing materials with the exception of the sign atop the building because it was too costly to remove, she said.

Some people have lived in the building for more than 20 years, and it will be like getting a new house, said McClernon.

Retirement Housing Foundation focuses on acquiring subsidized senior citizen housing that is on the cusp of going “market rate,” she said, adding that RHF has been working for more than two years to acquire Baptist Towers. “We try to get housing at the tail end of its being affordable. [Then we renovate it in order to] make it so that it remains affordable for the next 40 years,” Ragon said.

At the Towers of Jacksonville, each apartment will be modernized with new kitchen cabinets, full-size appliances and new bathrooms as well as fresh paint and carpeting, McClernon said.

Work will start on the ground floor, and rehabbing will include several common areas including the laundry room, main office, lounge, meeting room, library, card room, beauty shop and five apartments. McClernon estimates it will take at least eight weeks to renovate the first floor. When the first floor is finished, demolition of the 12th floor will begin.

While their living quarters are being renovated, each resident will be moved to an empty apartment on the property, McClernon said, noting that 22 empty units will be used for this purpose. The Foundation will pay to have each resident’s belongings packed and moved into an empty apartment on another floor, where they will stay during the time their apartment is renovated. RHF will also pick up the tab to have their belongings packed again and moved back into their quarters once the renovation is finished, Ragon said.

Residents will be given a 30-day notice before they are moved within the building, McClernon said. “They will know well in advance what will happen, when and where,” he said.

“They will move into a similar size unit as they have now,” McClernon said. “HUD will allow them to relocate on the property so they won’t have to leave the building. It will be disruptive, but we will try to keep it orderly as best we can,” he said.

Ragon agreed. “We try to make it as painless as possible,” she said. “But even the painless is painful,” she said about the elderly residents who may find the experience difficult.

Provided there are no construction delays, McClernon estimates the entire project could take 18 months. In the meantime, parking will be difficult. A shuttle service will available to ferry people to an off-site parking lot, he said.

And the chaos and confusion will be compounded because a new wing is currently under construction at the Ronald McDonald House across the street. “It couldn’t happen at a worse time, for both of us, but it’s got to be done,” said McClernon.

So far, some Tower residents are ambivalent about the project, he said.

“Some are looking forward to the change and modernization, but for others there are mixed feelings with the chaos. Of course that comes naturally with construction,” McClernon said. “It’s going to be difficult, but we will try to keep their lives as normal as possible to get them through the changes.”

By Marcia Hodgson
News Editor

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