Sgt. Jasper talks hit new hurdle

The Sergeant Jasper was going to be torn down and redeveloped, but The Beach Co. said it now will focus on its renovation, not replacement.

Recent discussions aimed at finding a compromise development for The Beach Co.’s Sergeant Jasper site may have collapsed amid finger-pointing about who is at fault.

The company released a statement Thursday afternoon saying it will focus on renovating the existing 14-story tower and pursuing its lawsuit against the city.

However, Mayor John Tecklenburg, as well as representatives of most neighborhood and preservation groups, did not respond to messages late Thursday for comment.

The company, city officials and those groups were expected to meet Friday — and some still may. It would be their fourth and possibly final meeting aimed at breaking through a year-long impasse about the future of the site just west of Colonial Lake.

Jay Williams, who followed the project for the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association said Thursday he felt the talks were going well, and he was “stunned” at the news.

The company’s statement said recent actions by the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association would delay the review of the buildings and “make this collaboration no longer feasible from an economic or timing perspective.”

Beach Co. President and CEO John Darby said the neighborhood recently prevented the city’s Board of Architectural Review from considering a plan to review a renovation of the existing 14-story building — a renovation that the company had said it would pursue simultaneously with any possible alternative development plan.

“We didn’t want to get six months to a year into an alternative plan without a backup,” he said. “We just don’t have the time.”

Before leaving office last month, Mayor Joe Riley put in motion one final attempt to strike a compromise between the company’s desire for a profitable redevelopment and others’ concerns about its height, use and density.

Those meetings began in December, and Tecklenburg continued them after he took office. The talks were heading toward a more residential project, lower than the existing building — and one that provided at least some park space on the undeveloped, waterfront site known as St. Mary’s Field.

But larger issues remained unresolved, including the massing of buildings that would accommodate the 375,000 square feet of uses and parking, as well as how the city’s approval process might unfold.

Virginia Bush, president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, said, “We were promised a new plan at the last meeting, and we are anxious to see it. We are gravely disappointed that the Beach Company has made a unilateral decision to end discussions.”

Darby said the groups claiming to fight for the city’s beautification are essentially preventing a chance to replace the much-criticized 1950s brick landmark.

“The groups have no consensus, no end game and no proposed vision for this property, except to thwart change at all costs,” his statement said. “At this point, we have to consider our property rights and our right to due process.”

His statement included a site plan that showed a 2.2-acre park on St. Mary’s Field, but it’s unclear how many have seen it. The negotiations began in private — and were not subject to the state’s open meeting laws — though both sides eventually let some residents and media members attend more recent meetings.

The company emptied the existing apartment building in February 2014 in expectation of beginning a redevelopment soon. It even allowed city firefighters to bust up its interior for training purposes.

But now the company said it will reopen the existing building while it pursues its legal challenge against the BAR’s decision last summer to reject a similar-sized new building for the site —one with 80 luxury units and office and retail space. A court hearing on that is set for Feb. 19.

Darby said the company has spent more than $3 million in consulting fees and preparing for the demolition — on top of $1.8 million annual rent lost since it emptied the building.

Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.