Frenchtown project moves forward

By Keith Bowers (l)

and Tony Brown (r)

Special to the Outlook

The $78 million Frenchtown Gateway project moved a step closer to reality on July 9, when the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Board of Commissioners approved funding of $281,660 to  further site planning concepts and complete a series of due diligence items that will eventually lead to defining the role that the CRA and/or City will play in partnership with private property owners to invigorate the Frenchtown neighborhood with new retail offerings and housing.

The Frenchtown Gateway site has eight different property owners with the CRA being the largest.  The pattern of the CRA’s property ownership in the block encroaches with and prevents any of the other privately-owned parcels’ development.  Four of the private owners came together to form the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners, LLC (“FRP”) and created a vision to redevelop the former Shelter and adjacent properties.  The fulfillment of this vision requires further study and a viable partnership with the CRA. The assemblage of land and eventual equitable swap agreements requires extensive engineering, surveying, and legal work.   The Commission’s funding on July 9 was an important first step towards a collaborative process of creating a public-private partnership for the benefit of residents in Frenchtown.

The support of the CRA is vital to the viability of a transformative project that will change the landscape of the Frenchtown community.  Investment during the period of due diligence will provide FRP and the CRA the resources to effectively address the complexities of a development of this size, scale, and potential social impact.  The Frenchtown Gateway is a proposed mixed-use development that incorporates commercial, residential and retail space, anchored by a grocery store and must have ample parking to support these components.  

We commend the CRA for providing funds for a parking study, as the costs of developing a parking garage could derail the project.  FRP has secured Walker Parking Consultants, one of the nation’s leading parking design and consulting practices, to conduct a Parking Supply, Demand and Rate Study.  This information will help FRP project revenues and expenses for the parking operations.

 It is important to note that the presence of the Shelter at the gateway of Frenchtown throttled large-scale, catalytic investments in the area that was once the epicenter of culture, commerce, and community for African-American residents in North Florida. Our team is sensitive to the collective vision of the Frenchtown stakeholders and will continue to solicit feedback and ideas to enhance the project as we move forward.

We would like to express our appreciation to the CRA Board for their generous support of our efforts.  We would also like to thank the Citizens Advisory Committee and other community leaders for their support and guidance throughout this process.