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Business Brief: Former Times-Union Owners Look To Redevelop 1 Riverside Ave.

As The Florida-Times Union staff prepares to move Downtown in the second quarter, the Morris family is laying the groundwork to redevelop the 1 Riverside Ave. riverfront property the newspaper has anchored since 1967.

Upon the move, the five-story office building and adjacent production center most likely will remain vacant until the Morrises decide the next step for what could become a mix of apartments, retail and hotel uses. Office space also is a possibility.

“The Morrises love Jacksonville,” Allen Grinalds, director of real estate for Augusta, Georgia-based Morris Communications Co. LLC. told our Jacksonville Daily Record news partner. 

“They know they have a key piece of property,” he said. “They don’t want to leave a vacant industrial site on the river.”

The Morris family acquired the Times-Union and the property in 1982.

The family sold the newspaper in October 2017 but retains the 18.8-acre site, which is west of the Acosta Bridge along the 2-mile Northbank Riverwalk that links Interstate 95 to Berkman Plaza.

The property sits next to the Haskell headquarters and faces the resurging Brooklyn neighborhood where apartments, restaurants, retailers and a hotel are open or in development.

It also is within the Downtown Investment Authority boundaries, raising the option of incentives to assist in the redevelopment.

Before pursuing redevelopment, Grinalds and land-use lawyer Steve Diebenow are talking with the city about infrastructure at the property. Diebenow, a partner with Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, focuses his practice on real estate, land use, zoning, and government law.

Pivotal to redevelopment plans is McCoys Creek, which runs under the property and is covered by the structures.

The creek is part of the Emerald Necklace string of waterways and green space that Downtown advocates want to develop as an amenity to encircle Downtown.

Diebenow and Grinalds say they are discussing the creek options with the city.

For the Morris family, options are to keep the creek covered and redevelop the site or to “daylight” - uncover - the waterway for incorporation into the plans.

They consider daylighting the creek as the ideal scenario for the public and the development.

A Jan. 18 report by city Public Works Director John Pappas refers to meetings with the Morris family engineer to determine the scope and cost estimates of the project and the city’s responsibility.

“They are concerned for the unknown condition of the Creek thru the property,” it said.

Diebenow said the group will work with the city to determine the estimate of what is budgeted for capital improvements regarding the creek.

In turn, the Morrises then can determine the costs of redevelopment.

Grinalds considers the creek an important part of the development. “Once you crack the code on the creek, things start to move along,” he said.

They expect a meeting with the city to talk about the city’s Capital Improvement Plan details for McCoys Creek and estimated construction costs.

It’s likely the Times-Union buildings will be removed, especially if the creek is uncovered, Grinalds said. “The existing structures under our current plan will be demolished.”

The property comprises a 55,500-square-foot office building and a 223,000-square-foot production facility that includes the newsroom, advertising offices and the printing press functions. There also is a parking lot and deck and some small structures.

The property, which includes about 6 acres of submerged land, is zoned light industrial and commercial, residential, office.

The Morrises put the property on the market in 2016 to interest investors to buy the site or redevelop the property with the family.

At the time, Times-Union Media President Mark Nusbaum estimated it would take two to five years to execute a sale or redesign. He retired last year after the paper was sold.

The CBRE real estate company is marketing the site and has the listing agreement.

What Grinalds sees for the site is green space; apartments; a hotel; and retail, food and beverage offerings. Speculative office space isn’t envisioned, although the family would build for “the right user,” he said.

Renderings and site plans were submitted to the city, but are outdated, Diebenow said. He said it would be determined when new plans are filed.

“Everything is on the table, Grinalds said.

Grinalds said the Morris family wants to partner with select developers and also self-develop a number of parcels.

Conceptual plans dated July 19 include a phased project of two 12-story, 300-unit apartment buildings, retail buildings, a five-story, 150-room hotel, 12-story and eight-story office buildings, a parking deck and a restaurant. They also show McCoys Creek opened into the project.

Artist renderings from July and September show a colorful conceptual vision of the property.

After the Morrises sold the newspaper to GateHouse Media, the Times-Union remained as a tenant and is on a month-to-month lease.

The newsroom, advertising staff, human resources, accounting and other functions are moving to the second floor of the 35-story Wells Fargo Center at I Independent Drive.

The presses shut down after running the Feb. 11, 2018, edition and the printing functions were outsourced to Daytona and Gainesville.

Grinalds said when the Morrises sold their newspaper portfolio, they set up a real estate company to pursue development of their properties.

“Over the years, they’ve built bonds where they’ve done business,” he said.

There’s no deadline for developing 1 Riverside Ave., he said.

“We’re strategically patient,” Grinalds said. “We’re going to work really hard in 2019.”

To see additional renderings and photos see the version of this story on the Jacksonville Daily Record's website.