By: Mike Mendenhall
Mayor Donna Deegan and City Council member Jimmy Peluso have called for a one-month delay in the city’s final design review of a proposed mixed-use Daily’s gas station in LaVilla for more community input.
At Deegan and Peluso’s request, the Downtown Development Review Board deferred its scheduled vote July 27 on First Coast Energy’s plan to build a three-story Daily’s with a convenience store, restaurant and Bold City Brewery on a 1.4-acre block at Bay and Broad streets.
Since January, the project has come up against criticism from people and groups working to revitalize the historic neighborhood and Downtown advocates concerned about a gas station’s effect on future pedestrian safety and accessibility plans in LaVilla.
In an email after the board meeting, Deegan said the deferral will provide an additional month for Daily’s parent company First Coast Energy “to solicit public opinion on this significant development within a historic neighborhood.”
“Stakeholders will get the chance to voice their opinions and help ensure the project will benefit both the neighbors and Downtown as a whole,” Deegan said.
Peluso, who represents Council District 7 that includes LaVilla, said Daily’s “was kind enough not to object to our deferral” request.
“We are all incredibly eager to see amazing developments downtown and in the LaVilla neighborhood,” Peluso said in an email.
“Within the next few weeks, we intend to collaborate with the applicant and the LaVilla community to ensure this project, that serves as a gateway to LaVilla, will be a project celebrated by everyone,” he said.
LaVilla was once called the Harlem of the South and was a sanctuary for Black culture and commerce post-Civil War. The late 20th century saw a decline in LaVilla’s influence as many of its historic homes and buildings were demolished.
LaVilla entry point
In December 2022, the proposed Daily’s site was labeled one of several gateway entry points to LaVilla by the DIA’s LaVilla Heritage Trail and Gateways Committee.
The goal is to return housing, retail, restaurants, parks and trails to the once-thriving neighborhood.
The review board awarded conceptual approval to an earlier version of the Daily’s project March 9, following a workshop to address design and site plan issues and after a muted response to the project in January.
The latest designs released by the city Downtown Investment Authority on July 20 show the convenience store and restaurant building has been relocated from the center of the site close to the sidewalk at Bay and Broad streets.
The DDRB staff report says the developer moved the building footprint to better comply with Downtown design standards meant to cater to the pedestrian experience and safety.
Review board staff recommended approval of the project but noted in its report some inconsistencies with the design standards in the Downtown overlay code remain, which will require the board to sign off on deviations.
“This is a significant improvement as it lends a more urban character, and offers a gateway, to this intersection and the LaVilla district,” the report says.
“To varying degrees, the street frontages along Forsyth, Jefferson, and Bay Streets are not consistent with this section of the code.”
The Daily’s would bring 16 fueling stations and a minimum 5,000-square-foot restaurant to an intersection that receives traffic from Interstate 95 via Forsyth Street, entering Downtown from Five Points or Riverside/Avondale via Broad Street, or are leaving Downtown to Interstates 10 and 95 via Bay Street or into Brooklyn/Riverside via Jefferson Street.
Brian Miller, owner of Bold City Brewery, told the board in March that his company is partnering with First Coast Energy to operate a microbrewery and the restaurant on the second floor and the rooftop bar.
Miller said he wants to close the brewery’s East Bay Street location, which is struggling because the site does not meet its needs, and move its Downtown operations to the LaVilla Daily’s.
The Downtown overlay zoning code approved by Council in 2019 allows fuel stations in LaVilla by exception if it is part of a mixed-use development.
The overlay also discourages new surface parking lots.
The staff said that the developer must work with stakeholders in LaVilla for a mural planned for the north-facing facade of the building to ensure it is in context with the neighborhood’s heritage.
“You need to involve the Black community in the 150-year-old neighborhood,” Ennis Davis, an urban planner and member of the heritage group, said during the March 9 meeting.
At the January review board meeting, Council member Ju’Coby Pittman said people working in LaVilla want to see “a gateway of culture” and an “embrace of even more affordable housing.”
“We embrace growth, smart growth, historical growth, but I don’t really feel like this is a good fit (or) it aligns with what we’re doing in LaVilla,” she said.
First Coast Energy has been working to develop the site for nearly three years.
The company paid almost $3.3 million in August 2020 for the 1.4-acre block bounded by Forsyth, Jefferson, Bay and Broad streets.
First Coast Energy paid nearly $2.4 million for five parcels that include the site of a closed bank drive-thru and $900,000 for the land where the now-demolished Kartouche nightclub once stood.
It bought the 0.23-acre nightclub site from Law Building LLC., and the bank site and four vacant parcels, totaling 1.17 acres, from lawyer Mark L. Rosenberg.