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River City Brewing land might be developed after all

Published on January 26, 2023 at 5:19 pm

There’s still a good possibility that something will be built at the former site of the River City Brewing Company — despite the collapse of plans for upscale apartments.

The Downtown Investment Authority this week canceled a deal with the Related Group for an apartment complex between the city’s Friendship Fountain and its Southbank boat ramp, after the developer said high interest rates and construction costs made the project unfeasible.

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Related could come back within months with another plan, DIA CEO Lori Boyer said.

“Related has no intention of selling the property. They still plan to develop it. It is simply a delay and change of design,” Boyer said. “The real decision at that point is let’s just terminate this agreement, not have this contract, and come back with the new contract based on the new design when we finish our new architectural plans, which we expect in a few months.”

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The Related Group, based in Miami, had proposed a $92.32 million development with 335 apartments, riverfront swimming pool, parking garage and restaurant. But the DIA terminated the development agreement with Related Group after contract deadlines approved by the city passed, as did the planned start of construction in June, Boyer said.

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The site has been home to restaurants and nightspots for decades, from the original Lobster House from the 1940s through 1962, then Diamondhead through the 1980s. It became a disco club, then Harbormasters until River City Brewing Co. opened there in late 1993.

The business shut down in July 2021 and was demolished to make way for the proposed apartment complex. Related acquired the property from the restaurant’s owners, and the site remains fenced in and vacant today.

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Boyer said the DIA expects Related Group’s new plan to include some kind of multifamily development, possibly condominiums, although “that’s a hard thing to convince a developer to do.” Incentives like a tax rebate would hinge on a waterfront restaurant, she said.

“We have consistently done that on waterfront developments. You see one at One Riverside where TriBridge Residential is building their residential right now,” she said. “You see it in the Four Seasons. That’s going to be a consistent position of DIA on riverfront development.”

Chances are that the new plan could succeed, Boyer said. One indication is that Related has no plans to sell the property and plans to redesign its proposal, she said.

If Related does not come back with a proposal and date for development, Boyer said, the city has a right to take possession of the land. Related also might want to delay development until inflation and interest rates are more advantageous, Boyer said.

“This was not DIA’s decision or the city’s decision at all. This was the developer deciding that based on bids they were receiving,” she said. “The bids they were getting for construction and the higher interest rates they were going to be charged for financing just was not making it work right now. That doesn’t mean it won’t work six months from now if we see some decline in that inflation rate.”

Southbank’s other sites

Meanwhile, what’s happening with the rest of that quadrant of the Southbank between the Main Street and Acosta bridges?

The historic Friendship Fountain, which dates back to 1965, its original Taylor Hardwick design once the highest fountain in Florida, is under major renovation as part of a $6 million city capital improvement project overseen by the recreation department.

Originally the City Council member for that district, Boyer, as the DIA CEO, continues to monitor Friendship Fountain’s reconstruction. The plan includes a new fountain wall design, seating and integrated sound systems, pumps, lights and more.

“The plans are on track to have the fountain itself open in late spring or summer,” Boyer said. “I attended some of the demos when they have been testing various elements of it, so we are excited to have that back open and back on track.”

Other elements of the fountain redesign, some originally put on hold since they were next to the planned River City Brewing Company’s redevelopment, also should open this summer, she said.

The fountain and park were originally 14 acres in size, a space cut down, ironically, when the River City Brewing was built on part of its waterfront more than 28 years ago.

The fountain has been renovated before, most recently in 2011, after it had been listed by the Jacksonville Historical Society as one of the city’s 14 most endangered historic buildings. That $3.1 million restoration saw new pumps and pipes and massively updated lighting system and sound system that allowed it to shoot water 200 feet into the air, the Florida Times-Union reported then.

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Then there’s the Museum of Science and History next door to the fountain.

Once the city’s children’s museum, it gained its current name in 1988 as a new planetarium and expanded display space were added. Now MOSH is moving to the Northbank as part of a planned stretch of commercial, retail, recreational and residential development along East Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard. The 77,000-square-foot facility celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2021.

The site plan for MOSH’s second generation, on 2.5 acres of the Shipyards along East Bay Street, was approved in late December by the Downtown Investment Authority’s board of directors. Working with the Local Projects design lab, based in New York City, the new MOSH will be across from Intuition Aleworks at East Bay Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard when it opens in 2026.

So what happens to its existing Southbank site? Boyer said that building reverts to the city, where it would be leased with the mandate that it remain “a civic or cultural institution.”

“There’s a variety of things that could be,” she said. “It needs to complement and provide additional public amenities for the park space there.”


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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