Avondale demolition and reconstruction met with excitement, apprehension

Avondale demolition and reconstruction met with excitement, apprehension
Three new storefronts are planned for a portion of the Shoppes of Avondale on St. Johns Avenue. (Group 4 Design)

Telltale blue signs posted in the window fronts at 3562 St Johns Ave. signify another change to the culture of the historic Shoppes of Avondale – this time in the form of a coffee shop and more. 

The 7,200-square-foot structure that formerly housed an ice cream shop and two retail stores will be demolished and rebuilt as Southern Grounds & Co. to include a 187-seat coffee shop and wine bar, a market, and tenant space for an art gallery. Property owner and developer, Edward Skinner Jones, is also seeking an administrative deviation for 26 parking spaces, which will need approval from the City’s zoning administrator.

Jones said he looks for areas that have a strong sense of community and walkability, and he found those attributes in Avondale. “We are excited to bring Southern Grounds to the Shoppes of Avondale. We believe it will be a perfect complement to the existing shops and restaurants in the area,” said Jones, in an email forwarded to The Resident. “Southern Grounds is a chef-driven coffee house, and we believe coffee connects people, starts conversations, and creates communities. Southern Grounds in Avondale will create a place for the community to gather in a relaxing environment with great food and coffee.”

Three familiar facades will be obliterated for redevelopment of a coffee shop, market and gallery.
Three familiar facades will be obliterated for redevelopment of a coffee shop, market and gallery.

At their July 24 meeting, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission conditionally approved the demolition of the non-contributing structure (meaning it is not historically significant). Those conditions include ensuring the left façade parapet wall will be within one foot in height of the adjacent structure where the two connect, and the setback of the structure must be substantially compliant with the site plan. Small design changes that do not conflict with the design regulations, reflect a downgrade in the design, or conflict with the stated concerns of the staff or commission, may be reviewed and approved by staff. All amended plans must be provided for review and approval administratively at least one week before permitting.

Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) met with the applicant and does not oppose the building’s demolition provided there is an approved certificate of appropriateness for the new building to be commenced immediately, along with adequate accommodation for adjacent retailers and pedestrians during the construction process, according to their newsletter. 

Since the new venture was announced, conversation has been brewing about how the new business will affect the existing restaurants, merchants and the community as a whole.  

With St. Johns Avenue on the right, the site plan shows exterior seating for 32, inside seating for 155.  (Group 4 Design)
With St. Johns Avenue on the right, the site plan shows exterior seating for 32, inside seating for 155. (Group 4 Design)

Hooshang Harvesf, Ph.D., owner of Hooshang’s Oriental Rugs, has been a merchant in the Shoppes for over 40 years. He recalls the early days of the Shoppes, when families would stroll along St. Johns Avenue visiting the many retail stores. 

“When I first came here, there was a need for more restaurants, because they bring people to the area. They give you exposure,” he said. “People come at night, have dinner, then they walk, and they see things through the shop windows. The next morning, they call you or they come and buy, so it’s a good thing to have restaurants – up to a point,” he said. “The nature of the businesses has changed. It’s turning from retail into entertainment. We are losing the balance. The more retailers go out the more restaurants replace them, and that bothers me more than parking. To me parking is a problem, but if people want something, they will come – it’s inconvenient but it’s nothing new.” 

Ian Chase has seen many changes in the Shoppes during the 18 years that he has owned and operated The Fox Restaurant. He has a go-with-the-flow attitude about the new addition. 

“I’m a rising tide guy, if they want to come in and think that they will be good for the community then I’m all for it,” he said. “We are getting pretty full of restaurants, but if the community wants it – then let’s do it.”  

Parking has been a concern for him since he first opened his restaurant, but he has grown weary of the longtime debate about it, because thus far, there has been no resolution.

“We have had promises made about offsite parking and bringing in the employees and things like that, and it sounds good on paper, but we have had two or three restaurants propose that idea and it never happened,” he said. “A quarter to a third and possibly even half of the parking spaces in front of the Shoppes of Avondale are taken up by the people that work in the shops. We all need to work together to alleviate these problems. And we need to press the City to maintain the alleys – we could honestly find the parking in the alleys and out front.”

Chase cares about the big issues but he tends to focus on things that he can do to make an everyday difference. He cleans the whole block with a leaf blower and every day picks up trash from the sidewalks. “If we don’t institute some simple fixes, we will never do any large, grand things. Let’s do a couple of small things, like cleaning up a bit,” he said, as he bent down to pick up a mint wrapper that had been tossed onto the sidewalk.  

Area residents have taken to social media with their views on the proposed coffee shop and there appears to be an even mix of excitement about the new offerings Southern Grounds would bring and trepidation about the potential problems that could result. 

Jack Bobeck said, in a post on social media, that he “seconds the great things that Southern Grounds offers” but there is “no parking in the area for that size of an establishment.” Maurie Hartshorn agreed, saying in her post, “The developers can paint a picture with whatever rosy tints they wish, but the reality is at least 70 parking places will be required.”   

Donna Lewis and William Colledge are looking forward to Southern Grounds opening its doors. Lewis hopes the shop will also cater to tea drinkers, while Colledge said he is excited about Southern Grounds because it will fill a need, since there is really no “good spot” to get a cup of coffee early in the morning around the Shoppes.

Working with Jones on the project is Christopher Goodin, owner of Coastland Group, LLC. “Every time we mention to people that Southern Grounds is coming in, it’s all about excitement. I hear all the time from people ‘I wish that on my way to work I had somewhere that is nearby to get coffee.’ We are going to be that provider,” he said. Goodin also talked about the art gallery that they are committed to bringing in, and the market, which will offer cheeses, meats and wine, that can be consumed onsite or carried out. 

Goodin said that Southern Grounds is primarily a coffee shop and they expect most of their business in the morning and afternoon. “A parking study done in 2014 showed that even on the main strip, that up until about 3 p.m., there are spaces available. The majority of our business is in the morning and lunch, a very insignificant portion of business is that dinner-time crowd.” He added that they are working on a long-term parking solution and that the plan is to minimize disruptions to surrounding businesses while executing the demolition, and to complete the new building within a short timeframe.

“Everyone that we are involving in this process is top tier. We are going to do it as quickly as possible with the least impact to the neighbors,” Goodin said. We are hoping to start the demo at the end of September, and the rebuild would start immediately thereafter. Construction would take approximately four to six months.”   

The Shoppes of Avondale Merchants Association has been following the progress of the plan as it perks along. Members had some concerns about the new building and how it would fit in with the surrounding structures. When they met July 25, the day after the JHPC conditionally approved the new building, some of their concerns were assuaged.  

“We’ve looked at the schematics of it all and it looks good,” said Paula Wynn, president of the merchants association. “The thing about the rebuild is that everyone wants to be sure it fits in aesthetically. It’s a historic area and we are trying to preserve that elegant historic presence in Avondale. But at the same time, we are also trying to keep it modern, and ultimately, we want people to come to the area and shop and dine and take advantage of the different services that are provided in Avondale.”   

But the apprehension stretches beyond the aesthetics of the new building. As the Shoppes continue to evolve from being retail-focused to more restaurants, other issues arise. 

“There are some mixed emotions. The merchants especially are very concerned that one more restaurant coming to the area is taking away from the parking for the merchants, but on the other hand, more restaurants means more people, which means hopefully more shopping in those merchants,” said Wynn.

“Parking is an issue – I personally like some of the developments that have happened here in the last few weeks and few days regarding some parking ideas. The board is working diligently on different options that we might have,” she continued. “In the end, I think that we are finally about to embark on a permanent solution. Of course there is not a whole lot that can be done about parking in the area because there’s just no extra space. But hopefully, with us all working together, we can cone up with a solution that will accommodate everyone.”

By Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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