Downtown Vacant Buildings Coming Back To Life

By Tenley Ross, DVI Intern

Walk around Downtown, and you’ll be in awe by the modern high-rises with their sleek exteriors and windows that seem to glitter in the sun.

What might not capture your attention right away but are still impressive are the historic buildings of Downtown’s bygone eras that, thanks to visionary developers, are breathing new life.

Some of these projects were recognized in this year’s City of Jacksonville (COJ) Annual Preservation Awards and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor and Design Awards.

The Seminole Club Building (Now Sweet Pete’s Candy and The Candy Apple Cafe & Cocktails)
400 N. Hogan St.

Sweet Pete's and Candy Apple Cafe and Cocktails
Sweet Pete’s and Candy Apple Cafe & Cocktails

From the COJ Preservation Awards, the Seminole Club building was awarded for its commercial rehabilitation into Sweet Pete’s Candy and the Candy Apple Cafe & Cocktails.

Built in 1903, the Seminole Club was a social club for men. It hosted numerous famous people including Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Closing in 1989 after losing popularity, Restitution, Inc., an investment group, reopened the club from 1998 until 2004.

It was vacant for 10 years until Sweet Pete’s and The Candy Apple Café and Cocktails moved in late 2014. Through the renovation process, the two businesses worked with the Jacksonville Historical Society to keep the building’s historical integrity.

In addition, the new Seminole Club owners are now planning to expand the business into two neighboring historic buildings. Read more here.

Annie Lytle Elementary School
650 Chelsea St.

For the COJ Preservation Service Award, the Annie Lytle Preservation Group was recognized for its 10 years and hundreds of hours of work dedicated to the preservation, cleanup and securing of Annie Lytle, School #4, located just inside Downtown’s western boundaries.

Built in 1891, the school has been closed since 1960. Vandalism, trash and debris had left the school with requests for city council to demolish the school to build a retirement facility.

Timothy Kinnear started the group and has worked to clean and maintain the school for 10 years. According to the group’s website, they are unsure of what to do with the building but hope to make it viable for use one day.


Haydon Burns Library (Jessie Ball duPont Center)
122 Ocean St.

Haydon Burns Library
Jessie Ball duPont Center

From the AIA Honor and Design Awards, the former Haydon Burns Library — which now houses the Jessie Ball duPont Center opening June 26 — was awarded the Test of Time Award. It was recognized because, since the building’s completion in 1965, the structure has remained in good condition and has maintained its initial design’s integrity, in addition to other criteria.

Jo Hardwick, wife of the late architect Taylor Hardwick, who designed the building, accepted the award on her husband’s behalf. Also, accepting the award was KBJ Architects, who re-imagined the library for the Center. KBJ accepted the award on behalf of the Jessie Ball duPont Center.

The Hardwicks’ book, Taylor Hardwick: 60 Years of Design, was recognized as the Heritage Education Publication Award winner in the COJ Preservation Awards.


In addition to these award winners, there are several other Downtown buildings on schedule to be re-purposed, hinting at an emerging trend of restoring vacant, historic properties Downtown. Here they are:

Former Federal Courthouse Renovation: State Attorney’s Office (Completed)
331 W. Monroe St.

 State Attorney's Office
State Attorney’s Office

Completed in spring 2015, about 325 State Attorney ‘s Office employees have moved in. All floors are occupied, though, the first floor is only 75 percent occupied. The Duval County Courthouse pedestrian bridge is also open as part of the new State Attorney’s Office.


Bostwick Building: Cowford Chophouse
101 E. Bay St.

Bostwick Building
Bostwick Building

New owners of the Bostwick Building, Forking Amazing Restaurants, announced plans for a modern, high-end steakhouse and rooftop bar in the historic structure often called the “Jaguar Building.” The owners hope to complete construction of Cowford Chophouse in late 2015.


Laura Street Trio
Corner of Laura and Forsyth Streets

 Laura Street Trio
Laura Street Trio

Plans announced for the Trio include: an upscale restaurant called The Bullbriar by chef Scott Schwartz in the Marble Bank Building; a 130-room Marriott Courtyard boutique hotel in the Bisbee and Florida Life buildings; and a hotel restaurant with rooftop bar and Bottega with food from Liz Grenemeyer in the vacant lot fronting Adams and Laura streets. Additional plans include a 570 space parking garage with retail and two small parks.


Beaver Street Villas
605 Broad St.

Clara White Mission is renovating the long vacant New Center Hotel into street-level offices and 16 upper-floor apartments. A building permit for $2.26 million was issued in August 2014 for the 14,304 sq. ft. building.


Old Republic Title Building/New York Steam Laundry Building
120 E. Forsyth St.

L.B. Jax Development, LLC. plans to convert the 11,000 sq. ft. historic structure into a street-level restaurant, plus upstairs office or retail space. Celebrity chef Kenny Gilbert is negotiating a lease to open “Gilbert South,” a restaurant focused on modern Southern food. Interior demolition is already complete. The building was constructed in 1925.


Intuition Ale Works
929 E. Bay St.

Intuition Ale Works bought the Noland Co. building for $2.2 million and will convert the space into a brewery and taproom with a rooftop beer garden. The Noland Co. building has been vacant for 12 years and renovations began in March. The opening is set for the beginning of the 2015 Jaguars season.


Levels Nightclub
323-325 E. Bay St.

Built in 1904, retired NFL wide receiver Laveranues Coles Jr. is investing $1.5 million in the buying and building out of a two-story building on Bay Street. The building will open as the “upscale and grown” Levels Nightclub in 2015.


For more information on Downtown developments, email Katherine Hardwick, DVI director of markeing at  The June quarter two development update will be released soon. If you are interested in becoming a property owner Downtown, email DVI’s Jennifer Hewett-Apperson, director of district services, at