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Build them and they will come -- or so developers hope

Sean McManus


DOWNTOWN -- Seizing the momentum of Downtown's current loft craze, the Kimmik Corp. is transforming the former

Lerner Shops building on West Adams Street into old-fashioned living spaces.

Officials said demand for units at the project, which is slated for completion in May 2005, was high enough that Kimmik decided to add a seventh floor penthouse to its original plans for six stories.

That pushed the cost to more than $7 million for the project, which is helping to turn West Adams Street into one of Downtown's most popular upscale residential corridors.

The Lerner building project will add 17 loft units -- renting for about $1,000 to $2,000 per month and up -- to 12 units being rented in the nearby W.A. Knight Building and 100 units The Vestcor Cos. are building in the Carlington.

Like the others, the 37,000-square-foot building, being dubbed 20 West Adams, will be a mixed-use project. Owners are designating the first floor to 5,200 square feet of retail space and the second floor to 6,300 square feet of office space.

Ricardo Quinones, director of design at PQH Architects in Jacksonville, said the building's dilapidated condition presented challenges, as did three different facades various owners added over the years.

"Not only are we bringing the building up to code structurally, but we're bringing the architecture back to the original 1911 design," said Quinones, whose firm Kimmik hired to handle the renovations.

The building had relatively few windows with exposure to the street. Balconies were added to make alley views more attractive.

Because most of the upper floors were formerly warehouse space, the units will have exposed beams, brick walls, concrete floors and even exposed air conditioning and sprinkler systems to evoke what Quinones called a true New York-loft ambience.

As the West Adams Street corridor and nearby riverfront become an emerging hub for Downtown living, some are beginning to worry whether Downtown will be affordable to middle-class residents.

"One of our goals is to have young people living Downtown generating energy and vibrancy," said Terry Lorince, the executive director of Downtown Vision, a nonprofit group that promotes and facilitates area development. "And there is a limit to what most young people can afford."

City Council member Suzanne Jenkins, whose district includes Downtown's Northbank, said she is especially sensitive to the issue of affordable housing. Her son, whom she described as a "starving artist," recently had difficulty finding a loft in Downtown Houston.

"To create the right fabric of Downtown, you need a creative mix of people," she said. "But that doesn't mean I know what the answer is."

Ray Rodriguez, president of the Real Estate Strategy Center of North Florida Inc., recently outlined the need for more affordable housing Downtown in a report to the Downtown Development Authority.

"We're not talking about low-income housing," Rodriguez said, "but rather housing that doesn't require that you make several hundred thousand dollars a year."

Rodriguez, an analyst who tracks area real estate trends through sales data, said interest in Downtown housing has been piqued. So developers may be inclined to charge more than the market rate while designing projects that would inflate Downtown demand long term.

But Marion Graham, the Kimmik Corp.'s president, said those involved in Downtown's revitalization are aware that the area should offer a variety of options.

He said a deal he struck with the Downtown Development Authority to receive $400,000 in grants requires the project to charge market-rate rents for the first five years.

On its Web site, the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission estimates that number to be $1.09 to $1.20 per square foot for loft space and $16 to $17 per square foot for office space. "We look to 11 East Forsyth to gauge the market rate at any given time," said JEDC spokeswoman Jean Moyer.

The pioneering 11 East Forsyth, the former American Heritage Life Building that Vestcor converted into lofts three years ago, is 98 percent occupied, Vestcor's president and CEO Mark Farrell said.

"It's a balancing act," Farrell said. "Developers are constantly projecting what they think they can charge to maximize profits but also to make sure occupancy remains high."

Farrell said rents inside the 126-unit building range from $750 to more than $2,000 a month. "We've got an eclectic and artistic population," he said, "with everyone from people in the service industries to retirees to young executives making several hundred thousand dollars."

Downtown Development Authority Managing Director Al Battle said developers are doing a good job of offering units that meet the needs of a variety of incomes.

The city is exploring ways to integrate affordable housing into nearby neighborhoods. "If you look at what's happening in the Brooklyn area and other neighborhoods near Downtown, you'll see that these kinds of projects are in the works close by," Battle said.

[email protected] | 396-3502

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It appears that Northbank is becoming a pedestrian and residential haven though Southbank has four or more major residential towers either on the drawing boards or under construction.

Northbank is dealing with what is already there and existing thus converting to residential, while Southbank is building new buildings and towers for residential. I think the reason for this is that Southbank has no buildings already in existence to renovate, while Southbank has a lot of old, run down buildings that can be renovated, converted, and refurbished for this type use.

Interesting scenario taking shape in downtown Jacksonville. When the big boys come, that is, bigger companies who want to build super talls, what then for Northbank? I guess tear down and build new!


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