Avant Construction Group Teams Up with Southern Shores Fence and Rail to Support North Riverside Community Garden

JACKSONVILLE, FLA., October 6, 2023 – Like many of Jacksonville’s urban core neighborhoods, North Riverside near McCoys Creek is a food desert. That is why Daily Manna Community Garden located at 426 Smith Street is so important, and why Groundwork Jacksonville, Avant Construction Group and Southern Shores Fence and Rail are donating their time, materials and resources to improve it.

Each quarter, Avant Construction Group selects a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization for its Community Give-Back program. Support may be a donation of time, funds, materials, or a combination thereof. Avant chose Groundwork Jacksonville as their quarter four recipient.

“When Gloria McNair, from Groundwork Jacksonville suggested helping the North Riverside Community through the community garden, we thought it was a great cause,” said Ellen Cottrill, communication and HR Manager for Avant Construction Group. ”We are proud to be part of a project that not only brings the community together but also helps to educate residents about gardening and provides much needed fresh produce to a food desert.”

The Community Garden is a program of Daily Manna Serving Center, a nonprofit that distributes food and mobilizes resources to fight poverty and end hunger. The garden provides an opportunity for residents to get their hands dirty and learn about urban farming, while also being a source for fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Through its work with the North Riverside CDC, Groundwork supports the garden by securing grant funding to help purchase materials and supplies as well as providing a stipend for the garden manager Jerby Hollomon. In addition, Groundwork’s CREST Stewards, (Community Restoration Environmental Stewardship Training) volunteer in the garden each month.

“We discussed several options for giving, but Daily Manna’s number one priority was a 200-linear-foot fence to wrap around the property,” said Cottrill. “We reached out to some of our vendors to see if they wanted to get involved and Matt Graziano was eager to help.”

“We are honored to partner with Avant Construction and get involved in this important project. As a new, local business, Southern Shores Fence & Rail appreciates the opportunity to help bring people together and make a difference in our community.”

Bishop Gerald Dinkins, the founder and CEO of Daily Manna Serving Center says that support like this means a great deal to the neighborhood, especially its seniors and children. “We are so thankful to Avant, Southern Shores and Groundwork for their support.” Said Bishop Dinkins. “This is more than a fence. It is one more step in making the community garden a place where the entire neighborhood can gather, work, learn and fellowship.” He added that the daycare centers down the street bring their kids to the garden. “We hope they will spend even more time at the garden now that the children can run around more freely without the worry of car traffic.”

What’s next for the community garden? Dinkins says they plan to add a few higher beds so that seniors can more easily garden, and a gazebo for neighbors to sit, relax and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their collective labor.

After rebranding ‘challenge,’ Jacksonville-based contractor Opus Group renamed Avant

The company’s name, involved in several Downtown redevelopment projects, was too similar to The Opus Group construction firm in Minneapolis.

By Mike Mendenhall

The Jacksonville Daily Record

Ellen and Alan Cottrill co-founded River City Contractors in 1997, then changed the name to Opus Group in 2021. Now they have rebranded the company as Avant.
Ellen and Alan Cottrill co-founded River City Contractors in 1997, then changed the name to Opus Group in 2021. Now they have rebranded the company as Avant.

Signage and branding for Jacksonville-based contractor Opus Group posted at many Downtown adaptive reuse construction sites will soon be replaced with the name Avant. 

It’s the second renaming by the 26-year-old company in fewer than 18 months. 

Avant President and founder Alan Cottrill said that changing from River City Contractors to Opus in November 2021 was about updating the company’s branding to better describe what they do. But moving on from Opus to Avant was a requirement.

“Part of the challenge of being in business is making mistakes and recovering from them,” Cottrill said Feb. 3. 

“We changed our name a year ago and thought that we had crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s.”

What Alan and his wife, Avant Human Resources and Marketing Manager Ellen Cottrill, didn’t find in their rebranding research was that Opus Group was already a trademarked and copyrighted similar business. 

It is the name of a larger design, development, construction and construction management company, The Opus Group, based in Minneapolis. 

Alan Cottrill said the Minneapolis Opus sent a cease-and-desist letter in late 2022. Ellen Cottrill said when they received the legal correspondence it “was a bit overwhelming.” 

“There were a few tears, I have to admit,” she said.

Avant completed its legal name change Jan. 25, according to a filing with the Florida Division of Corporations. Ellen Cottrill said the logo changes will start to appear after a public announcement expected by Feb. 20.

The new logo for Avant keeps the “Collaborative Construction” tagline.

A ‘forward-thinking’ name

According to the Cottrills, Avant was inspired by the word’s Italian version Avanti meaning “let’s go,” “ahead” and “forward-thinking” — avant-garde.

They want it to have a similar impact on the company’s branding as Opus, a reference to the word for a musical work or set of compositions by a composer and that the Oxford English Dictionary says is “any artistic work, especially one on a large scale.” 

“Much like our industry is managing chaos and bringing people together to create an end product. That’s a great representation of what we do,” Alan Cottrill said.

He said attorneys for the Minneapolis Opus gave them the time needed to complete the naming transition. 

“I would give them credit for being agreeable, friendly and not confrontational,” Alan Cottrill said.

Ellen Cottrill said the change will likely cost Avant $10,000 to $20,000. The company had to redesign its logo and websites. All the employee polo shirts, construction site signage and graphics on the company trucks must be replaced. 

But there also are changes like names on bank accounts, email signatures and the message on the Avant voicemail inbox.

Ellen Cottrill said if a client or a vendor is not notified and the company receives a check with the former name, Avant would not be able to cash it.

“All these little things that happen. No matter how much you plan, no matter how efficient you are. There are things that will go through the cracks,” she said.

Alan said Avant is trying to look at the change as an opportunity. 

“We are pie-in-the-sky thinking of it not as rebranding, just as renaming because we feel like we are on-brand,” he said. 

“We’re using it (Avant) as an impetus to say who we are as a company that helps our customers. We get things done. We’re moving forward,” Alan Cottrill said. “We’re helping our customers who in turn are helping our communities and our city move forward.”

“Avant is the perfect name to represent our company,” Alan Cottrill said in a written statement. “We pride ourselves in projects that have unique character and design.”

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