April 24, 2018 | Tim Lockette | The Anniston Star
JACKSONVILLE — Gamecock Village, a 500-resident apartment complex that was directly in the path of the March 19 tornado, could be ready to reopen by the fall semester, its owner says.
“We are working at full blast to restore the project,” said Jonathan Cameron-Hayes, chief executive officer of the Florida-based Calidus Properties, which owns Gamecock Village.
Jacksonville State University officials have said that at least 800 of the college’s students were displaced by the EF-3 tornado that hit Jacksonville last month, peeling roofs off buildings in some of the town’s biggest apartment complexes. No one was killed in the storm, which hit on the Monday of spring break — 400 of the roughly 500 renters in his complex were out of town, Cameron-Hayes said.
Now, they’re also out of a place to live, or at least out of the apartments they occupied for most of this school year. So too are residents of the Reserve Apartments, an apartment complex hard by Gamecock Village and of similar size; and the 46-unit Winn Place III, a brick two-story complex next to the Chief Ladiga Trail.
The gutted complexes, their top-floor kitchens and bedrooms exposed to the elements, became icons of the storm’s worst damage. So it’s perhaps no surprise that local residents are hopeful yet skeptical of Cameron-Hayes’s goal of having 400 of Gamecock Village’s 500 beds ready for occupancy by August.
“I hope they can do it,” said Mayor Johnny Smith. “It would be an amazing thing.”
Cameron-Hayes says he has more than 100 workers on the site now. Smith said the developer was quick to get in contact with the city and get all the permits needed to begin work.
Calidus Properties owns similar complexes — Cameron-Hayes refers to them as “projects” — across the South and the Plains states, including multiple complexes in college towns such as Clemson, S.C.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Lawrence, Kan. He said he’s never seen one of his complexes damaged as badly as Gamecock Village, not even hurricane-hit properties in Florida.
Next door at the Reserve apartments, the plan for the future is less clear. The Reserve’s website says the complex will reopen in 2019. The web page for the Reserve says the complex housed 460 people before the storm. The Star’s attempts to reach the Reserve, both at its Jacksonville number and at the Michigan office of its owner, ROCO Real Estate, were unsuccessful. Smith said he hasn’t heard from the building’s owners in recent weeks.
An employee at the Anniston-based Lagarde Properties, owner of Winn Place, said it could take eight months or more to rebuild that complex.
Graduation is set for early May, and the town’s population typically declines in summer. Still, the storm has left even summertime Jacksonville with a shortage of rental houses.
“We’ve been drowning in inquiries,” said Janet Brittain, of J. Brittain Realty. Brittain’s company owns its own apartment complex in the town, known as Cedar Trace. It wasn’t significantly damaged in the storm, but vacancies are few.
Brittain said she’s concerned about the long-term effect a housing shortage could have in the town, if it goes on too long.
“I’m concerned that we’re just going to have students who leave Jacksonville altogether,” she said.