July 27--Duane Decastro describes Kings Avenue, the street where he runs his business, like this: "It used to be when you turned off Prudential, it looked pretty good. But when you got down to where I am, it was pretty shady. It was pretty dingy."
But now he looks at the Southbank neighborhood around his Fresh Health Hydroponics and Natural Market and sees change.
"That building across the street was just painted," he said. "We've landscaped, Biomet has moved in and fixed up that one."
Kings Avenue has been the forgotten street of San Marco, in a sense. Other than that first block off Prudential, it's a long way from the trendy place that San Marco Boulevard has long been and Hendricks Avenue is becoming.
"It's really the red-headed stepchild, the last frontier of San Marco," said Cord Butler, owner of The Cordell Group real estate firm. "You've got a lot of development around the square in San Marco. But that's built-out and parking has become problematic."
Hendricks Avenue has been taking off lately, he said, with Panera Bread opening in San Marco Train Station, with Aardwolf Brewing, with V Pizza.
"The natural progress is to go to Kings," Butler said.
That northern block of Kings Avenue has been a piece of prime real estate for a while, "A nice little eclectic" strip, Butler called it.
Cady & Cady Studios photography, Burdette Ketchum marketing agency, ELM architecture and Linda Cunningham fashion occupy the restored and repurposed buildings.
Now Crop Creative Media is moving there.
Allen Stevens bought the former Southside Blueprint building in January for $375,000. Butler knew that Crop was looking for a place to move since it was losing its office-park studio in Baymeadows.
The company, founded in 2012, produces TV and radio commercials as well as videos for the Internet.
"It was frightening to think about buying," said Crop co-owner Jennifer Adams. "And this just fell together. We're hoping that we're on the front end of an area that's taking off. We looked at the Northbank and just like the feel here.
"It's kind of an arts district. Across the street is an ad agency, and ad agencies are our clientele."
UNDER THE BRIDGE
It's once you go under the Interstate 95 overpass that Kings Avenue loses its restored hipness. The city opened its huge parking garage there in 2000. In 2009, the 221-room Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites opened.
But not a lot else happened until recently.
Decastro opened his business on Beach Boulevard in 2006, but moved to Kings Avenue about a year ago. He sells garden supplies, particularly hydroponic, and operates a natural foods co-op that has about 60 members but is gaining two a week.
Crucible Crossfit was right next door to him, but outgrew that space and moved over one building.
"They make a real active street," Decastro said. "You can see them carrying logs up and down the street."
The Showtime Center, a special-events venue, took over the building that Crucible had been in.
About 100 yards away, Biomet has opened an office in a former dialysis center. The Withington family of Charleston, S.C., paid $300,000 for the building at 1715 Kings Ave. after it took over the North Florida and South Georgia territory for Biomet, which sells orthopedic implants.
They had an office in Orange Park, but it was little more than a storage room. So they looked all over Jacksonville before settling on the former dialysis center on Kings.
Now they have a conference room and do live webcast training for doctors, said J.K. Withington.
"It's just a great location," he said. "It's easy to get to Memorial, to Baptist. You can walk around and feel safe. The whole street has good energy."
Randy Goodwin seems to know as much about Kings Avenue as anyone. He started working at an upholstery shop at Kings and Atlantic Boulevard when he was 17.
Since 1997, his PRI Productions has been in the former Skateland and Brandon's Camera. Skat