Deegan: Massive sports complex apartment fire a ‘setback’ for downtown development, housing woes

Bringing life to downtown Jacksonville by adding more housing and entertainment has been slowgoing for decades.

When Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan was elected last year, she vowed to renew efforts to develop downtown and make it a destination for all Northeast Florida residents.

But after the RISE Doro apartments caught fire Sunday night, and firefighters continued to try to put out the fire into Monday afternoon, Deegan called it not only a tragedy but a setback to downtown revitalization efforts.

“Obviously, it’s a setback. It’s extraordinarily disappointing. I’m going to be honest, it was one of the first things I thought about once I learned everybody was safe,” Deegan said. “We don’t want to see this sit here for a long time and have it not developed.”

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Although the fire wasn’t deadly, the blaze is still reminiscent of what happened at the Berkman Plaza II building, which is less than a mile away. Berkman II collapsed during construction in 2007. One worker was killed and more than 20 others were hurt. The building sat abandoned and unfinished for more than 14 years before it was finally demolished in 2022.

The RISE Doro apartments, a 247-unit, $67 million building, was set to open in March and would have been the first housing to come to the sports complex area, an area expected to see major development in the coming years.

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The disaster comes as Jacksonville is also in the middle of a housing crisis. Although the luxury apartments were not necessarily expected to provide “affordable” housing, they were still expected to bring hundreds more people to an area desperate for an influx of new residents.

“Any time that you’re taking hundreds of apartments out of the process, that’s a concern. In terms of apartments downtown, it’s a loss,” Deegan said. “There are many fires that we’ve had that have been of much greater magnitude than this, what makes this one particularly heart-wrenching is what we all waited so long to see happen here and obviously the fact that it was this close to being open…Certainly considering where we are as a city and our focus is downtown, it’s certainly something that’s very disappointing to see.”

Greg Blais, president of Rise, told the mayor he would like to put the building back up when they can.

“Obviously, we’re a long way from that at this point,” Deegan said.

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