New life breathed into landmark tower

Adaptive reuse ahead for downtown’s historic Independent Life Building

A rendering of the renovated Independent Life building as a mixed-use multifamily development. | Courtesy of the Downtown Development Review Board final approval packet.
A rendering of the renovated Independent Life building as a mixed-use multifamily development. | Courtesy of the Downtown Development Review Board final approval packet.

After years of standing abandoned, the historic Independent Life Building in downtown Jacksonville can expect a transformation into a 21st-century mixed-use development.

Last month, a permit was filed with the city for the adaptive reuse of the 19-story building at 233 West Duval Street, converting it into “a multifamily residential [building] with ground floor commercial.”

The estimated cost for the project is $23.3 million. DFI General Contractors LLC is the contractor.

According to city records, “interior demolition of non-[load] bearing walls” was permitted in 2021, along with the removal of lead and asbestos and two elevators, at the cost of $1 million.

The Independent Life building was designed by KJB Architects and construction was completed in 1955. It was the home of Independent Life and Accident Insurance Agency for 20 years before the company relocated.

After changing hands several times in the interim period and standing abandoned for several of those years, the building was sold to PEP10 LLC in 2019 for $3.7 million, according to county records. The following year, the city council approved the building’s designation as a local landmark.

This has been a project several years in the making for developer Augustine Development Group. According to the December 2020 Downtown Development Review Board final approval packet, the mixed-use development will feature 135 residential units on the second through 16th floors. Along with commercial tenants, the basement and first level will feature a grocery store and restaurant. An amenity deck will occupy the 17th level; the 18th will have a commercial kitchen while the top level will be home to a “Sky Lounge.”  The designs in the final approval packet were done by Dasher Hurst Architects.

Site plans also detail the recreation of the historic “Independent” sign on the tower’s south face.

The Independent Life building was completed in 1955 and stands at 233 West Duval Street. | Photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.
The Independent Life building was completed in 1955 and stands at 233 West Duval Street. | Photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

“We look forward to seeing this project move ahead,” wrote Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer in an e-mail. “Having the Independent Life Building restored and repurposed will be beneficial not just for that building, which has been vacant for some time, but for the group of historic properties around it. And once the work is completed, the building will promote the growth of Downtown and the entire community by providing a new housing option for prospective residents and adding to Downtown’s mix of dining, nightlife and commercial options.”

The Jacksonville Historical Society (JHS) remains a champion of adaptive reuse for the city’s historic buildings. Last year, JHS CEO Dr. Alan Bliss argued, unsuccessfully, for the adaptive reuse of Jacksonville’s Old Ford Motor Company plant. In an e-mail, Bliss said JHS “applauds the developers of the old Independent Life building” for their plans to adapt and reuse the historic building.

“Preserving historically significant buildings works best when they serve an economically sustainable purpose,” he wrote. “After all, buildings get designed and built in the first place in order to serve an economic purpose. Historic preservation results from the same calculation. Even though real estate markets and construction techniques change, old buildings, when adapted to the 21st century, continue to generate value for their owners, their occupants and their neighborhoods. That’s why the Jacksonville Historical Society applauds the developers of the old Independent Life building. The building is a physical storytelling device about Jacksonville’s many decades as the ‘Hartford of the South’ — the regional epicenter of the insurance industry in the United States.”

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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