Developer Plans Grocery, Restaurant, Apartments In LaVilla

Dec 12, 2018

City Council members Tuesday approved the sale of a LaVilla building to a developer who plans to turn the space into a grocery store, restaurant, apartments and a rooftop apiary for beekeeping. 

Our Jacksonville Daily Record news partner reports Paul Sifton will purchase 905 W. Forsyth St. from the city for $60,000 through 905 Corp. 

The Downtown Investment Authority agreed to sell Sifton the quarter-acre property in May.  

Lee & Cates Glass Inc. formerly occupied the building, but following a fire in 2003,  moved to nearby Houston Street. 

The city has owned the property since. At one point, Sifton said, vagrants broke in and used it as shelter. 

“They left a lot of trash and other things in there, but that’s been cleared out and now we can begin the real work,” Sifton said. 

The interior space includes the 5,670-square-foot original structure built in 1908 and a 1,700-square-foot addition. 

“My preference is to keep the original building in place, but we need to get down to the brick to see what’s salvageable,” Sifton said. He plans to remove the metal sheeting to expose the original red brick exterior and go from there. 

Construction could take six months to a year, depending on how much of the original building can be saved. “I’d hate to have to tear it down,” he said. 

Eventually, Sifton will need to present his design plans to the Downtown Development Review Board, which approve construction projects in LaVilla. 

The first phase will be a specialty neighborhood grocery store on the ground floor and a farm-to-table restaurant and green space on a new second story. 

Sifton said the grocery store will feature local produce, meats and other perishable and nonperishable goods, “somewhat like the one in Fernandina Beach that was called BuyGo.” 

“With all the housing going up in LaVilla, we need this type of amenity here,” he said. 

Sifton said the store will offer monthly memberships that could include free pick-up and delivery options, although those details are yet to be determined. 

“You’ll be able to order your groceries through an app or the website and we’ll have it ready for you to pick up after work,” Sifton said. 

“That means you’ll always know what’s available and if we’re out of something, when you can expect to see it again,” he said. 

Sifton said he’s deciding how to program the 1,700-square-foot space behind the grocery.

“The back building could house a meadery or possibly part of the honey operation,” he said. 

Sifton is co-owner of Bee Friends Farm LLC, a Jacksonville-based commercial beekeeping operation with about 280 hives. He plans to incorporate an apiary on the second story with an open green space. 

The restaurant will be approximately 2,500 square feet. Another 2,500 square feet will be dedicated to a patio, the apiary and green space. 

Sifton said he’s working with restaurant and grocery store partners to work out the details, but doesn’t want to disclose those ideas or partners. 

“I think the menu will change depending on what our customers want,” he said. “We’re going to be flexible.” 

“Once the first phase is open, we’ll start on building the apartments,” Sifton said. 

The plan is to build six to eight one-bedroom or large studio apartments to rent at market rate, but Sifton said that could change depending on the needs of the neighborhood in two to three years. 

He said the apartments will be for people working in and around Downtown. 

“There’s a lot of housing already going up right now,” he said. “I’m pretty confident the demand will be there when we begin, but I want to make sure I’m offering appropriate housing.” 

Currently, more than 500 affordable and workforce apartments are being built in LaVilla. The city owns several acres in the area which it could sell for more housing in the future. 

Sifton also developed the 927 Events space two doors down from the project. Since the 1980s, he has worked on other Downtown projects, including the Sally Industries Inc. building across the street from 905 Forsyth St. 

He said he hopes to develop additional properties in LaVilla. 

“This neighborhood deserves it,” Sifton said.

A photo tour of the building is available on the Jacksonville Daily Record's website.