DDRB grants final design approval to The District

DDRB grants final design approval to The District
Rendering for The District – Life Well Lived depicts an open space which maximizes views to the St. Johns River. (Rendering by Elkus Manfredi Architects)

JEA grants 12-month extension to close on property

It took less than an hour for the Downtown Development Review Board to unanimously vote its final approval – with one abstention — on the Final Master Plan Guidelines for The District – Life Well Lived during a special meeting at City Hall Oct. 26. Board member Bill Schilling abstained due to a conflict of interest.

There was no public comment and nary a negative word by the board as it signed off on the “catalyst” project that it expects to be a “gamechanger” for the city.

Elements Development LLC, a company owned by San Marco developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a contract to buy the former Jacksonville Energy Authority Southside Generating Station for more than $17 million where they plan to create a massive mixed-use urban project consisting of 1,170 residential units, 200 hotel rooms, 125 marina slips, 288,500 square feet of commercial/retail and 200,000 square feet of office space. The $500 million project is the brainchild of Rummell, who seeks to build a multi-generational community that promotes a healthy urban lifestyle.

Elements was scheduled to close on the 30-acre Southbank property at the end of December, but received a 12-month extension on the closing date from the JEA Board of Directors Oct. 18. In extending the date, JEA included a provision that closing will occur within 45 days of approval of all state and local entitlements and agreements for the project.

“I will be having a cocktail by five o’clock, I guarantee it,” said Munz after the Oct. 26 meeting. “Getting this type of plan approved, it is a sea change for Jacksonville when it comes to multipurpose, mixed-use development,” he said. The Master Plan Design Guidelines will provide a framework for all future development on the “catalyst redevelopment site,” which has been deemed by city officials as crucial to the revitalization of Jacksonville’s urban core.

Rummell was not able to attend the meeting. As a past president of the Urban Land Institute, he was in Dallas, Texas, addressing a meeting of the ULI’s national organization.

“It’s ironic that this (project) started when he was chairing ULI and that he’s there today while this is being voted on in Jacksonville,” said Munz, after the meeting.

“The overarching big idea Peter Rummell would talk about if he was here is the healthy living component, both wellness and multi-generational aspects,” Munz said during the meeting. “That’s a big idea for Jacksonville, but it’s also a big idea for the redevelopment world. At ULI, he’s talking about the fact that here in Jacksonville we are talking about a project that not only promotes health and wellness but also a multi-generational component.”

Having approval of the master plan design guidelines was a huge step in a long process to realize Rummell’s vision, Munz said.

“Getting this design master guidebook approved was critical to going forward with this project,” Munz said. The guidelines will be a tool to provide guidance and examples of architectural quality and style for both the master developer and future third party developers, and will be included with the legal documentation as Elements LLC goes forward with marketing the project, he said. “If someone comes in to build a hotel, they’ll have to use this guidebook when they plan the design of their hotel,” Munz explained. “That way everybody will know what every block is going to look and feel like.”

In his opening remarks, DDRB Development Coordinator Jim Klement gave a hearty endorsement for the project saying it is “an important collaboration between the applicant, the DIA (Downtown Investment Authority) and the DDRB staff.”

He also explained in detail the guidebook’s purpose and the six requested deviations that went along with the project’s final approval, each of which the board voted on individually during the meeting. Included among the deviations were four that deal with design elements – river views, heights of buildings and structures; off-street parking, streetscape design standards, waterfront design regulations – and two that deal with procedure – DDRB staff consistency review and DDRB final approval time period, which allows the site plan approval to be valid for 10 years from the date of final, written approval of the final project site plan with a “benchmark” status report provided to DDRB staff from the developers within five years.

“Historically, the process was just a process. The intent here, and this will be one of the deviations at the end of our presentation, is we are doing now a master plan review in adopting these master plan guidelines as a part of their product,” Klement said. “The review and consideration by staff, this product gives staff sufficient specificity so when they come forward to review a project – anyone who comes in —we can go to this document and use it to review the final project.”

Perhaps most problematic for the board was the deviation requiring the DDRB project site plan approval be valid for 10 years.

After claiming he was excited about the project because it will “really add value to our city and our quality of life,” City Council member Aaron Bowman questioned the wisdom of the 10-year timeline expressing fear that “what looks good today in 10 years might look outdated,” and that “I don’t want to see nothing over there for nine years.”

However, Munz allayed his fears. “It’s a complicated site, a 30-acre site. We are creating a market. It will take a while to go beyond here. Nothing like this has been done in
Jacksonville, and a 10-year window with a five-year report-back period was the most realistic plan. It allows us to give our partners on the horizontal and vertical sides the assurances they need,” he said.

Elements LLC was granted a 12-month extension to close on the Southbank property from JEA because it still needs to execute a redevelopment agreement with the Downtown Investment Authority, as well as be approved by both the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee and the Jacksonville City Council, Munz said. He said he expects the closing to occur in a few months and for Elements to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on the property in “early to mid-spring at the very latest.”

“This has taken a lot of time. The amount of hours it’s taken to create this plan and the level of detail and complexity has been all consuming for the past several months. We can now shift our focus to the next step,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson

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