By: Mike Mendenhall
A New York-based developer and a global Copenhagen, Denmark-based architectural firm want to build a $166.6 million, 44-story residential high-rise next to a planned 7-acre park at Riverfront Plaza, the former Jacksonville Landing site.
American Lions LLC, the sole bidder in the Downtown Investment Authority’s request for proposals to redevelop the 1-acre parcel, presented the tower design by Bjarke Ingels Group on April 26 to a scoring committee of DIA and city officials.
The 486-foot-high building would be one of the tallest in Northeast Florida. By contrast, the neighboring 37-story Wells Fargo Center is 535 feet tall.
The 620-foot-high, 42-story Bank of America Tower is the tallest building Downtown.
The Riverfront Plaza project would include:
• 333 rental apartments.
• A 330-space parking garage.
• A 7,500-square-foot restaurant on the 43rd floor with park and river views.
• A Skygarden Terrace with retail and park access.
A top-floor resident amenity space.
DIA CEO Lori Boyer, DIA board members Jim Citrano and Todd Froats and Deputy City Administrator Charles Moreland comprise the scoring committee.
American Lions LLC is a joint venture of Fetner Properties and the Lions Group. The companies individually own, manage and build large-scale developments and residential properties throughout New York City.
Bjarke Ingels Group has headquarters in Copenhagen; New York; London; Barcelona, Spain; and Shenzhen, China.
The firm recently won a competition to design the European Commission’s Joint Research Center in Seville, Spain. Its projects include the Googleplex headquarters campus in Mountain View, California.
Fetner Property CEO Hal Fetner and COO Damon Pazzaglini told the committee the Jacksonville market would be able to absorb the rental rates needed for what they estimate would be a $500,000-per-unit investment.
After the meeting, Fetner said Jacksonville’s growing economy and labor pool over the past several years drew American Lions to the Downtown market.
“There are a lot of metrics here we find very similar to Nashville almost 10, 12, 13 years ago and they exploded,” Fetner said.
“When you look at some of the demographics and how they’re changing here in terms of the companies coming here, and you couple that with a city government that says ‘we really want to make a change,’ I think you’ve got the recipe to be able to create housing that’s going to be supportive of that growth.”
According to Boyer, the scores and recommendations could be ready for the DIA board by its May 18 meeting.
After the scoring committee issues a recommendation, it will be up to the DIA board whether to accept that bid or return the project to the market to seek other developer proposals.
CBRE Senior Vice President Joe Ayers is a contracted real estate adviser for the DIA and helped manage the request for proposals.
He told the committee one reason for the light response could have been specific bid requirements.
The bid called for at least 30% of the length of the building facing Independent Drive to have ground-floor retail and preferred a tower of at least 15 stories parallel to the Main Street Bridge and perpendicular to the St. Johns River.
The term sheet calls retail crucial for the site.
The adjoining park will feature a sculpture designed by Orlando-based international artist Jefrë Manuel.
Another reason was timing. Ayers said a number of interested developers could not complete a bid in the 30 days it had to respond by the April 20 deadline.
The scoring committee’s Q&A with American Lions appeared to show some distance between city officials and the developer on the size of a property tax rebate requested in the proposal.
Details of the incentives request were not released during the meeting, but Fetner and Pazzaglini told the committee they wanted the project’s property tax obligation to be around $100,000 annually.
Boyer said, based on the proposal, the property tax bill would be about $2.4 million.
She said the DIA and Jacksonville City Council could approve an up to $1.6 million annual tax refund for 30 years in the form of a Recapture Enhanced Value Grant.
That’s a $700,000 difference between the request and what the city public investment policy allows.
Citrano noted that the incentives would exceed the city’s normal REV grant structure.
“The design is out of the park, it’s iconic and it’s exactly what I think most people in town want to see,” he said.
“The question is, where the rubber meets the road, how can you guys do this and have it economically viable and at the same time city is still being diligent with regard to the tax (money.)”
Although Froats said incentives will be “the big gorilla” with the DIA board, he appeared to support the city investing more than other development projects.
“This (property) is the key to our city and we should be willing to spend a little more on this than any other project — well, maybe not any other project. We want this to happen, this type of a project. So, we have to be creative on how we do this property tax issue.”