Unity Plaza holds its first events

Unity Plaza holds its first events

Public gathering spot part of expansive 220 Riverside project

While construction is continuing on the final product, the new Unity Plaza on Riverside Avenue held its first events in December, giving hundreds of visitors a small taste of the live performances and fun community activities planned.

The sneak peek events had a holiday flavor, with a community orchestra playing Christmas music as construction workers moved throughout the complex during a gathering held for neighbors to take a look around.


Then a week later a holiday bash for workers in Jacksonville’s building and design community drew several hundred people to the site.

“The party was really the grand opening of Unity Plaza,” said David Auchter, executive vice president and COO of NAI Hallmark Partners, the developers of the multi-level and multi-purpose 220 Riverside. “We felt they would understand the current conditions (at the building site.)”

To say there is interest in the site is an understatement. Although no apartments were available to view in December, nearly one-third of the 294 studio-, 1- and 2-bedroom units were already under lease.

Progress is being made on the commercial space at 220 Riverside. NAI Hallmark Partners previously announced Philadelphia chef Kevin Sbraga will develop the restaurant space there. “We interviewed a number of chefs and we chose Kevin and he chose us … He really appreciates Jacksonville.”

The restaurant will open early this year, he said.

A key element of Unity Plaza is executive director Jen Jones, who is responsible for selecting and scheduling events. When Unity Plaza officially opens in February it will immediately begin holding an eclectic schedule of events ranging from wedding receptions to business meetings to private dinners.

“We have a few spaces that will do some quirky things. You can go to wine tastings; one program is called Sumo and Sushi,” Auchter said. “It should be a lot of fun.”

Also on the drawing board is a 150-room hotel adjacent to 220 Riverside’s southwest corner. One design concept being discussed is having a large ballroom with glass panels to allow an outside view, he said. The hotel will also have a focus on health and wellness.

“All the major hotel brands have a component that focuses on health and wellness,” he said. “We are in the process of interviewing those brands now. We want it done right with the right partnership.”

More construction will continue at the site even after 220 Riverside is complete. That’s because 200 Riverside – the $42 million second phase of the project’s residential project – will get under way soon as well, pending Jacksonville City Council approval of a financial incentive plan. A vote is expected early this year.

If approved, the plan would give NAI Hallmark Partners a tax rebate of about $7 million spread over 20 years. The 200 Riverside, will sit between 220 and a new Fresh Market site and have 223 units and nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space.

NAI Hallmark Partners is excited to be part of rebuilding Jacksonville’s once declining Brooklyn neighborhood, Auchter said, and to add energy to a growing “renaissance” of Downtown redevelopment.

“We are proud to be part of a dramatic transformation that we hope to reverse the trend (in Brooklyn) and I think the community has an opportunity to get engaged in the gentrification going on there,” Auchter said. “[NAI Hallmark Partners CEO] Alex Coley was quoted previously as saying it would be incongruent of us to only do our part and not to figure out how to develop the other areas.”

With serious discussions going on about new projects at The Shipyards, the old JEA generating station site on the Southbank, reworking The Landing and restoring the historic Laura Street trio buildings plus the Riverside Avenue projects, Jacksonville is undergoing an awakening, Auchter said.

“Our community has been crazing downtown redevelopment for decades and it is actually happening there in Brooklyn. And hopefully it serves as a catalyst to the rest of downtown,” he said. “If you measure redevelopment in terms dollars invested, it’s hard to argue that Brooklyn isn’t one of Jacksonville brightest spots.”

By Greg Walsh
Resident Community News

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