Shipping containers becoming apartments in downtown Jacksonville

The 18 shipping containers stacked on a downtown Jacksonville lot have been lifted, loaded, unloaded, packed and unpacked on journeys from one port to the next, so it’s fitting that half the residences being built out of the containers will be used for people on the move in Airbnb rentals.

That’s the plan for the containers after JWB Real Estate Capital finishes combining them into a three-level complex of residential units in the 400 block of Ashley Street in downtown’s Cathedral District.

The work by the Jacksonville company is on track to finish in December so units will be available in 2021 as apartments and Airbnb rentals.

“We don’t think we’ll have any problems filling it,” said JWB President Alex Sifakis. “It’s a unique development. There’s a little bit of urban pioneering. You’ve got the green angle where it’s repurposed containers. There’s just a ton of interest on this project.”

The shipping containers stacked to make an 18-unit residential development on Ashley Street in downtown Jacksonville have balconies and windows added to them as part of their conversion to studio apartments and Airbnb rentals. The work is on track to finish by the end of the year so the unusual twist to housing will be available for rent in 2021.

Sifakis got the idea for doing the container apartments when he saw a similar project in Amsterdam. The Downtown Development Review Board approved the architectural features last year and JWB purchased the containers from a Jacksonville company that deals in surplus cargo containers.

JWB originally anticipated rent would start at $550 a month but after going through the actual cost, the rent will start at $700 for nine units set aside as apartments. The other nine will be for the Airbnb rentals.

The actual creation of the container complex was harder than anticipated and ended up costing 50 percent more than the original budget.

“The project is not a great financial investment but for us, it’s not really about that,” Sifakis said. “We wanted to do something that would be for downtown. We wanted to be on the forefront of that and learn. It definitely was a great learning experience. We took some lumps.”

The containers provide about 320 square feet of living space that Sifakis compares to a hotel room in size. The interior is built out to look like any other apartment. Each comes with appliances including a washer and dryer. Some units have balconies. Windows are installed in the walls.

Sifakis said strictly as a business proposition, it doesn’t make sense to use cargo containers for residences in Florida because they can’t compete with regular construction costs, particularly when stacked containers trigger expenses for stairwells and fire protection.

The creation of apartments and Airbnb rentals out of cargo containers is taking place on Ashley Street near more traditional homes in the downtown Cathedral District.

He said after the construction work is done, painters will put a mural on the western side using an artistic theme that fits in with the Cathedral district, which is known for its tall-steepled churches.

Then there will be the Airbnb ads that, based on existing ads for containers offered as nightly rentals on its online site, could use words like “charming” and “cozy” and “cute” that were farthest from the minds of longshoremen handling the heavy containers on the docks of Jacksonville’s port.   

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