Plans materialize for East San Marco

Plans materialize for East San Marco
A map showing the layout of the new East San Marco residential and commercial development slated to be built at the corner of Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.

Long awaited mixed-use project coming to fruition

After several attempts to finance and bring one of the largest projects in San Marco’s history to fruition, its time has come.

     East San Marco, planned for several vacant lots on Atlantic Boulevard at the intersections of Hendricks Avenue and Mango Place just a block east of San Marco Square, is finally going to be developed.

Financing for the project, which has seen many false starts over more than a decade, has finally been secured, and the lonely 4.33 acres will soon be home to 46,000 square feet of retail space topped with 239 apartments and a parking garage.

Construction is set for late summer, with an opening planned for the end of 2018.

“This hole in the doughnut is truly the only undeveloped piece of property left in San Marco,” said G. John Carey, a partner in Whitehall Realty Partners, a co-developer of the project. “There is a need to finish it off with this project. This will be a tremendous plus for the area and will take San Marco to the next level,” Carey said.

Actually, it is very convenient that Whitehall Realty Partners LLC has recent established its headquarters in a newly renovated building down the street from East San Marco on Atlantic Boulevard. Carey has long been involved with the project and will be responsible for keeping a close eye the $60 million retail and residential project as it progresses.

“It’s been a labor of love on our part,” said Carey. “We’ve worked on this project for six years, and we’ve been stubborn and stuck with it.”

The retail space will include five to seven shops, a restaurant and a 32,000-square-foot Publix, which is, perhaps, the crown jewel of the development.

“Having Publix as our anchor will enable us to bring in the right merchandising mix that will really reflect the lifestyles and interests of the surrounding area,” said Jim Thompson, Executive Vice President of Operations for Regency Centers, a partner in the project. “They are extremely well-respected for their quality of operations, and we couldn’t be more proud to have them as involved as they have been,” he said. 


A privately owned grocery chain, Publix has long desired to get a foothold in the San Marco community, said Dwaine Stevens, a spokesman for the store. “We are excited about this project and for our loyal Publix customers. We’ve been committed to this site since 2006 and look forward to serving the beautiful San Marco community,” he said.

After three or four false starts to get the property developed, the deal finally came to fruition when Regency Centers, a national owner, operator, and developer of grocery-anchored shopping centers, announced its partnership with Whitehall Realty Partners, ArchCo Residential and Bluerock Residential Growth REIT, INC.

Whitehall Realty Partners and ArchCo Residential will co-develop the project, with Whitehall, which has led local efforts, acting as the boots-on-the-ground partner overseeing the construction. No contractor has been announced as yet, but one should be selected by late spring or early summer, said Eric Davidson, a spokesman for Regency Centers.

“We actually brought the group in that provided the financing,” said Carey of Whitehall’s role in the transaction. “We introduced Bluerock to the deal, and Bluerock had a relationship with ArchCo Residential. It’s been a collaborative effort between our team,” he said, referring all four players.

Upon completion, ArchCo and Bluerock will own and manage the residential portion of East San Marco, while Regency will own and operate the retail elements of the complex.

“Tenant-wise, we are looking for unique restaurant and surface-level tenants, things that will enhance the culture and color that already exists in San Marco,” said Davidson.

According to Jason Jacobson of ArchCo Residential, the 239 apartments will comprise 18 studios, 141 one-bedroom, 76 two-bedroom, and four three-bedroom units. Noting that rental rates are typically set 60 to 90 days prior to occupancy, Jacobson said he expects a single bedroom unit to run around $1,200 to $1,500 a month, a two-bedroom unit to start around $1,800 to $2,000.

The residential units will feature nine-foot ceilings (10-foot on the top floor), solid surface countertops, stainless steel appliances, ceiling fans and state-of-the-art telecommunications, including USB charging ports, and choices in service for cable, Internet and phone, Jacobson said.

Other residential amenities in the plans include an expansive outdoor courtyard with swimming pool and an outdoor social area that will include a gourmet kitchen, 24-hour fitness center, business center, club room and roof-top patio with water views. Residents will find the building has plenty of security, with a dedicated and secure garage and an automated package storage system.

Third time’s the charm

The East San Marco Development has been a long time coming. Initial discussions on the plan to possibly bring Publix to the site began in 2002, and in 2006 the strategy was to build 147 townhomes and condominiums above 55,000 square feet of retail space that included a 30,000 square-foot Publix supermarket on the mixed-use site. At that time, a full block of buildings was torn down to make way for the new development, and East San Marco’s doors were expected to open in 2009.

But the 2008 housing crash put a crimp in the works, and the project was shelved with the recession.

In the very first issue of the San Marco edition of The Resident, which was published in March 2008, a front-page story entitled, “Residential market slump stalls supermarket” quoted Tom Fleming, vice president of Investments for Regency Centers as saying the project was “vertically integrated” with retail on the bottom and residential stacked above. “There is no practical way to build one without the other, even though retail is still viable today,” he said.

In 2013, Carey’s firm sought to buy and develop the property with an eye to selling the retail portion to Regency. At that time, the area was rezoned for apartments instead of condos, and in March 2014, City Council passed ordinances allowing for 280 apartments and up to 63,000 square feet of commercial space, including a Publix, to be built on the site. However, a month later, Whitehall withdrew from the deal saying it could not finance the project.


A boost to the community 

Coinciding with other residential building projects on the nearby Southbank, East San Marco is expected to boost the economy of the San Marco community.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic overall for the area,” said Michael Balanky, developer of The District – Life Well Lived. “It will create a lot of energy for San Marco.”

Strategically located on Atlantic Boulevard near where the new I-95 exit is planned to be built, shoppers will find easy access not only to East San Marco’s new retail outlets, but to new commercial properties going in on Kings Avenue as well as the merchants in San Marco Square, Balanky said.

Thompson from Regency agrees. “We believe our project will enhance and play off the current retail ‘gravity’ centered on the square,” said Thompson. “The addition of our Publix anchor will continue to define this area as the shopping, dining and gathering space for San Marco.”

Having Publix close by on the south side of the river will be a boon to new residents settling in The District – Life Well Lived and other new apartment developments on the Southbank, said Balanky. “This is one more feather in San Marco’s cap that will be good for The District as well,” he said, noting people interested in moving to The District have often questioned where they would buy their groceries. “We’ve told them this was on the radar, but now that it is happening. It is going to be big,” he said.

“San Marco is the center of the universe for Jacksonville,” Balanky continued. “This is the most convenient part of the city to live in. Having the Publix nearby will make it super, super convenient,” he said. “Finally we are getting the resources we need to be self-contained so we won’t have to go to other neighborhoods to get what we need.”

Anita Vining, president of the San Marco Merchants Association said she was excited about the project. “I can think of it being nothing but positive, positive, positive,” she said. “We’ve been waiting on Publix for a long time, and there is a need for more upscale rentals in San Marco. It’s going to bring more opportunities to the area because there is not a lot of land available between here and the railroad tracks.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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