Saturday, September 24, 2005


Sebastian Inland Harbor Grond Breaking Ceremony

This St. Augustine Record reports:

Developers broke ground Thursday on a $70-million housing and retail project, beginning the revitalization of the St. Augustine's western entrance.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Hotel and Retail Elevations Unveiled

Monday, December 13, 2004


St. Augustine project could transform city

Commission to vote today on San Sebastian development

The Times-Union

ST. AUGUSTINE -- The San Sebastian development project promises to transform St. Augustine, despite a decade of colossal setbacks that included a depressed market after the terrorist attacks and a multimillion-dollar cleanup necessitated by the toxic by-products of a 19th-century gas plant.

If the project is approved when the City Commission meets today, 14 acres along the San Sebastian River off King Street downtown will house an 85-room hotel with 106 condominium units, 18 lofts, a 65-slip marina, a 10,000-foot spa and 25,000 feet of retail space. It will include a riverwalk with some parking.

The project has already received initial approval from the commission. If finalized, work will begin in 2005 and conclude in 2007.

"We consider the development a landmark and something that we would be proud of and recognize throughout our careers as unique," said Matthew Merritt, a partner in the developing business, San Sebastian Harbor Properties, LLC.

Before the harbor partners bought the land for $3.6 million in May, the project stalled numerous times. Most recently, Vestcor Corp. pulled out of a proposal to develop in 2002, citing a depressed market after 9/11. The company had discussed buying the property from the city for $3.7 million and developing a $50 million project.

The city had started buying pieces of the San Sebastian property in the 1980s, eventually making five purchases from five owners, said Tim Burchfield, chief administrative officer for the city.

Discussions about development in the 1990s were complicated by the discovery of coal tar, a by-product of Atlanta Gas Co., which operated from 1885 to the 1950s. A cleanup organized by the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was fast-tracked and completed in 2002 for about $7 million.

Atlanta Gas paid for most of it. The manufactured gas plant, which closed about 50 years ago, had produced toxic hydrocarbons as far as 29 feet below the surface of the land.

In 2002, Suzanne Sitherwood, vice president of Atlanta Gas, said 85,000 tons of contaminated soil were removed. The company also removed 22 million gallons of water.

"The work took 55,000 man hours, and the crews created a hole 30 feet deep and 100 feet wide," Sitherwood said at the time.

Harbor partners became involved in January 2003. Merritt came to St. Augustine looking for investment properties and was told about the San Sebastian land. His partner, who worked for Shell Oil with large, mixed-use projects, will bring the expertise, Merritt said.

"My partner and I looked at it and looked at it and decided on a large, mixed-use project with a marina," Merritt said. "Seeing the residential district was on the upswing, the Casa Monica was redeveloped, all the new retail shops, it kind of put everybody on notice. Once you put all those pieces together, it made a lot of sense. We have a lot of confidence in the St. Augustine market."

The project is expected to be worth $60 million, which would inject $400,000 a year into city coffers, Burchfield said. It should revitalize areas of downtown near the project, such as the historic neighborhood of Lincolnville.

"People on Riberia Street and in Lincolnville have been waiting on this for a long time," Burchfield said.

Monday, November 15, 2004


$70 million project might get final approval Dec. 13

Staff Writer
St. Augustine Record

While business owners in the vicinity of the San Sebastian development want it, they said Tuesday it's difficult to believe it will come to fruition.

"I'm not going to believe it until they break ground," said Alan Gerth, owner of Avenue Books on King Street. "My landlord has been basing my rent for years on the fact the San Sebastian project was coming, but it never happened."

The $70-million project consists of 106 condominiums, 85 hotel rooms, a 65-slip marina and river walk along the San Sebastian River and a 10,000-square-foot spa. It needs the final approval from the City Commission on Dec. 13 to begin construction.

Monday, it got its initial approval from the City Commission on the first reading of the proposal.

The development will be built on 13 vacant acres at King and Lorida streets and along the San Sebastian River.

It has been put on hold for various reasons for at least the past decade, including City Commissioners debating with the former developer of the property, said Tim Burchfield, city chief administrative officer.

"The commission finally got tired of going back and forth with the developer and they reopened bids on the property," Burchfield said.

The city purchased the property more than 15 years ago and envisioned it as the western gateway to downtown St. Augustine.

Rich Newton and Matt Merritt, of San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach, bought the property for $3.6 million in late May.

Merritt believes the project could be the grand western entrance to the city, with Lorida and King streets planned to become a pedestrian-friendly landscaped area with shops.

Charles Cox, vice president of San Sebastian Winery, on King Street, said the development will give the area a face lift.

"I think it will be a vast improvement to this side of St. Augustine and it will bring business to King Street," he said.

The project also will bring in about 250 to 300 jobs, Merritt said, with employees needed for restaurants, shops, the marina and the hotel.

With the total build-out value of $60 million for the project, Burchfield estimates the development will bring in $396,000 in tax revenue annually for the city.

Parking will be another benefit from the development, with a parking garage underneath the condominiums. There will be 370 parking spaces open to the public.

Kari Keating, vice president of St. Augustine and St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has not done an economic analysis of the project, but it has been concerned the development would not supply parking to the public.

"It's been on the books for so long, eventually we were hoping something would come of it," she said. "We are very happy to see parking is part of the project."

The city will pay for a traffic light to be placed at Malaga Street and King Street with a turning lane off King Street into the development, Burchfield said. He said the city will be reimbursed by the Department of Transportation.

Merritt hopes to begin construction of the marina in either December or January, and predicts it will take about 120 days to build. From there, construction of the rest of the project will begin and Merritt expects it to be completed in about 15 months.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


Harbor project on track for construction

The Sebastian Inland Harbor project will go before the St. Augustine City Commission and the city's Planning and Zoning Board in November, putting the development on track for construction in January.

The project includes condominiums, a hotel, shops and a marina along the San Sebastian River.

Matt Merritt, of San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he will show his designs to the zoning board Nov. 2, and to the City Commission, Nov. 8.

The commission approved, in late May, the Harbor Partners contract to buy the Sebastian Inland Harbor property for $3.6 million.

Merritt said there are a few changes in the design plans since then, including one significant detail.

"We'll have a one-story parking garage under the condominiums," he said. "It's a huge improvement."

The old plans had a 518-car parking garage on 1.25 acres.

The entire project will be built on 13 vacant acres at King and Lorida streets and the San Sebastian River. Merritt's newest plans have 106 condominiums, 85 hotel rooms and an 65-slip marina and river walk along the river. There is also a 10,000-square-foot spa.

Merritt will ask the zoning board in November to grant him a Planned Unit Development to keep from having to follow several of the city's development ordinances during construction.

"This way we're trying to handle all the details in one fell swoop," he said. "We don't want this process to drag for months and months."

City Commissioner Don Crichlow, an architect, is one of three members on the project review committee. The other two members are Merritt and St. Augustine architect Les Thomas. Crichlow said another change in the plans is that the hotel will now face Lorida Street instead of the river.

"I've always wanted this project to orient that street because I know it will spur growth on the north side of Lorida," Crichlow said.

Merritt said he will provide landscaping, lamp posts and wide sidewalks on both sides of Lorida Street.

"It will be a real retail corridor," Merritt said.

Crichlow hopes to collect input from the existing shops in the San Sebastian area.

"We should not turn our backs on them," he said. "We should talk to the landowners along King Street and decide how they would like the whole block to develop."

Lynne Doten owns Rembrandtz on King Street and said she's been waiting for this kind of development for years.

"I would like this area to be a destination for tourists," she said. "We're anxious to have this project happen."

She said local business owners are meeting next week, where she hopes to bring up the San Sebastian project.

--St. Augustine Record

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


A New St. Augustine Development Promises A Fresh Commitment to the Arts

Once a polluted site, the 14 acres of land on the San Sebastian River in downtown St. Augustine are slated to become a haven for public art. If all goes as planned, the St. Augustine Sculpture Garden -- after nearly a decade -- will finally become a reality.
The riverfront land, recently sold by the city of St. Augustine to San Sebastian Harbor Partners for $3.6 million, will soon be home to a mixed-use development, Sebastian Inland Harbor, which will include restaurants, residences and parking. It will also include space for an open-air collection of large-scale sculptures. Works, several of which are already complete, will focus on St. Augustine history, including the original Native American residents, the influence of the Spanish and the important of the city’s coastal location.
The Sculpture Garden will break with the city's old-world feel and tame the sensibilities of other public art displays. "Public art projects have already created controversy, no matter what you put [in them]," says St. Augustine sculpture Thomas Glover W., director oft eh non-profit St. Augustine Sculpture Garden, Inc. But the group of master sculptures and patrons, which will be responsible for creating and nurturing the Garden's collection, won't be cowed by controversy. Typically, Glover W. says, sculpture garden suffer from "the sterilization of art, because the committee overseeing public artwork installations are sensitive to public opinion, public controversy and public outcry. This sculpture garden is different, showing sophistication, imagination. Some are a little daring -- nothing we feel inappropriate -- and extremely well crafter. It breaks away from the safe route."
Though San Sebastian Harbor Partners has yet to break ground on the development, they pledge to follow through with the garden. “The sculptures aren't necessarily suitable next to a monument of say, Henry Flagler, because they're more modern," said Matthew Merritt, a partner with San Sebastian Harbor Partners. "But it's something everyone would like to see. This location is very well-suited to these sculptures."
Current development plans for the property, which runs from the river to King Street behind the San Sebastian Winery, include a hotel, condos, retail space, marina and parking garage. At the city's request, the developer is making public access a priority. Besides the sculpture garden, there will be an outdoor amphitheatre and a river-walk.
"This is the first time the city has ever had a contract for sale of the property," says Tim Burchfield, chief administrative officer with the city of St. Augustine. "We've never been this far before." That's partly because the site was once heavily contaminated. A former coal gasification plant was there between 1885 and the late 1950s, and the property was polluted with coal tar, a byproduct created when coal is burned into gas. A former owner of the site, Atlanta Gas Light Company, paid 90 percent of the cleanup cost, while the city picked up the rest of the tab.
"The residue, over time, saturated the ground, and that had to be removed," says Burchfield. "This is actually the first site, at least in Northeast Florida, that has been cleaned up, and the EPA is proud of how fast we got his cleaned up." According to a March 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report to the project, "The progression from a cleanup decision to construction completion in just a year and half is truly remarkable when compared to other Superfund cleanup efforts of this magnitude."
The garden will feature more than a dozen large-scale works, close to life-size or larger, with some reaching eight feet tall. Once placed on their bases, some artwork will tower 14 feet above visitors.
The works include the "All Nations Totem" crated by Harold Lock and Thomas Glover W., "Untitled" in sandstone by Enzo Torcoletti, "Call for World Peace" in soapstone by Patricia Barthel, "Flowering" in marble by Alvin Felch and "Españolas" in concrete and steel by Marianne Lerbs. The artists have donated their time to the project.
"These artists gave these works to the city of St. Augustine to be viewed by the public," says former mayor Len Weeks. “And having public access to the waterfront with the boardwalk is good for the citizens and tourists."
Designing the bases and installing the garden is expected to take up tot two years. It should be worth the wait.


Design plans for San Sebastian project closer

Members of the San Sebastian project review committee said Monday that they are about 60 days away from submitting design plans to the St. Augustine City Commission.

The project includes condominiums, a hotel, shops and a marina along the San Sebastian River.

Matt Merritt, of San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he hopes to show designs to the City Commission and the public in about a month.

"Sometime in late August we'd like to show the architect plans to the commission," Merritt said.

He said once the building permits are granted, he wants to finish the development in 14 to 20 months. He said there was talk of building it in two phases, but that has changed.

"We'd like to start (construction) in December or January," Merritt said. "We'd like to do it all in one phase."

The commission approved the Harbor Partners contract to buy the Sebastian Inland Harbor property for $3.6 million in late May.

The contract is for 13 vacant acres at King Street and San Sebastian River. Merritt's plan is to build 128 condominiums, with about 20,000 square feet of loft and retail space, a 110-150 room hotel, an 89-slip marina and river walk along San Sebastian.

Not included in the purchase price was 1.25 acres for a 518-car parking garage at Riberia and Lorida streets.

The San Sebastian Architectural Review committee met for the first time Monday afternoon.

Don Crichlow and Merritt are the only committee members, but Crichlow said they met Monday to determine the third member.

"We chose Les Thomas and he accepted our nomination," Crichlow said.

Crichlow, who is a city commissioner, said he and Merritt needed someone who is independent from them to help make decisions.

"Les and I are both architects and he knows St. Augustine well," Crichlow said.

Thomas was unavailable for comment.

Mayor George Gardner said he is pleased to see the San Sebastian plans are on track.

"I'm just thrilled that we're moving along at such a good pace with such good public input," Gardner said. "The target date is still January for construction."

Jan Miller, owner of Butterfield Garage Art Gallery on King Street attended the meeting to see how the new development will affect shops, such as hers, surrounding it.

"We thought we'd be swallowed up by this project," Miller said. "I didn't want to get lost in the shuffle."

Crichlow asked Miller to help bring together property owners in the area and have them come up with a master plan of what they would like to see happen.

Merritt said he hopes to see the shops facing the back of Lorida Street turn around so they open up on the street. He wants to have a walking outdoor mall with shops and cafes.

Crichlow said the development will be unique and not match some of the older buildings downtown.

"We're not trying to make a historic village. It will have some elements of the buildings, but it will be different," Crichlow said. "We're not trying to recreate a particular architectural style."

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


City approves contract for Sebastian Harbor project

A contract to buy the Sebastian Inland Harbor property for $3.6 million was unanimously approved Monday night by the St. Augustine City Commission.

The buyer is San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach, who will pay for about 13 vacant acres at King Street and the San Sebastian River at closing.

The principals of the company are Richard A. Newton Jr. and Mathew H. Merritt.

Newton said he had built mixed-use projects like this one in Atlanta, but said this was a "little more concentrated" in space.

"We fell in love with the site and the city," he said. "We tried to listen to the city commissioners and design it around what they wanted."

Closing will be within 120 days.

The plan as presented calls for 128 condominiums, about 20,000 square feet of loft and retail space, a 110-150 room hotel, 89-slip marina and river walk along the San Sebastian.

The purchase price does not include approximately 1.25 acres for a 518-car parking garage at Riberia and Lorida streets.

That property will remain in the city's possession and be leased to the developer. About half of the parking spaces will be parking for the retail space, the other half for the condo owners.

George McClure of Rogers Towers, representing Sebastian Harbor Partners, said the contract is a relatively complex one, because it includes additional requirements.

These include:
- The developers must present a detailed plan of development. "The final appearance is not represented by this drawing. It's just to give you an idea of our thinking. We're working on iterations of this particular plan," McClure said.

- The city must form an Architectural Review Committee, consisting of one representative of the city, one of the developer and another satisfactory to both to make minor decisions involving color, lighting and lay out so every design decision doesn't have to come before the commission.

- The city must apply for a modification of its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for 85 boat slips to increase it to 89 slips, so there will be four public access slips near the mouth of the marina. The permit change will also have the marina lined with a bulkhead rather than the rip-rap shoreline already approved.

- The city will clear 4.6 acres of mitigation property on South Riberia Street to create marshland, at a cost of $11,500 per acre, with those costs to be reimbursed by the developer.

- A development agreement must be signed between the city and developer in regard to the parking garage. The city will pay for the garage, and the developer will pay for the spaces needed for condo owners.

- A vault system would be installed under the garage by the developers to control runoff.

- If contamination is found in the soil of the marina basin, Atlanta Gas Light Co. has already agreed to protect the purchaser and pay for any necessary cleanup. The company used to own a manufactured gas plant on the site.

- The developer would preserve public access to the boardwalk and amphitheater.

A separate motion by Commissioner Susan Burk, which passed 5-0, changes the access routes to easements. "We've all seen how public access somehow becomes no longer public, like the beach in Ponte Vedra," she said.

Commissioner Bill Lennon pointed out that the city will be responsible for building and maintaining the garage.

He said the city should let the developers build the garage instead and then lease 100 spaces from them for the shoppers, because the building would then be on the city's tax rolls.

"We're going into the garage business, which the city should not be in," Lennon said.

But Commissioner Don Crichlow said the city needs all the parking it can get.

"If we can get 200 spaces, I want them," he said.

The contract was negotiated by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Burchfield and city staff.

He wrote in a May 19 memo to City Manager Bill Harriss, "While complex, the agreement was developed to protect the interests of the city as well as the development team."

Newton nodded when asked if he was nervous after agreeing to spend $3.6 million.

He and Merritt had gone to college together and had been friends ever since.

"We designed this project around the public spaces -- the amphitheater and the boardwalk," he said.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?