Restart of the northern core of downtown: Millions of investments planned | Jax Daily Record | Jacksonville Daily Record

Trees and weeds grow through the floorboards on the fourth and fifth levels of the vacant office building at 218 W. Church St.

Alex Sifakis, president of JWB Real Estate Capital, said nature has “recovered” within the shabby historical structure, but he sees potential.

“I think it’s really important for Downtown to bring these old buildings back to life. I mean, it looks like a bloody disaster, but we (JWB) are used to it, ”said Sifakis.

The 1924 five-story, 26,500-square-foot building was purchased by JWB on August 26 for $ 675,000. It is the company’s most recent investment in what Sifakis and three other development groups have collectively referred to as the “North Core” of Downtown.

JWB, Augustine Development Group, ACE JAX LLC and the couple Jim and Ellen Wiss together paid $ 15.38 million for historic buildings and parcels in the downtown area as of January 2018. The four development companies have announced plans totaling $ 86.1 million, with more in the works.

A redeveloped 218 W. Church St. would include commercial apartments on the first floor.

The north core is bounded by state, broad, church and main streets, said Sifakis. It’s part of the Church District in the Downtown Overlay.

Sifakis said during his tour of the building on West Church Street on Sept. 4 that he expects the proposed retail, restaurant and residential buildings of the North Core to be successful, given the proximity to City Hall for the 56,000 downtown employees , James Weldon Johnson Park and civic activities and within walking distance are historic features.

“You take every part of downtown that already has historic buildings and that kind of density, and you make five city blocks total, you’re going to have a real neighborhood,” Sifakis said. “That’s why we focused on it because there were already developers doing projects in the region.

“We (JWB) probably bought 4,000 properties in Jacksonville and most of them are beaten up,” Sifakis said. “They’re the worst properties in the neighborhood and you’re bringing them back and making them the best. And that is exactly what we are planning here. “

Investors Jim and Ellen Wiss bought almost an entire block of town bounded by Beaver, Julia, Ashley and Hogan Streets. They are planning a mixed-use development worth $ 30 million.

Jim and Ellen Wiss, who bought almost an entire city block from the First Baptist Church for restoration and redevelopment in February, said the historic buildings had moved them to the north core.

But Jim Wiss said on Sept. 3 that historic buildings alone are not enough to make the neighborhood viable. He expects a mixture of new construction and adaptive reuse.

“Now, of course, the historic buildings are important. That goes without saying, ”said Wiss.

The Wisses plan to include new buildings in their renovation and restoration of the historic former buildings of the First Baptist Church.

“Because many of these historic buildings are either not big enough or their design criteria just don’t work to make them a full-fledged community,” said Wiss.

Purchases and plans

In August, JWB acquired the Federal Reserve Bank Building from the Wisses at 424 N. Hogan St. and a few weeks later bought 218 W. Church St.

This followed the company’s purchase of the Seminole building that houses Sweet Pete’s candy store at 400 N. Hogan St.

Plans posted in the Downtown Development Review Board’s session papers on Sept. 3 show a restaurant area and 24 studio and one-bedroom apartments in the 218 W. Church St. property. There are also two commercial suites.

For the Federal Reserve Bank Building at 424 N. Hogan St., a restaurant, a business and banquet room and an outdoor courtyard for dining are planned.

JWB’s plan to redevelop the Federal Reserve Bank building includes a restaurant, business and banquet space, and an outdoor courtyard for dining.

The Wisses bought the former First Baptist property through EJPC LLC.

Bordered by Beaver, Julia, Ashley, and Hogan Streets, it includes a four-story, 20,000-square-foot structure that was built in 1954 and a two-story, 10,000-square-foot building that was completed in 1947.

Jim Wiss said they are planning a $ 30 million mixed use development.

The Augustine Development Group, led by President Bryan Greiner and its development partners, owns two historic sites in the north core: the 18-story former Independent Life Building at 233 W. Duval St., which was purchased in September 2019, and the former Ambassador Hotel at 420 N. Julia St., purchased July 2019.

The St. Augustine-based company plans to adaptively reuse Independent Life worth $ 30 million, including a 21,000 square foot grocery store and 140 off-the-shelf apartments. Amenities include a rooftop terrace, pool and lounge.

Axis Hotels LLC’s $ 15 million renovation of the Ambassador by Augustine Development will create a 127-room La Quinta Inn and Suites.

ACE JAX LLC, controlled by Elias Hionides, Vice President of Petra Management Inc., and Christian Allen of Atlantic Beach, bought the vacant Jones Brothers Furniture Co. building at 520 N. Hogan St. and the Western Union Building at 502 N. Hogan St. in January 2018.

Hionides’ May 2018 plans show retail, office and restaurant space in both buildings, as well as 28 apartments in the Jones Brothers building.

Transport and communication

Sifakis said the North Core developers speak frequently and that he spoke frequently with Augustine Development about the Independent Life Building plan.

They made agreements to develop the neighborhood faster.

Jim Wiss said the bank renovation was “a bit small” to fit into their development plans for the north core, but they knew the restoration would benefit their project.

Alex Sifakis, President of JWB Real Estate Capital, in front of the Federal Reserve Bank building at 424 N. Hogan St.

“So part of our discussion with Alex (Sifakis) was, ‘Yeah, we’re going to sell it, but we’re not selling it so you can hold it. We sell it so that it can be redeveloped, because that is also our goal, ”said Wiss. “And if your schedule is faster than us, then we would do it just as quickly. ‘”

Sifakis said JWB will be spending “a lot” on its recovery plans, but the company is still setting a budget for an expected 1½ to 2 year project.

Sifakis and Jim Wiss said the north core development needs to find more parking, but the Wisses see the nearby unused parking garages of the First Baptist Church as a solution.

Wiss said the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Rosa Parks Transit Station hub at 201 W. Union St., which includes an elevated skyway station, is a developer draw and provides expanded access for diners, shoppers and local residents.

The east side of the station will be demolished for traffic-oriented development, said JTA communications director David Cawton II on June 22nd.

“This corridor will enable parking and local traffic,” said Wiss.

Wiss says there is a demand for the urban lifestyle envisioned for the North Core and downtown Jacksonville.

“We believe in urban cores. We believe this is a lifestyle that a lot of people really want. Many, especially younger and older people, do not want this house or these suburbs communities. You want something that has a little more urban flair. You can go down the stairs to the cafe. You can walk around the block to the restaurant.

“Most big cities, most good cities, have very strong city centers. We believe Jacksonville will have it. It’s a great city, ”said Wiss.

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