By: Mike Mendenhall
Downtown Development Review Board members said March 23 the latest design for Miami-based Related Group’s RD River City Brewery apartments is “moving in the right direction” and granted conceptual approval.
The board voted 7-0 to advance architectural plans for the proposed $92 million apartment project to replace the River City Brewing Co. restaurant on the Downtown Southbank.
Board members Christian Harden and Frederick Jones were absent for the vote.
The Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow law firm represents Related Group in Jacksonville.
Firm partner Cyndy Trimmer said the developer and Miami-based MSA Architects redesigned the apartment in reaction to feedback from the board and DIA staff that it did not fit “contextually” along the St. Johns River.
The review board deferred conceptual approval in January to give Related Group a chance to make changes.
“We’ve gone through many iterations of the site plan and the elevations to get where we are today,” Trimmer said.
The Downtown Investment Authority staff report released March 17 called MSA’s latest design “modern in style with clean lines, smooth textures, and minimal ornamentation.”
Trimmer noted changes such as pocket parks worked into the exterior, varying architectural design features in the windows and elevations, and resident lounge terraces were added since January.
Trimmer said MSA and Related focused on building design features facing the adjacent Friendship Park to the east.
“We really took the feedback that we don’t want a monolithic structure kind of looming over the park to heart,” Trimmer said.
Exterior “broadstone walk-ups” also were integrated into the ground-floor units on the southern side of the complex to address the board’s previous design concerns, Trimmer said.
MSA and Related Group called several board members individually since the design review was tabled for their input on changes, Trimmer said.
That included board member Craig Davisson.
He and several other board members said that while Related made “great efforts” in changing the building’s design and streetscapes, the developer fell short of the “iconic” product promised in the company’s Jan. 14 presentation.
Davisson called the riverfront development “one of the more important projects” Downtown.
“I was hoping for something more with the architecture of this building. I think when I see this, it’s already dated. It’s common and redundant in what we’re seeing in what people call contemporary architecture today,” Davisson said.
Board member Brenna Durden was hesitant to allow a portion of the apartment structure to exceed the maximum height allowed by city code for construction along the riverbank.
The code allows developers to exceed the set height if the building’s width and volume are below a certain threshold.
The rule, drafted in 2019 by DIA CEO Lori Boyer when she was on City Council, requires developments to maintain specific setbacks from the riverbank in relation to its height.
The design rules aim to maintain river views and prevent a crowded feeling for riverfront pedestrians and retail patrons.
The DIA staff report said one of the two apartment sections exceeds the lesser volume requirement, which would allow the height as designed.
The code workaround has been used in other riverfront developments since 2019, including the volume calculation for Fidelity National Information Services Inc.’s 12-story riverfront headquarters under construction in Brooklyn.
“I think that those provisions were added to be exceptions to the rule. What is happening is those exceptions are becoming the norm,” Durden said.
A free-standing restaurant next to Friendship Fountain, a required component of Related’s pending $15.69 million city-backed incentives deal, will be submitted as a separate project, DIA staff said March 23.
Before the final review, the DIA staff asked Related to show plans to “soften” the top floor on the parking deck visible from upper floors on the nearby Prudential Financial building, with trees in raised planters.