The RiverTown development has seen multiple changes in size, scope and even ownership since it was first proposed in the 1990s. What hasn’t changed much is the actual number of residents there.
It’s likely that’s figure will change dramatically this year, too.
One of the county’s largest developments still in its infancy stage, RiverTown is poised to become another hotbed of home construction in the busy northwest section of St. Johns County.
RiverTown general manager Jason Sessions said the community sold about 125 homes last year without anything close to a full roll-out.
“We should really start to pick up with sales and have this community grow,” he said.
At more than 4,000 acres and stretching from the St. Johns River to Bartram Trail High School, RiverTown is expected to contain about 4,500 homes at final build out.
Getting anywhere near that build out has been a big problem with the development’s history, though.
More stops than housing starts
RiverTown’s history can be traced back decades to when it was called Riverton. Then owned by The St. Joe Company and developed by Arvida, a 2002 story in The Record said the development was first presented as a 7,500-home community with another million square feet of commercial space.
But in 2002, it was altered to 3,500 single-family homes and 500 multi-family units along with 600,000 square feet of commercial. And the tentative plan was to have the first phase completed by 2015.
Of course, a lot happened between 2002 and 2015, but the only phase completed was pretty small.
There was a recession and a crippled housing market. And then The St. Joe Company changed its business plans.
In 2012, RiverTown had 25 homes built, according to media reports at the time, and was making a multi-million-dollar investment in infrastructure to boost buyer interest.
But by April 2013, The St. Joe Company had finalized an agreement to sell the development to Mattamy Homes for $43.6 million. At that time, about 150 home sites had been purchased.
New owner, new plan
While The St. Joe Company was clearly not fully committed to RiverTown after the recession, Mattamy certainly has been.
Sessions is a partner in the Durbin Crossing development and was hired by Mattamy shortly after it acquired RiverTown. His experience with a successful development in the area should be an asset in RiverTown’s journey from a oft-delayed project to another juggernaut in the northwest sector of the county.
“When we started Durbin Crossing in 2001 and we put our first lot on the ground in 2006, and we all know what happened in 2007, ‘08 and ‘09,” Sessions said. “What we learned was when you build a community properly with every detail that counts and you build the amenities up front, you can survive a downturn in the market and be very successful. Durbin Crossing, while our sales slowed down, we still did very well during the downturn all the way through.
“We’re taking that same approach here and making sure every detail is fine-tuned and that things are completed up front for our residents so they can see what they’re buying into.”
Mattamy is serious about the amenities. RiverTown already has the 7,200-square-foot RiverHouse Amenity Center with a large fitness center, a recreational pool and a junior-sized Olympic lap pool.
The company is in the process of building The RiverClub, a $6-million amenity center located directly on the St. Johns River. Opening in late 2017, it will include a 5,100-square-foot clubhouse, a pool, river boardwalk, children’s playground, kayak launch and event lawn.
Added to that are several miles of bike trails, playgrounds and more. Sessions said with the competition for home buyers in the northern part of the county, RiverTown has to offer amenities that equal or eclipse what other master-planned communities have.
And they want to see the concrete, not just plans.
“We’ve got a completed community today for the buyer,” he said. “We like to make sure that we take the time to understand the market and understand the consumer and then build them exactly what they want.”
Not technically an amenity, RiverTown did something else buyers and residents wanted in building what will become the new main entrance at Longleaf Pine Parkway near Bartram Trail High School. The connection is expected to open by the end of the month.
“The No. 1 thing it does is decreases your drive time to the work areas,” Sessions said. “It brings you closer to the [State Road 9B/Interstate 95] connector.”
Enough to change the past?
The question is whether the improvements and amenities and new product offerings will be enough to entice buyers to RiverTown over other communities like Shearwater, Nocatee, Palencia or others.
Sessions said he’s confident Mattamy will sell all 4,500 homes.
“By adding the additional features that we’re coming out with on Feb. 25 (the official relaunch), we really feel like we can take that success and momentum to the next level,” he said.
And that confidence goes beyond just the strength of Mattamy’s offerings. Part of it comes from the fact that the housing market in Northeast Florida is so strong, especially St. Johns County.
Reports from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR) showed that there were 27,873 closed sales in 2016, the greatest number of homes sales in Northeast Florida since 2006 — and about 1,000 more than 2015. NEFAR reported that new construction accounted for 31 percent of the market share in 2016.
The areas that saw the largest percentage of positive change in sales from 2015 were Ponte Vedra/Nocatee, St. Johns County northeast and St. Johns County Southeast. Home sales overall in the county were up 4 percent last year and 27.5 percent from 2012, according to NEFAR.
Victor Raymos, the CEO and association executive for the St. Augustine and St. Johns County Board of Realtors, said RiverTown’s relaunch is a sign that the industry sees a positive future for the local housing market.
“I think that being started with a great vigor is attributable to the short supply of inventory,” he said. “People see the market as strong. It’s a good sign for people who want to live in St. Johns County.”
Sessions said there’s no doubt about the quality of the St. Johns County market. And he feels RiverTown is a standout in that market. He’ll soon find out whether the customers agree.
“Another way we differentiate ourselves from the other builders and other neighborhoods in the area is by really working on site planning the property properly to allow for all the benefits of the community we have,” Sessions said. “One of the biggest benefits we have is obviously the river.
“The northwest St. Johns corridor is the strongest market in Northeast Florida. And rightly so. It’s some of the most beautiful land with the best schools in a great location.”