By Mike Bernos
If old buildings could talk, then the 109-year-old Elena Flats building would have pleaded for someone to save it from demolition.
Jack Meeks and his wife JoAnn Tredennick answered the plea, ultimately rescuing and restoring the historic four-unit apartment building located at 122 E. Duval Street. The restoration is significant as Elena Flats is one of the few multifamily residential buildings remaining in downtown Jacksonville that had been built after the 1901 fire and before 1920.
Long recognized as a trusted community steward by virtue of his leadership roles with the Downtown Investment Authority, Jacksonville Ethics Committee, and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, spanning four mayoral administrations, Meeks stepped in. The well-known local CPA says he was guided by his vision to restore the once beautiful building to its original splendor.
After much maneuvering with city hall, Meeks prevailed, and the building was acquired. What remained had been carved up into a low-rent, 22-bedroom rooming house that had been vacant for approximately 10 years.
“What’s remarkable about Jack’s effort is that he had to overcome a major hurdle of the City Council’s Land Use and Zoning committee that required the building to be economically feasible,” says Tredennick, Meeks’s partner in the project. “We committed to do this project with our own money and no city assistance.”
A self-styled preservationist whose work quietly extends into neighborhood rehabilitation, Meeks believes there are probably no historic buildings in their current state that are economically feasible for an appropriate rate of return on your investment.
“It has definitely been a love project,” says Meeks, referring to his willingness to put historic preservation above monetary return. “It proved to be labor intensive. The more we saved of the structure meant additional restoration would be required of the interior and exterior, which increased costs.”
In November 2020, Meeks proudly introduced the new Elena Flats for occupancy. It features the original design of four apartments with two downstairs (1,700 square feet) and two upstairs (1,750 square feet). Each apartment offers two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a powder bathroom, along with a front parlor and a restored fireplace. The kitchen and dining room are large enough to be used as a formal dining area. Each apartment has outside access and a front and back porch.
Now that the showcase project is completed, one might ask Meeks, “Why the huge commitment for such a labor of love?” A clue is found in Meeks’s passionate belief in the benefits of community development.
“Investing in the fabric of Jacksonville’s diverse and unique neighborhoods is essential in providing the economic impetus to continue our elevation to a first-tier city,” says Meeks. “Safe, secure, and livable neighborhoods are instrumental to economic vitality, equity, and opportunity.