Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A NEW VISION FOR RIVERSIDE; Apartments, Retail Outlets and a Park and Amphitheater in the Plans

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A NEW VISION FOR RIVERSIDE; Apartments, Retail Outlets and a Park and Amphitheater in the Plans

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Bull

After years of talk, of plans, of changing plans, work is about to begin on a big empty lot on Riverside Avenue.

The ground-breaking ceremony for 220 Riverside will be held Tuesday. The $39.5 million, 6.5-acre project will include a seven-story building with 294 apartments and 18,000 square feet of retail space overlooking a park.

"We're thrilled to be finally delivering on what we've promised," said Alex Coley, principal with Hallmark Partners, the lead developer.

He particularly points to Unity Plaza, the park that will circle and overlook the city pond at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street. It's patterned after New York's Bryant Park and Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, a public park run by a nonprofit board.

Don Shea, executive director of the Jacksonville Civic Council, calls the entire project "transformational and catalytic."

"It's transformational because for so long we had nothing there, and now we'll have something," he said.

"It's catalytic because there is a ton of latent investment on the side in downtown, waiting for someone to come along and be successful."

That stretch of Riverside already is going to look very different. Last month, the YMCA announced plans for a new, $21 million building across the street from 220 Riverside.

And more activity could come soon to the Brooklyn neighborhood. Pope & Land, an Atlanta development firm, is expected to go before the City Council in the next couple of weeks with a project on 11 acres next door to 220 Riverside.

Shea said the developers will request an incentive package. But Lynn Pappas, the Jacksonville attorney representing Pope & Land, said that hasn't been decided.

The project will include both residential and retail space, she said. The residential component, apartments with average rents of about $1,200 a month, already has gone before the city's Downtown Development Review Board.

Pappas said Pope & Land didn't want to release any more details until it goes to the council.

CHANGES

Six years ago, Hallmark was part of a partnership that was going to build condominiums and an office building on the site. But the tenants for the offices backed out, and then the bottom of the condo market fell out.

Hallmark got the site approved for a nice hotel, but that was tied to the office building.

"Fortunately, we were not too far down that path and we were able to adjust," Coley said.

Eventually, Hallmark settled on apartments and retail, but Coley said it still took time to get the regulatory approvals from all the various agencies. Finally, those came and in July, Mayor Alvin Brown signed the city's agreement to rebate $4.9 million in property taxes over the next 20 years. Two partners, Bristol Development Group and MAA, were brought in for design and finance. …

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