Launching in 2007, The Resident transcended tough times

Residents of the historic neighborhoods were amazed when Pamela and Seth Williams decided to start up a community newspaper during the recession 10 years ago. However, The Resident immediately sparked the community’s interest with its fiercely local coverage of all things concerning Riverside, Avondale, Ortega and Murray Hill. Even better was the fact that it was free and mailed directly into residents’ homes.

In no time at all, The Resident became embedded in the fabric of the community, with residents from the San Marco side of the river clamoring for a separate edition of their own, hence the San Marco edition was born in 2008, still within the grip of the economic downturn. 

After publishing 120 issues of The Resident, the content continues to be valuable and enlightening, clearly targeted to inform and empower the community through connection and awareness. Neighborhood residents have met each other, formed bonds, and discovered their local organizations, charities, clubs, businesses, activities and events in The Resident’s monthly information-filled pages.

Two comments have often been repeated by readers over the past 10 years that perfectly describe the purpose of this community newspaper: The Resident is positive and finds the good news to report – often information that is completely overlooked by other media – and it communicates fairly on everything that is newsworthy within the historic district.

If a proposed new development or city ordinance could affect the historic district or The Resident’s readers, the staff policy has been to cover, closely monitor and report on the issue in the newspaper.

The Resident continues to fulfill its early commitment to serve as a trusted voice for and to the historic district residents and to welcome community input. Readers are encouraged to respond with a letter to the editor, a rave or rant, a correction or additional information, or to submit suggestions for articles or concerns about neighborhood issues.

During the past decade, The Resident Community News Group, Inc., has grown to publishing two monthly newspapers covering historic districts on each side of the St. Johns River, as well as an annual Historic Life – Neighbors and Newcomers Guide and Circles – Social Datebook & Charity Register. In addition, two websites share the news digitally. Readers can find a virtual copy of each monthly issue at, while includes a comprehensive register of Northeast Florida nonprofits and a monthly calendar of benefits and fundraising events.

Share your news and opinions with us! Email [email protected] or call us at (904) 388-8839.

Taking a look back 10 years

Much has changed within The Resident’s coverage areas over the past 10 years. Development, renovations and growth in the historic district were hot topics throughout 2007 in the pages of The Resident.

1661 Riverside

Of the 90 residential units planned at 1661 Riverside Ave. across from Memorial Park, 80 were under contract and construction was near completion. A four-story stucco-over-concrete-block condominium building now sits above street-level retail stores on Margaret Street. The first residents moved in during March 2007, according to Wynn Fendig of Property Management Systems.

Chelsea Lofts

Chelsea Lofts, a three-story building comprised of 20 loft condominiums is tucked into its historic district location at 2064 Herschel Street at the corner of Goodwin. When The Resident’s first issue launched, seven units had been sold. Completed later in 2007, the structure won awards for most historically compatible development and construction.

Bishopgate Lane

Bishopgate, a high-rise residential building of 80 new condominiums was planned for the site on Bishgopgate Lane in 2007, according to William G. Pitts, president of W.G. Pitts Company. That project was never completed.

In November 2016 TriBridge Residential, an Atlanta developer, released plans for a multi-family apartment building and other amenities still in the planning stages, to be constructed on two sides of Bishopgate Lane. The 1.83-acre site comprised of two parcels included an historic home owned by Margaret Gould Weed, which was demolished in 2013 to make way for a planned unit development through Hallmark Partners, which pulled the plug a year ago.

St. Vincent’s Spirituality Center and Riverhouse

St. Vincent’s Spirituality Center and Riverhouse

Daughters of Charity move into new home

The Resident’s February 2007 cover story reported the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent’s Medical Center would be moving into their new Riverhouse home at 1878 King St. by the end of the month. The new residence replaced the nuns’ former home at Powell Place, which then became a private residence.

The new Riverhouse provided living quarters for the nuns on the second floor, while the first floor included a chapel, riverfront patio and gardens, spirituality center, library, large conference room and two-story parking garage. In 2007 Sister Cora Anne Signaigo said that there was also some available lodging for out-of-town hospital patients and their families.

In 2007 Spirituality Center Director Jack Logue described the center as a place to support employees and associates in their personal wellness of body, mind and spirit so they can give their very best. The Daughters of Charity left St. Vincent’s in 2014 for new challenges in other cities.

Repairs being made after water damaged the Willowbranch Library’s lower level in 2007.

Repairs being made after water damaged the Willowbranch Library’s lower level in 2007.

Construction at Willowbranch Library

Major construction at Willowbranch Library was undertaken in 2007 to repair damages from serious drainage and flooding problems, according to Kortney Mosley, Jacksonville public information office. Water damage was sustained on the lower library level to walls and carpeting, but no books were damaged because of the efforts of library staff, according to Stacie Bucher, Jacksonville Public Library communications manager.

In September 2014, heavy rains again damaged and flooded the library, and it was closed for more extensive interior and exterior repairs and renovations, according to Olga Bayer of the Jacksonville Public Library’s Community Relations & Marketing Department.

“The basement windows and wallboard had to be replaced, new carpets installed with new circulation desk and lounge furniture. The upper floor’s arched windows were removed and re-glazed. All frames were cleaned and refinished and everything was repainted,” Bayer said about the oldest branch library in Jacksonville.

A coach gives tips to members of a Cal Ripken Baseball League team at Murray Hill Athletic Association park.

A coach gives tips to members of a Cal Ripken Baseball League team at Murray Hill Athletic Association park.

Murray Hill Park transformed

In February 2007, Murray Hill Athletic Association’s President Richard Hamilton told The Resident that the formerly run-down park had been “transformed into a safe haven for children and a playing field for champions.” By working in cooperation with the City over many years, Hamilton said the association was able to install three new baseball fields, a playground and a paved walkway. The new amenities were funded with $200,000 from The Better Jacksonville Plan with the help of former District 14 City Councilman Jim Overton.

Ten years later the park sits in need of repairs to one of its two restrooms, the concession stand and the bleachers, according to new MHAA President Joshua Cook, who said the City wants to shut down the park for a year to change its layout, cutting out one of the five ballfields and the track.

The Commander Tower Apartments

The Commander Tower Apartments

Commander Tower Apartments and St. Johns Village Center

Ten years ago, the proposed re-development of the Commander Tower Apartments and St. Johns Village, located on St. Johns Avenue near Fishweir Creek in Avondale, had been shelved while new development partners were being secured, according to Michael Balanky of Chase Properties, who was retained by the property owners to head their first development project. Land use approval for 166 residential units had already been obtained, with Jacksonville City Council approval.

In 2013, Balanky’s plans were to demolish the Commander for new construction of 240 apartments, but the New York family who owned the property could never agree on the scope of the project and that plan, too, was shelved.

Finally, in 2016 the Commander apartments and St. Johns Village on Fishweir Creek were sold to Chance Partners of Atlanta for $5.8 million. The new owners intend to completely renovate the Commander and add more apartments, according to Brian Moulder, CBRE Executive Vice President and the broker who handled the sale.

The Ortega River Boatyard, also known as Graham’s Boatyard, in 2005 prior to demolition.

The Ortega River Boatyard, also known as Graham’s Boatyard, in 2005 prior to demolition.

Ortega Landing Marina

Initial plans for the Ortega Landing Marina at 4234 Lakeside Dr., across the river from Old Ortega, called for 74 units, four penthouses and a 192-slip marina with clubhouse, according to Captain Kris Schmid, Harbormaster for the marina. The planned unit developed was scaled back to 40 larger condominiums, with groundbreaking in March 2007.

The development was started by MLG Capital, a Wisconsin developer who completed construction of a clubhouse with pool and marina in 2007. Also completed was the first building of eight condominiums in 2008, but due to the economic recession, construction plans were cancelled for the remainder of the approved residential units.

In 2010, the new owner, The Marina at Ortega Landing, Inc., opted not to build more condominiums and abandoned plans to sell “dock-miniums,” referring to the sale of boat slips at the marina as floating home “lots.” Instead, the 192 slips at the marina are lease-based and remain at high capacity year-round, according to General Manager Warren Hickernell.

“In the future, because the original PUD is still in effect, the remaining 2.5-acre site could be developed. It is currently for sale,” Hickernell said.

Bed & Breakfast Inns

In 2007 The Resident reported that five bed and breakfast inns were operating in the historic district, however, a sixth bed and breakfast was inadvertently left out of that 2007 article. The Riverdale Inn B & B, which opened in 2003, is still a successful, family-operated business on Riverside Avenue. Of the five noted, Dickert House B & B, Jenks House B & B and the St. Johns House B & B also remain in business, while Downing Street B & B and The House on Cherry Street B & B have closed.

The iconic movie house in 5 Points before and after a $4 million renovation

The iconic movie house in 5 Points before and after a $4 million renovation

The Renovators

Mike Shad and his sons Jack and Bill finally completed renovations to the 5 Points Theatre building, reported The Resident in 2007. The building opened in 1927 as the Riverside Theater and was later renamed the 5 Points Theatre in 1949. In 2004, an extensive $4.5 million renovation took place, converting the upper floors to 26 offices with retail shops on the ground floor, where local resident Drew Johnson’s City Cycle, Procyon European bath and beauty products owned by Jana Hackel, and Keith Combs’ Urbane upscale furnishings and décor were located.

In 2009, Procyon and Urbane both closed. Keith Combs, who owned Urbane until closing is a homeowner in the 5 Points area and works as intellectual property manager for Salt Life.

Johnson moved City Cycle to 2740 Park Street and sold the business in September 2015 to Brady Irwin, according to current store manager Alice Gould, an Avondale resident. She said a major reason for the move was the opportunity to have a freestanding building and more parking.

The Shad family still owns the 5 Points Theatre building, where the Sun-Ray Cinema opened in 2011 after proprietors Tim and Shana Massett put more than $100,000 into renovating the moviehouse.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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