Walkable neighborhoods drawing retail, residential development

Walkable neighborhoods drawing retail, residential development
Vista Brooklyn (Rendering courtesy of Bristol Development)

Development is spurring big changes in Jacksonville as the city’s unique nature and attractive attributes are drawing many new investors to its urban core.

For example, a plethora of new projects and businesses have sprouted up across 5 Points, Riverside’s bohemian neighborhood, and begun to spill over into the Brooklyn area, such as Unity Plaza – the brainchild of Alex Coley, principal and co-founder of NAI Hallmark Partners, and Brooklyn Station, a mixed-used development by Regency Centers.

When former Riverside resident Mike Nicolo came to visit Jacksonville for the second time in five years he was more than taken aback by what he saw.

“When did all these stores and restaurants get built?” Nicolo asked, referring to the explosion of restaurants in 5 Points and the new storefronts in Five Points Village on Margaret Street. “It’s like a city inside a city,” Nicolo added.

Five Points Village, the Sleiman-owned property which burned down a few years ago, houses seven new storefronts, which include the popular burger joint M Shack, as well as the Kaika Teppanyaki Asian Fushion eatery and Community First Credit Union.

Although Jacksonville’s footprint extends far beyond its downtown area, its surrounding urban neighborhoods are not unlike the walkable, small-town communities many planners adhere to today, said Miami developer Jeff Morr, who acquired the four storefronts last year at 813 Lomax St. in Riverside.

“I believe people should live above or very near restaurants or shops so they can get exercise and get to know their neighbors instead of getting in a car and eating among strangers,” Morr said. “It’s a healthier way of life.”

Location was a factor as to why he decided to invest in Riverside, Morr said, noting 5 Points is more than just a quiet spot. “It’s an active, pedestrian community.”

“I think Jacksonville is split into two cities: the beach and the mainland. Both are very different in terms of people and places,” he said. “But I’m an urbanite. I love downtown and the Riverside area. It’s my favorite place to be.”

Morr’s passion for investing in the area became apparent last year, when he bought The Renaissance apartment building at 2008 Riverside and the Fans & Stoves Antique Mall at 1059 Park St.

Morr said he plans to rent the Park Street building to a “top-notch” restaurant, and one day hopes to turn the complex into a boutique hotel.

Much like the beginning of many business deals, Morr’s attraction to the area came by word of mouth from a friend. As luck would have it, artist and entrepreneur Steve Williams had just made headlines by purchasing the historic Peterson’s 5 & Dime building, but wasn’t too busy to give his friend a tour of the city.

“From a bird’s-eye view, the footprint of Riverside and surrounding communities is unbelievable,” said Williams, who runs Harbinger Sign, a custom-sign fabricator company.

“In a second, all of it can be connected through walking, biking and even boating,” Williams said. “The Native Americans used to take their boats down McCoys Creek to do their trading.” McCoys Creek flows west to east, connecting the urban neighborhoods with downtown and the St. Johns River.

It was Williams’ knowledge and familiarity of the city that ultimately influenced Morr’s decision.

“Steve is the reason I came here,” Morr said. “He gave me a tremendous tour of the city. I immediately fell in love with it.”

The fact is that Jacksonville has its own identity, Williams said, and shouldn’t be defined by what counts elsewhere, in Southern cities such as Savannah, Atlanta and Charleston.

“I think as a city, people are starting to wake up. Jacksonville is so historic and beautiful, and there is nothing else like it in the South,” said Williams, whose new restaurant, Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House, opens next month on the first floor of the historic 5 & Dime building.

“We’re sitting right here on a river with all of these dilapidated buildings, and if we don’t take advantage of them they’re going to go away,” he added.

As a new generation of developers work with, rather than against, an area’s historic qualities, projects such as Brooklyn Station have served as a catalyst for the restoration of historic properties in the area and the establishment of a residential district for millennials who want more walkable neighborhoods with urban amenities and public transportation to downtown.

“The generation has switched. The people who weren’t able to do projects 20 years ago are being replaced by a younger generation that brings (newer) talent,” Williams said.

“Jacksonville is a city that has so many attractive opportunities and possibilities with a unique number of millennials. The more small projects, the more millennials, the more millennials, the more small projects,” he said. “It has grown slowly, but there is a reason for that…we’re super picky. If you build something with quality here, it’s always successful.”

Williams cited the popular restaurant, Black Sheep, as a demonstration of a successful model that simulates small business economic growth. “Small business projects are what is going to do it. A year ago, you couldn’t count 10 things to do in Riverside, but now there are at least 10 things you can do on any given night,” he said.

Last year, Williams bought Richards, the former 5 Points sandwich shop at 1030 Oak St., which he renamed Bread & Board. The full-service lunch and dinner eatery owned by Dwayne Beliakoff and Jonathan Cobbs is slated to open in February 2017.

The Lofts of LaVilla (Rendering courtesy of Vestcor)

The Lofts of LaVilla (Rendering courtesy of Vestcor)

From breaking bread to breaking ground

But it’s not just restaurants that are breaking the mold. In late October, the Summit Contracting Group broke ground on the Lofts at LaVilla – a 130-unit apartment community at 995 Water St., near the Prime Osborn Convention Center. The structure will be 134,296 square feet and include a ground-floor parking garage. It is slated for completion in Fall 2017.

Plans are also underway for a 10-story apartment tower between 220 Riverside and Brooklyn Station. The project, dubbed Vista Brooklyn, is being developed by Bristol Development Group and NAI Hallmark Partners – the same partnership behind the 220 Riverside development.

The 300-unit apartment will feature 12,000 to 14,000 square-feet of retail space. The project is expected to break ground in June 2017 and will take about 18 to 20 months before it’s completed, said Charles Carlisle, CEO of Bristol Development.

These new projects come as the demand for urban housing continues to grow across the country. But while the evidence of demand for urban living is apparent in Jacksonville, Carlisle said, the city is still behind in that market.

“What we’re doing is not pioneering at all. It’s [urban living] just not relevant yet in Jacksonville,” he said.

For instance, in Nashville, Tennessee, there are 17,000-plus apartments in the urban area, Carlisle said. In Charlotte, North Carolina, there are 20,000-plus apartments, and in Birmingham, Alabama, there are 3,236 apartments in the urban areas. In Jacksonville, there are only 1,290 apartments in urban housing stock, he said.

Carlisle, who cited the figures from a study by Cushman & Wakefield, said that out of 15 different metro areas, all the others are smaller than Jacksonville.

“A lot of the demand comes from the millennial age looking for that urban experience. A lot of people 50 years and older are also choosing to move out of their homes and into cities for that urban experience,” Carlisle said.

“There is great opportunity in Jacksonville for urban-type living. Our conclusion is that Jacksonville is underserved when it comes to the demand for urban-type housing.”

By Andrew Thurlow
Resident Community News

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