What Has Gone Right?

The following is a look at the new businesses that have opened throughout Downtown. If you take a step back, you’ll realize that all of this business growth has been the result of adaptive reuse projects of underutilized structures. If these businesses had to acquire land and then build new structures, would the walkable core of Downtown have similar glimpses of life found today?

Paul Shockey and partners acquired this building at 21 East Adams Street in 2003 for $363,000. By 2005, the ownership group completed renovations to open Downtown mainstay Burrito Gallery. In 2010, the building gained a second occupant when popular Thai restaurant Indochine opened on the second floor. Both restaurants are open 7 days a week, including evening hours.

Ron Chamblin acquired the building at 215 Laura Street in 2006 for $930,000. In 2008, upon the completion of renovations he opened Chamblin Uptown, a two-story, 12,000 square feet bookstore and café space. Chamblin acquired the adjoining building at 225 Laura Street in 2012 for $290,000 and is in the process of renovating the space to house apartments and a ground floor retail space.

11 East Forsyth (formerly the Lynch Building) is a 17-story, mixed use building originally constructed in 1926. The Vestcor Companies renovated the historical structure in 2003, converting office space into 127 apartment units, ground floor retail space and a newly-constructed, attached six-story parking garage. Today, early food truck pioneers Super Food and Brew operate a gastropub on the ground floor. Top image via Wikipedia.

The Carling (formerly the Roosevelt Hotel) is a 13-story, mixed use building originally constructed in 1925. The Vestcor Companies renovated the historical structure in 2005, converting hotel rooms into 100 apartment units, ground floor retail space and a newly-constructed, attached 237-space parking garage. Image via Vestcor.

Eddie and Chuck Farrah purchased the 10-story building at 100 Laura Street in 2011 for $3.5 million. After renovations were completed, the team at Prime Realty led by Matthew Clark began leasing the mid-century modern building. Today, the building is nearly 100% occupied with the likes of Live Oak Contracting, CenterState Bank and Anytime Fitness, and features the popular Bellwether restaurant in a modern, ground floor space along Forsyth Street. Top image via Prime Realty.

Jacques Klempf bought the former First National Bank of Florida building at 101 E Bay Street in 2014. The building was one of the first structures built after the Great Fire of 1901 destroyed most of Downtown Jacksonville. After renovations, the Klempf family and related investors opened the Cowford Chophouse in 2017. The renovated space includes a two-story, modern steakhouse along with a rooftop bar overlooking the Main Street Bridge. Image via Cowford Chophouse.

Marcus Lemonis purchased the former Seminole Club building at 400 Hogan Street in 2013 for $550,000. After renovations were completed in 2014, Sweet Petes opened featuring a candy factory, three-story retail space, a full restaurant and bar called MLG and a rooftop patio. Nothing like Sweet Petes exists anywhere in the United States, and the space has become a destination for tourists.

The Churchwell Lofts building dates back to 1905. It originally housed the Covington Company wholesale and retail dry goods business. In 1923, the J.H. Churchwell company purchased the post-and-beam warehouse from Victor Covington. In 2006, Robert Pavelka completed a $4.39 million renovation to convert the four-story building into the Churchwell Lofts. The City provided the project with a $900,000 grant from the Historic Preservation Trust Fund and provided a $120,000 rent credit to lease a 34-space surface parking lot at the corner of Market and Forsyth streets. Beginning in 2011, a new lease was negotiated with the City featuring free rent for the first five years, and a five-year renewal with monthly rent of $80 per space. The adaptive reuse features 21 condominium lofts featuring exposed beams, 12-foot ceilings and original-glass windows. A fifth-floor addition features rooftop terraces for several residential units. The first floor features 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. Greg DeSanto opened Olio on the ground floor of the Churchwell building in 2011. In 2012, Olio gained national notoriety after appearing on the television show “Best Sandwich in America” on The Travel Channel.

Once the tallest building in Jax at the time of its construction in 1926, the former Barnett National Bank Building at 112 Adams Street is currently undergoing a massive, $22 million renovation led by Steve Atkins of the SouthEast Development Group. When completed this year, the18-story building will feature 107 apartments across 10 floors, an already-opn urban learning resource center for the University of North Florida, a flagship Chase bank branch, a Vagabond Coffee storefront and additional office space.

Founded in 1900 by Flavius T. Christie and Frank C. Groover, the Christie-Groover Drug Company was for many years the largest wholesale drug firm in Florida. In 1905 Mr. Christie retired, and the following year the company was renamed the Groover-Stewart Drug Company, reflecting the addition of M. W. Stewart and H. E. Stewart to the partnership. In 1925 this four-story, 53,000 square foot building was constructed for the company, to serve as warehouse and office space. In 1992, it was added to the National Regiser of Historic Places. It served as the office of the Public Defender until 2011, when that office relocated to the new Duval County Courthouse complex in LaVilla. In 2011 Michael Upchurch bought the building for $1.8 million, who later sold the building to Chicago-based Iconic Investors LLC in 2016 for $2.05 million. Iconic now operates the Novel Coworking office rental company there, one of 22 locations for the co-working company providing various office configurations for ‘startups and solopreneurs’ thoughout the country.

Profit Investments led by Eugene Profit, purchased 20 West Adams in 2015 for $750,000. Originally built in 1911, the six-story building underwent a $6.2 million renovation that was completed in 2018, and now houses 20 apartments housing nearly 60 students of Florida State College of Jacksonville, along with a ground floor restaurant called 20West Café that doubles as a living classroom for the culinary arts and hospitality program at FSCJ.

Mike Langton purchased the three-story W.A. Knight Building at 113 Adams Street in 2000 for $309,000. Originally built in 1923, by 2002 $1.2 million in renovations were complete featuring 12 apartments and ground floor retail spaces. Currently Kazu Sushi Burrito and The Volstead operate a restaurant and cocktail lounge in each of the two retail spaces.

201 Laura Street was originally constructed in 1926 as the headquarters for the local chapter of the Elks Club. Wilson & Nolan Southeast, a real estate investment trust in Atlanta, purchased the building for $627,000 in 1999 and placed the property on the US National Register of Historic Places in 2000. In 2012, renovations were completed and new tenants began leasing up the building. After reaching a greater than 90% occupancy rate thanks to the leasing efforts of Prime Realty, Randy Dieue of California purchased the building as a passive investment for $4.5 million in 2016. Today tenants include the Cathedral Arts Project, Mocha Miska Brownies, Wolf & Cub and Jimmy Johns.

Ten years into the present real estate cycle, Jacksonville’s Northbank has once again appeared to have missed the boat in terms of new, ground up construction. The only signs of life have come from the adaptive reuse of existing structures. Now, the Jacksonville Landing is the next target for demolition. The idea that we should continue to tear down what is left of the walkable core of Downtown’s Northbank because new development is “just around the corner” with more vague assertions of a horizon filled with “private capital willing to invest” is a strategy that hasn’t worked in more than three decades. I’m 40 years old now, and a downtown resident and business owner. I don’t want to spend the next 30 years waking up each day in hopes that this “wait and see” strategy will finally produce construction cranes in the sky.

Editorial by Mike Field

Cover Image via Jessica Palombo / WJCT News