With three projects developed or nearing completion in LaVilla, The Vestcor Companies is shifting its focus to neighboring Brooklyn, where it plans to build workforce and affordable housing.
Ryan Hoover, president of Vestcor’s TVC Development Inc., said construction of the 133-unit Lofts at Brooklyn could begin by mid-summer.
“We’re moving full speed ahead,” said Hoover. “We’re in the design stages right now and we’ll head to the DDRB in May,” he said referring to the Downtown Development Review Board.
The DDRB oversees building design standards for Downtown, LaVilla, Brooklyn and property on the Southbank.
Hoover provided a rendering of the project, which features the same aesthetic as the previous projects.
“This is an early design,” said Hoover. “As always, we’ll be looking for feedback from the DDRB when we present to them, so expect some changes,” he said.
Hoover said Vestcor will seek conceptual design approval in May, and final approval from the board in June or July.
This is Vestcor’s first project in Brooklyn. The company spent the past three years building affordable and mixed-income projects in LaVilla.
The Lofts at Brooklyn received the backing of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. which awarded it $17.9 million in tax credits, a process Hoover said concluded in March.
Hoover said the credits help offset what is expected to be a $30 million workforce and affordable housing complex proposed for an entire block between Spruce and Chelsea streets, and Jackson and Stonewall streets. The roughly 2-acre site is west of Park Street.
“This is something that’s needed in the area,” said Hoover. “We’ve spoken to a lot of people in Brooklyn who have wanted the city to bring the type of investment they see in LaVilla to their neighborhood.”
He said the project will be similar to the Lofts at Jefferson Station, which Vestcor is building in LaVilla, because it includes workforce housing units.
The mix for Brooklyn comprises 80 units of affordable housing for those individuals earning below $29,400 annually, or 60% of the area’s average median income.
Fifty-three units are reserved for people making 80% to 140% of the average median income, capped at $69,600 annually.
Vestcor’s first two projects, the Lofts at LaVilla and Lofts at Monroe, were designed as affordable housing.
“It’s the next step between affordable and eventually bringing more market-rate apartments to the area,” Hoover said.
Last fall, Vestcor received incentives from the Downtown Investment Authority. The project also was chosen by the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority to receive “Local Government Area of Opportunity Funding,” which the company needed before it could apply for the state tax credits.
The DIA awarded Vestcor a $625,750 no-interest, 20-year Local Government Support loan for the project’s affordable housing units.
The authority also approved a 15-year Recapture Enhanced Value grant of up to $3.89 million, which the company receives annually in the form of a refund on a percentage of new property taxes generated by the project.
Without those incentives, Hoover said, “the numbers wouldn’t work.”
Vestcor also is completing land purchases on the block, including negotiations with the Jacksonville Housing Authority, which operates a small complex on a quarter-acre.
Hoover said those deals will be closed before the company seeks further approvals or permitting.
“We plan to close a section of Spruce Street and part of Stonewall that backs up to McCoys Creek,” said Hoover. “That way we can have one entrance and one exit.”
He said Vestcor plans to give the city some property at the corner of those streets so it can accommodate a creek-widening project.
Since Lofts at LaVilla opened in 2017, Vestcor has built or announced 504 apartment units in LaVilla and Brooklyn.
“We think it’s important for all employees to be able to live near work, to have access to public transportation, and to enjoy living in Downtown even if they can’t afford a market-rate apartment,” he said.
Demand for apartment units priced below market rate remains strong, he said.
The company leased Lofts at LaVilla within two months and the Lofts at Monroe within one.
“For the first two projects, we had roughly 300 applications for the 130 or 108 spots,” he said. “A lot of the people who applied were overqualified.”
He said leasing for Lofts at Jefferson should begin in May ahead of a September move-in date.
“We think we’re going to catch a lot of people who didn’t qualify for the others with Lofts at Jefferson Station and eventually Brooklyn,” Hoover said.
While Vestcor is building affordable and workforce housing in Brooklyn, others remain committed to market rate and retail.
Construction on the 10-story Vista Brooklyn luxury apartments and retail development along Riverside Avenue, next to 220 Riverside, began after the first of the year.
When it opens in 2021, it will join 220 Riverside and The Brooklyn Riverside as the market-rate products in Brooklyn.
More retail and a hotel also are planned for the neighborhood.
The St. Johns River Water Management District approved permits in November for a 135-room Residence Inn by Marriott proposed at Forest and Magnolia streets.