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DVI expects more diverse housing choices

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EXCLUSIVE REPORTS

Ryan Geddes

Staff Writer

DOWNTOWN -- If developers follow through with plans for a series of condominium, townhouse and apartment projects, Jacksonville's urban core could have a total of 6,094 residential units in the next few years, according to a report released by Downtown Vision Inc., a business improvement district.

The group, funded by a special tax on Downtown properties, compiled the housing information as part of its State of Downtown report, to be presented at Downtown Vision's annual meeting at the Seminole Club on Sept. 29.

In addition to gathering data on planned Downtown housing, the organization tracked demographics, leasing and sales rates, crime statistics and residents' attitudes about Downtown living.

Mayor John Peyton and Downtown Vision both support a target of 10,000 housing units Downtown by 2013, but the group says there is still not enough data to determine whether the city is on track to achieve that goal.

"Right now it is still very early to say whether we will have 10,000 units Downtown in 10 years, but it is absolutely a goal that we have," said Amy Harrell, Downtown Vision's business development manager. "More research needs to be done about whether the market can absorb that number and how [the units] would be phased in before we can say yes."

In its Downtown housing outlook, the group predicts a more distributed and varied selection of housing in the urban core, as city agencies such as the Downtown Development Authority and the Jacksonville Housing Commission work to bring more affordable and so-called "market-rate" housing to the area.

But Downtown Vision also foresees more scrutiny of the Southbank housing market, as several luxury and market-rate projects comprising thousands of residential units have been announced for the area in recent months.

Harrell said the group would support a study by the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission or the Downtown Development Authority examining the city's incentive and planning policies for Downtown residential absorption.

Among the residential units already built Downtown, those categorized as affordable, with an average sale price of $92 per square foot, are the most occupied, at 99 percent.

Market-rate rental units, which rent for an average of $960 per month, are 96 percent occupied, but there are no market-rate housing units for sale, according to the report.

Luxury units like The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina have an average price per square foot of $289 and are 33 percent occupied.

"I really don't think the future is going to be just luxury units," Harrell said.

In addition to gathering third-party data on housing, Downtown Vision surveyed 1,200 Downtown residents to gauge attitudes about the neighborhood.

According to the report, 81 percent of Downtown residents feel their Downtown living experience has been "excellent or good," 83 percent of Downtown residents find it "either somewhat likely or very likely that they will be living Downtown in five years," and most of the residents responding to the survey said they moved Downtown for the "urban experience," followed by "proximity to work."

The report also states "significant retail activity will not occur until Downtown reaches a critical mass of 10,000 residents."

Harrell and Lyn Briggs, Downtown Vision's marketing director, said Orlando, Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa all cited the 10,000-resident figure as a critical one for drawing restaurants, bars and other "destination retail" establishments to their urban cores.

"We're looking for retail open after five," Briggs said. "Not only to help current residents and provide them with what they need, but also to attract other folks to Downtown. We want an atmosphere unlike that in the suburbs."

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