By Caren Burmeister, Contributing Writer
It didn’t take Realtor Margie Seaman long to fall in love with Jacksonville when she arrived in 2010.
But the city’s initial reaction to her? Well, that’s a different story.
Her brash New York style didn’t cut it in Jacksonville, a city she describes as modest and dignified and where real estate deals require loyalty forged over time.
“My aggressive behaviors were way overboard,” said Seaman, founder of Seaman Realty and Management Co. “Saying, ‘I’m awesome, you need me,’ didn’t work here.”
Seven years ago, when real estate was in a huge slump, her then-husband (a lawyer and economist), suggested the family move to Jacksonville to capitalize on real estate short sales.
At first, Seaman resisted. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., she brought up every possible Southern stereotype to derail the move.
Plus, she had a thriving real estate business in New York, where she had distinguished herself as a skilled broker in the reuse of old industrial buildings.
But Jacksonville surprised her.
“I fell out of love in my marriage and in love with Jacksonville,” Seaman said.
The couple soon divorced. She could have high-tailed it back to New York. Instead, she stayed in Jacksonville to build the business and raise her daughter, who is now 15.
“I felt there was something here to be discovered,” Seaman said. “It was a city about to be written. I wanted to be a part of that story.”
Despite her commitment, Seaman didn’t earn any money the first two years. The memory still brings her to tears.
“Getting started here was horrendous,” she recalled. “I had such a hard time. I went from the very top to the very bottom.”
She joined the Rotary Club of Jacksonville, where she met many movers and shakers, and finally cinched her first real estate deal.
Seaman Realty and Management Co. handles project planning, zoning and market analysis, property management and transaction management and implementation. The company employs seven people.
Seaman, who has a master’s degree in public administration, specializes in adaptive reuse, the practice of reusing old buildings or sites for a new purpose.
Usually it involves rezoning vacant — and sometimes historic — industrial buildings in the city’s urban core.
“If it looks like old Beirut, then my sign’s going to be on it,” she quips.
To succeed, Seaman knew she needed to get more involved in her new town and employ some creative initiatives to help change people’s perception of Downtown Jacksonville.
Recalling the success of an arts project she worked with in New York, she launched the Building Art Program, or BAP, last year. The program offers free exhibition space for artists, which helps revive vacant buildings so they’re more attractive to new tenants or buyers.
“The artist gets exposure with free gallery space in the lobby, the tenant gets an amenity and the broker gets a talking point,” Seaman said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
In October, the old New York Steam Laundry building at 120 E. Forsyth St. became the first BAP participant.
Built in 1903, the old brick walls create a warm backdrop for a contemporary art collection. BAP has since expanded to Public House Coffee in the Jacksonville Landing and two other buildings on Forsyth Street.
“People look at empty buildings with fear and trepidation,” Seaman said. “It changes the way people view the space. It can really make a difference.”
Seaman is also involved with Illuminate JAX, which promotes artful LED lighting on Downtown skyscrapers to create a sense of safety, build civic pride and corporate branding and show off the city’s architecture, which fades into darkness at night.
Maxwell House Coffee on East Bay Street has recently signed onto the program, she said.
Seaman can take credit for many of Jacksonville’s notable real estate deals. In 2014, she brought Sweet Pete’s to the historic Seminole Club, an iconic home across the street from City Hall that had been vacant for a decade.
In December, she closed a $975,000 deal for a 72-unit senior housing development, known as Houston Street Manor.
In February, Seaman brokered the $3.6 million sale of the Herkimer Building Downtown to a New York-based company.
“I came back after a lot of hard life lessons,” she said. “I could have left but I never will. I’m determined to make this city sing.”