Changes coming soon to Murray Hill

Changes coming soon to Murray Hill
Crews were set to begin constructing storage units in June on the site of the former Jones College on Edgewood Avenue, at the intersection with Plymouth Street.

Murray Hill’s thriving Edgewood corridor will soon get busier, as plans for new businesses, a new place for families to live, and preparation for new public artwork is put into place. 

Residents will soon see the gap Jones College Edgewood campus once occupied fill up with a new retail storage unit complex and a new retail space. Meanwhile, plans are moving forward for the creation of a new residential complex on the current Bank of America site at 840 Edgewood Avenue South, and while all that is happening, the City has also put aside money for a public art display composed of synchronized lights at the Roosevelt Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue South overpass, although that will take longer to implement.

Developers plan to construct new retail spaces between Edgewood Avenue and a large, new storage building.
Developers plan to construct new retail spaces between Edgewood Avenue and a large, new storage building.

The first project to begin was the storage complex. In early June, crews began constructing the three-story, 97,000-square foot complex at Plymouth and Edgewood, with plans not far behind to create new retail space fronting Edgewood, filled with local business tenants.

Leed Silverfield, president of Jacksonville-based Silverfield Group, said the firm closed on the financing for the storage project at Edgewood and Plymouth at the end of May. It will eventually contain 788 units and be fronted by about 5,000 square feet of retail near Fishweir Brewing Company and across from Wok N Roll and the Stout Snug. Maitland-based Birchmier Construction is on the project, which will likely take about 11 months depending on weather and construction delays. New construction on the 5,000-square-foot retail portion of the project will probably not move forward until Silverfield Group identifies the tenants. That’s taking longer than normal as the economy re-opens after months of closures.

“Unfortunately, the COVID effects, especially for retail and real estate, have really slowed things down – people are pushing the pause button,” Silverfield said. “Hopefully, as things start to normalize, we will get some interest.” Feedback from residents led to the setback of the storage units behind the planned retail facilities, so that pedestrians and motorists in the area see the retail space first when they enter the area. The Silverfield Group wants it to be attractive and fit in with the neighboring small businesses and is hoping to populate it with local retailers. The main entrance to the storage units will be along Plymouth Street.

The storage unit project has not been particularly popular in the neighborhood, to say the least. Last year, 500 residents attended two public meetings about the proposed facility and 5,000 signed a petition against it, concerned that it would change the feel of the neighborhood and leave a vacant space where the college building had been. However, the City approved demolition of the Jones site last year.

A few blocks further northwest, the long vacant Bank of America Building at 840 Edgewood Avenue South is set for demolition. In its place will rise a four-story, 117-unit multi-family residential complex called the Lofts at Murray Hill. The project has drawn community discussion, and dissension, about how the new building will affect the area in terms of traffic and density. The property is located between College and Kerle Streets and also features a Calvin and Hobbes mural by New York-based artist Jerkface. That mural is set to be demolished with the building.

The City Planning Commission approved zoning exceptions for the new complex last year despite vocal opposition from some Murray Hill residents who were worried about whether the project would attract low-income tenants and make it harder to park. The exceptions included reducing required parking spaces from 248 to 196 and doing away with the need to construct loading spaces. Steve Diebenow of the law firm Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, spoke on behalf of Vestcor, the developer. He said the units would be workforce housing for professionals such as teachers, firefighters, and police officers, and that tenants would be screened.

Some business owners view the project, including the addition of more population density, as a boost.

Stacey Flores, who co-founded Fishweir Brewing Company with her husband, Broc, four years ago, thought the short distance from the Lofts to the South Edgewood corridor near the intersection would make the area more walkable and bring in more flow.

“As a business owner and as a resident, we are really excited to have semi-affordable housing come to the neighborhood,” she said. “We think the thing we are missing here is population density. Bringing people in who are out in the community will be really beneficial.”

She also said she thought that more people within walking distance of the corridor would make traffic and parking less difficult. 

Flores is also president of the fledgling Murray Hill Merchants Association, which is still forming and does not, collectively, have a view on the project. She said the association was just getting off the ground and had its first election right before COVID-19 shutdowns.

“Hopefully, when this all clears up, we can reconfigure,” Flores said. “Some of our main goals are beautifying our corridor, making things more friendly to pedestrian and bikers.”

Meanwhile, the overpass at Roosevelt Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue a few blocks away was primed for a new public art display installation composed of light. San Antonio-based artist Bill Englewood has been tapped to create the spectacle based on community input. During a community meeting last year, he said that his illumination projects in other areas have helped transform boring concrete to areas that pedestrians love to frequent.

 District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor said in early June that the City has already set aside funding and that the art project was about two years off. In the meantime, the City of Jacksonville and the Florida Department of Transportation are working on a $4.4 million project that would transform Edgewood Avenue from U.S. 17 to the Lenox Avenue intersection and beyond. Part of the project includes cleaning the Roosevelt overpass. 

Hampton Ray, an FDOT spokesman, said that the lane reassignment and improvement project is still on schedule and will begin in mid-2021. It’s expected to go out to bid in March 2021 and general construction would likely begin a few months after that. The project includes buffered bicycle lanes, more on-street parking, ADA improvements in addition to cleaning and painting the overpass.

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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