Historic Lerner's Shop at a Cross Roads

July 4, 2007 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metrojacksonville.com has learned of interesting developments in the Urban Core surrounding the small historic Lerner's storefront on Main Street. Apparently triggered by the opening of the Starbucks Coffee on the ground floor of 11 East, interest has suddenly been piqued in the area. This must come as a great validation to Elaine Brown, the intrepid former Councilwoman who connected the two partners of this deal hoping for this very outcome. When we originally documented this plan, it was thought at the time that a few corporate anchors in the downtown would spur growth of the mom and pops and cause local investors to reconsider downtown, and that is exactly what is happening.

(starbucks photo on loan from joey marchy at urbanjacksonville.info)

As this is the basis of the strategy being followed by the retail development task force (comprised unsurprisingly of many of the original members of Elaine's proposal group) hopefully this bodes well for the idea of treating downtown as the development of a shopping mall.
 The building, owned by local Attorney and Marketing success story Eddie Farah, is the object of interest for two of Jacksonville's most beloved local restaurants.  Both the Casbah and another upscalish Avondale eaterie are interested in opening a downtown establishment at the location.
 Both of them however, would like to see the facade of the building preserved, and feel that Farah's plans to raze the structure and build a new building would be a deal breaker for any proposed lease.
 118 Main Street is a familiar site to most downtown residents and businesspeople, as well as a local landmark during downtown's retail heyday, and is notable for the art deco detailing of its facade.

 At one time such intricate details were common around the central district---especially on the older buildings influenced by the geometric and natural-form decorations favored by Henry John Klutho, but as the local redevelopment agency and the various landowners allowed downtown to be demolished, they have become a rarity.
 Perhaps one of the better known examples was the delicate molding work that adorned the top of the arcade theatre on Adams Street, (pictured) before neglect allowed a demolition that permitting probably wouldnt have.

   Both parties also would like to see the outdoor alley preserved as an open air   space allowing patio dining (or hookah puffing, as the case might be)    The alleyway is already a picturesque environment which is bordered by the   charmingly aged brick walls of the Hionides owned building next door.    Looking at the picures, one could easily see how this would make a   tremendously cool dining area.

Apparently the buildings owner, the ubiquitous personal injury Poobah, Eddie   Farah, has other plans for the building---although he does want for the bottom   floor to become a restaurant.
   Metrojacksonville has obtained preliminary plans and renderings of the   proposed construction, and with no undue objectivity----they are simply awful.
   They were apparently designed to evoke the same warm response that is usually   only triggered by a building housing a substance abuse treatment facility.
   Regard the proposed renderings of the street frontage:
   This is almost uninspirational enough to have been designed by KBJ.  Very   cold, sterile and uninviting.  In some ways the ruined facade is more   romantic than this vision.
   The internal plans aren't anywhere near as bad.  They include the entire   corner building to the left of the Lerner's Shop, and indicate that the new   structure will be connective to the existing Farah Headquarters.  The   Lerner's Space is represented by the yellow area.  Let's have a look at   all three of the proposed floors:
         While there is space left open in the front for exterior dining, the         lovely courtyard is obliterated and made into part of the floor         space.  Obviously, less outdoor space would make the building less         profitable for a hookah bar, especially considering the amount of         smoking that would then have to be indoors----which would eliminate the         possibility of a food based lunch business.
         In any case, both of the restaurants would prefer to see the outdoor         courtyard kept intact.
         When we approached Eddie about the building, he was naturally fairly         evasive and vague about the plans, although he did indicate that he         would be willing to revisit the design.
         Almost all parties on the ownership side of the equation agree that the         building itself is structurally unsound, and a brief examination of the         building by Metrojacksonville confirmed that there are some problems         with the builing itself, including a huge crack between the facade         support structure and the brick walls that line the interior         courtyard.  The brick is powdery and shows signs that its integrity         has already been compromised.
         However, the maintenance of the facade itself is another deal breaker         for the prospective tenants.
         Notice that the building is intended to be converted from a two story to         a three story structure.  The plans show two upper floors with         'shellspace' indicated over the bottom floor restaurant, but doors         connecting the 'shellspace' to the main Farah Complex.  The realtor         indicates that these would be offices for rent, and possibly live/work         studios with entrances from the Adams Street building front.


           So the impasse seems to be the difficulty of building a more           profitable space in terms of the second and third floors, even though           potential renters have expressed the desire to maintain the facade and           open courtyard.
           Luckily there are numerous examples of such compromises all around the           country.
           Facades can be worked around and incorporated into the structures of           completely new buildings.  Such structures maintain the feel and           historic quality of city streets while also allowing higher density           and greater profit by their owners.
           Consider this project:

                There is absolutely no reason why Farah couldn't have the best of                 both possible worlds on this project. 
                 We would like to suggest that he could easily preserve all, or                 even most of the facade of the old Lerner building, leave the                 bottom floor partially open and still build the proposed second                 and third floors at the same time.
                 It would be a shame to lose the detailed and charming facade,                 especially to be replaced with the soulless monstrosity which                 the plans show.
                 Even greater still it would be a shame for Downtown to lose out                 on the possibility of successful local institutions opening in                 the near future.
                 Imagine how nice it would be to finish off a great californian                 red and brilliant dessert, and then stroll over to Starbucks                 before heading down to the riverwalk?
                 Or maybe plenty of Latte's and etc before sitting down to an                 apple tobacco hookah and some hummous?
                 Weigh in on the issue.
                 Tell us what you think....or better yet, tell Eddie.
                 10 West Adams Street
                 Jacksonville, Florida 32202
                 Phone: (904) 396-5555