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bobliocatt

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EDITORIAL (JAX Business Journal)

The lukewarm success of the high-profile Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza project indicates a lack of demand for luxury living on the Northbank. Berkman Plaza is the area's first big project and its failure to sell out quickly is concerning.

Berkman's owners have sold half of the 22-floor condo tower's 206 units since converting it from apartments in September 2003 and are on target to sell out within two years as they projected. But a quicker response would have been more encouraging.

Based on Berkman, there does not seem to be a pent-up demand for Downtown living as advocates for such housing imply.

The demand for Downtown housing must pick up quickly because supply is running far ahead as another 4,500 townhomes, condominiums and apartments are planned for Downtown. By 2006, 1,900 housing units will be available for occupancy compared to 1,281 now, according to the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Vision Inc.

Part of Berkman's problem may be its location. It lacks entertainment, restaurants and nightlife nearby.

In comparison, the VillaRiva luxury townhome and condo project in Riverside has fared well because it has such conveniences. VillaRiva has a nearby Publix, restaurants and retail.

Those types of conveniences are possible because there is a well-established neighborhood in the area around VillaRiva. There is no such critical mass of housing near Berkman, unless you include the inmates at the county jail across the way; and thus such conveniences are not available, perhaps making sales more difficult.

Only eight of the 20 Berkman townhomes have been sold after being on the market for two years. Many of those who have bought condos or townhomes at Berkman are not using them as primary residences.

Only 65 percent of the townhomes and condos sold thus far are primary residences.

Downtown Vision projects the area's population to increase from 1,240 residents currently to 1,700 in 2006, which would mark a 91 percent increase since 2000.

But the fact that 35 percent of residents do not spend most of their time at Berkman does not bode well for the vision of a bustling Downtown. More people may move Downtown as new housing developments rise and there is a broader mix of price points and conveniences.

For now the city may be better served bringing these choices Downtown so that more residents may follow.

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EDITORIAL (JAX Business Journal)

The lukewarm success of the high-profile Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza project indicates a lack of demand for luxury living on the Northbank. Berkman Plaza is the area's first big project and its failure to sell out quickly is concerning.

Berkman's owners have sold half of the 22-floor condo tower's 206 units since converting it from apartments in September 2003 and are on target to sell out within two years as they projected. But a quicker response would have been more encouraging.

Based on Berkman, there does not seem to be a pent-up demand for Downtown living as advocates for such housing imply.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This editorial is totally off base. I have many points to make, but for now I will just elaborate on one. I'll post more after work.

In ONE year, the Plaza at Berkman has completed 102 transactions with 38 more closings pending. That is out of 206 units. That is 50% and 68% respectively.

The editorial suggests that Villa Riva has smoked The Plaza in sales. Villa Riva started construction almost the same time as the Berkman converted to condos, in October of 2003. Plus, the Villa Riva was publicly announced months before construction started and had a full time sales office open before that time. Yet out of 66 units, 0% have closed and (the last that I heard) 66% are under contract.

The Plaza at Berkman has sold 140 units in less time than Villa Riva has sold 44! From those numbers, it sounds like the BJJ has it backwards. The reality is, both projects are doing well and are in different market segments. Villa Riva's units are larger, more expensive, and in a well established and popular market. Berkman is in a completely new market, with prices ranging from well below Villa Riva, to at or above the average for Villa Riva. Likewise, the sizes at Berkman vary greatly as well, compared to Villa Riva's units. Additionally, all units at Villa Riva face the river, while many in Berkman do not.

Simply put, this is an oranges to apples comparison, and is a very weak argument that downtown housing is not in demand.

If the BJJ wants to really earn the cost of their subscription, they should have provided some details on when the second phase of Berkman (from the original developer, not the condo converter) will go up.

That's all for now. Stay tuned, I'm on a roll....

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I'm tuned. Nice job v. They would publish that editorial response, I'm sure. There is well placed skepticism in downtown development, but you've got to work harder than that to uncover it.

And there is play (Art Walk Oct 6th reminder- mark that calendar).

Roll on.

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I also disagree with that editorial. Here is my simple retort:

Even if Berkman Plaza's numbers were bad (which they actually aren't as others pointed out) it certainly isn't an accurate reflection of Jax's overall condo market for three basic reasons. 1) Berkman's design is mediocre. It turns its back to the street, the garage is ugly, and the building is bland. 2) The neighborhood is mediocre. I'm a huge fan of urban living, but not if it's across the street from a jail, a coffee plant, and two ugly institutional buildings from the 60s. 3) Berkman is overpriced compared to most of the other developments, largely because of the aforementioned bad neighborhood. Hopefully, as the area becomes revitalized, points 2 and 3 will become irrelevant.

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My main disagreement with the editorial is that it focuses solely on the demand for one project - and Plaza Condominiums at Berkman isn't doing all that bad. After converting from apartments, they've sold nearly 50% of their units in less than a year.

The editorial is missing the big picture:

100% of Parks at the Cathedral units were sold within about a year.

Over 96% of downtown rental units were leased within one year of opening.

The demand is there. The editorial just didn't present the whole story.

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After searching the T-U archives, I have more exact numbers to support my earlier post in this thread.

Villa Riva was announced publicly in June of 2002. At that time, the principals stated they would be ready for sales in the first quarter of 2003. The foundation building permit was issued the first week of September 2003. The T-U reported last June (2004) that 40 of the 66 units had sold.

The conversion of the Berkman tower was announced to the existing tenants and the public on 9/3/2003.* At that time 75% of the units were leased (about 150), and many tenants were given the right to EXTEND their leases for up to 9 additional months from their respective contractual expiration. Of course, they were also offered first chance to buy their unit.

Because of the existing leases, many units could not be sold, or even shown to prospective buyers until the tenants left. Plus, once vacant, the units received upgrades, thus delaying availability further.

The T-U reported in January 2004 that 20 units had transferred to the new owners and 55 more were under contract. Today, 102 units have closed and 38 more are under contract.

Bottom Line: Villa Riva has sold 40 units in close to 18 months, Berkman has sold 140 units in 12-12.5 months. In my view that debunks the editorial's premise.

* the sale of the building was announced a month or two earlier, but the decision to convert to condos was announced 9/3/03.

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EDITORIAL (JAX Business Journal)

Part of Berkman's problem may be its location. It lacks entertainment, restaurants and nightlife nearby.

In comparison, the VillaRiva luxury townhome and condo project in Riverside has fared well because it has such conveniences. VillaRiva has a nearby Publix, restaurants and retail.

Those types of conveniences are possible because there is a well-established neighborhood in the area around VillaRiva. There is no such critical mass of housing near Berkman, unless you include the inmates at the county jail across the way; and thus such conveniences are not available, perhaps making sales more difficult.

Only eight of the 20 Berkman townhomes have been sold after being on the market for two years. Many of those who have bought condos or townhomes at Berkman are not using them as primary residences.

For now the city may be better served bringing these choices Downtown so that more residents may follow.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This editorial contradicts itself. First, it bemoans the lack of a "critical mass of housing near Berkman", then it says the city should not seek more housing, but instead try to attract retail and restaurants.

Retail and restaurants follow rooftops. No one is going to open a retail outlet or restaurant just to help redevelop downtown. They will go where they can serve a customer base. Downtown housing accomplishes that. Once the residential base is in place, nothing will keep out the commercial establishments.

Besides, they sell downtown short. You can't go to the Florida Theater, Ritz Theater, Times-Union Center, see a concert or event at the arena, go to a professional baseball, hockey or football game, without leaving the suburbs for DOWNTOWN. Other entertainment options include the monthly Artwalk, the Film festival, theTall Ship festival, events at JMOMA, events at the Landing and numerous other festivals throughout the year.

Maybe I've missed them, but I I don't think Arlington, Orange Park, Mandarin or any other suburb has that level of entertainment options.

The choice of restaurants downtown is limited, especially at night, but the selection has grown steadily and will continue to do so if the resident base continues to expand.

The townhouses at Berkman have been slow to sell, but why dwell on one 20 unit project. There are 126 units at 11 E Forsyth, which is basically fully leased. All 51 units at Parks @ the Cathedral sold, the 206 unit Berkman tower is 68% sold. The 234 units at The Peninsula are over 50% sold, months before construction is to begin. Ditto for the 140 units at San Marco Place. Home Street Lofts sold all 12 units before construction completed, and at premium prices, I might add.

The Berkman townhouses are an exception, not the rule. Personally, I think their problem is the that the floor plans are awkward. Even so, they are only one more unit away from 50% sold. [A 9th unit sold last week].

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It looks like the author of this editorial, either doesn't know his/her facts or has a very biased view, regarding downtown development. IMO, the only reason those townhomes at Berkman haven't been a huge success is because they may be priced to high.

I also agree with Captain Obvious. As far as urban design goes, the layout of Berkman fails greatly. Unfortunately, the entire project turns itself away from Bay Street in a suburban manor. It also fails by not attemptig to capitolize on its waterfront. An upscale seafood establishment could have worked great somewhere along the riverfront or overlooking the marina.

I don't exactly know how the first floor is layed out, but hopefully it can be modified to add a small restaurant or sidewalk cafe, or something, along Bay Street, when phase II of the Town Center project is completed.

Nevertheless, I still expect the entire building to sell out before February's Super Bowl, mainly because its the only completed residential project in downtown that still has empty units left and its a skip and a hop away from Alltel Stadium.

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If I could buy Berkman Plaza, here's what I'd do:

1) Eliminate the service road that faces Bay Street. C'mon, what was the architect thinking?! I'd re-do the first floor, so that the retail actually faces the street. Just a small, one-story extension would be needed, that's all.

2) Find a restaurant to occupy the small plot of land adjacent to the Riverwalk. It faces Liberty Street. You know, once the Chart House gets demolished by the new Radisson development, they might need a new location. But that's a couple years away.

3) Reduce the prices of the townhomes a smidgen. Perhaps the pricing is just ahead of its time. It's a bit much, for such a crappy location.

4) I don't think we'll be seeing any Phase II construction for at least another year. So, in the meantime, I'd at least spruce up the proposed site. Even if it's some sod and a tree, it would look better than a dirt lot.

5) This may sound a bit unconventional, but I'd ask Maxwell House to install a coffee shop/museum/tour thingee. Maybe I could get other developers/businesses/city leaders to help. I think it would help the Bay Street corridor in general. And while I'm at it, I'll be outspoken in my support of the relocation of the jail.

Well, 4 out of 5 of my ideas seem managable, what do you think?

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I also agree with Captain Obvious.  As far as urban design goes, the layout of Berkman fails greatly.  Unfortunately, the entire project turns itself away from Bay Street in a suburban manor.  It also fails by not attemptig to capitolize on its waterfront.  An upscale seafood establishment could have worked great somewhere along the riverfront or overlooking the marina. 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree that the project turns its back on Bay Street, but can you blame the developers? As long as the jail and Sheriff's building are on the other side, you really can't expect any different.

The Landing likewise turns it's back to downtown. When it was built in 1987, much of downtown was boarded up. The Bank of America building hadn't been built yet, and the Sun Trust building was under construction itself. Therefore they maximized the frontage on the river. Now that that the side of downtown has improved, Sleiman is proposing to open it to the street.

Hopefully, when the surroundings improve, the Bay Street side can be reconfigured as Urban Legend suggests.

As for a restaurant, they have a great riverfront spot reserved for one. So I don't think they can be faulted on that. According to what was last written, construction should start in 2005.

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As for a restaurant, they have a great riverfront spot reserved for one. So I don't think they can be faulted on that. According to what was last written, construction should start in 2005.
Is the reserved riverfront spot, the small vacant lot along Liberty, as Urban Legend suggest?

5) This may sound a bit unconventional, but I'd ask Maxwell House to install a coffee shop/museum/tour thingee. Maybe I could get other developers/businesses/city leaders to help. I think it would help the Bay Street corridor in general. And while I'm at it, I'll be outspoken in my support of the relocation of the jail.

A coffee/ tour thingee, at Maxwell House would be a pretty unique thing and would help stimulate more pedestrian activity in that area. I think Maxwell House turned down that suggestion a while ago, but maybe its time for this idea to be bought back up.

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Is the reserved riverfront spot, the small vacant lot along Liberty, as Urban Legend suggest?

A coffee/ tour thingee, at Maxwell House would be a pretty unique thing and would help stimulate more pedestrian activity in that area. I think Maxwell House turned down that suggestion a while ago, but maybe its time for this idea to be bought back up.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yes, the Liberty Street spot has been reserved for a restaurant from the very beginning.

I also like the idea of a coffee/tour site at Maxwell. I think they are probably waiting on the Shipyards property to fill in. Of course, we all know thats up in the air at the moment.

Sometime in the 80's (or maybe it was the early 90's), Maxwell was threatening to close. The city put out an all-out effort to keep them. It worked and Maxwell closed a New Jersey plant instead. With all due respect for their employees, I kind of wish they had left. That plus constructing the jail next to it (who's bright idea was that?) were two big mistakes that downtown will continue to suffer from for decades to come.

That's why I get so incensed when I see new mistakes being made in Brooklyn, specifically the widening of Riverside Ave.

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Even with all of its architectural faults, I'm glad the Maxwell House plant is in Jacksonville. One of the most memorable things about downtown is the smell of coffee. Mmmmmm.... ever since I was a kid, I've always associated that smell with downtown Jacksonville.

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I kind of like the industrial architectural architecture of the Maxwell House plant. It along with the 4 story warehouse, along the Arlington Expressway help give the downtown a Midwestern feel and are just about the only reminder of that area's industrial and manufacturing past. It also employees hundreds of people, with above average wages, who dine in downtown's restaurants and bars.

Like Berkman, all it needs is some component to add to the street level atmosphere along Bay Street. A "Maxwell House" coffee shop and tour experience would capture that.

However, if Maxwell House ever relocated or closed, that plant would make pretty good lofts.

The jail, on the other hand, should have never been there. I wonder what unique type of early 20th century industrial architecture was torn down to make my for that massive thing. Whenever the next jail is built, it should definately be built out in the boonies somewhere, mayeb even on some of the Cecil Field property.

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Berkman has never embraced Downtown. They are a suburban apartment complex on stilts with their berber carpet and crown molding. It's as if they say, move here and you'll never have to venture out into mean old Downtown...we've got your salon, gym, we'll do your laundry and at one point you could even buy your groceries there. 11 E came online nearly the same time and when Berkman was rental the majority of the units were priced comparably. 11 E embraced their surroundings because they realized that the folks that want to live Downtown do so because they are looking for something unique, not something that they could get in any number of complexes across Jax.

On top of all this, Berkman's customer service is severely lacking. I went there with a potential buyer one time and we waited for nearly an hour before we gave up and left. The employee turnover probably has something to do with this.

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Berkman has never embraced Downtown. They are a suburban apartment complex on stilts with their berber carpet and crown molding. It's as if they say, move here and you'll never have to venture out into mean old Downtown...we've got your salon, gym, we'll do your laundry and at one point you could even buy your groceries there.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

In fairness to the developers, they were facing a chicken and egg situation. They were the FIRST major project downtown. When ground was first broken on the project, there was not, and there STILL is not a grocery store nearby. Yes, there is the Winn Dixie in the Cathedral district, but they do not offer the items or even the types of items that Portabella's did. The Publix in Riverside had not been announced yet, and even so, it is not within walking distance.

At that time, the developer either had to provide the Salon, grocery store/deli or either the residents would do without. Also, there were very few eateries downtown that did an evening business back then. This was before LaCena and Mudville grill had opened, for example. The Landing restaurants were pretty much it. Personally I thought the Portabella's meals could not be beat for variety, quality and price.

For what they were asking in rent, they had to provide a fitness gym. 11E has a fitness facility as well. I assume The Carlington will also.

One day in the not too distant future, when a major new residential building goes up, it will not need to be as self-contained as the Berkman. But that will not happen until the total downtown residential base is larger. Any business requires a sufficient population of potential customers to draw from.

Already having to contend with being across from the Jail, they probably felt they had to solve the 'lack of conveniences/amenties issue' in order to get people to shell out up to $2,000 a month on rent.

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As far as the 5 ideas go, I think that ALL of them are doable. I believe what you are talking about as far as the service entrance goes is actually not the service entrance (ther service entrance is on liberty, and faces the courthouse). The thing you mention is the little cul-de-sac (can anyone say suburban) that perspective residents used to see the building (by the way, it's not even used for that anymore).

In any event, I guess someone had to be the first to invest in downtown residential, and I think that the city wasn't going to give the pioneers (granted they made out pretty well) any trouble.

The reference to the landing in how thay both don't embrace the street is an interesting one - maybe down the road they can fix that.

Something not mentioned before is the sidewalk construction - about a suburban as it gets with the grass separator between the sidewalk and the road. However, blame the city (not the developers) for this one: it was designed by the engineering division in Public Works

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