By: Mike Mendenhall
Jacksonville public officials held a public workshop Feb. 23 with Downtown stakeholders to respond to public criticism that there’s a lack of planning for the St. Johns riverfront.
In a presentation at the Jacksonville Main Library, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer used the agency’s Downtown Jacksonville Conceptual 2025 Redevelopment Master Plan to show how she sees proposed riverfront private and public space development being planned to complement each other.
“In recent months we have repeatedly heard from members of the public and in the media that there is no master plan for Downtown and we are simply looking at projects piecemeal,” Boyer said. “In fact there is.”
The elected and appointed officials also heard from Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping on how team owner Shad Khan’s plans for a Four Seasons hotel and mixed-use medical development will depend on riverfront public park space.
City Council and Downtown Development Review Board members along with private developers and nonprofit public park groups attended the workshop, which was led by DIA board member Carol Worsham.
More than 200 people attended the meeting in person and virtually.
Boyer gave an overview of the Downtown master plan the DIA adopted in 2015 after more than 40 public meetings.
The master plan shows areas recommended for public and private development as well as themes for the public spaces.
The DIA CEO’s presentation showed plans in various stages of city approval, design and constructions, including the Downtown Northbank and Southbank Riverwalk extensions; the North Florida Land Trust and city Emerald Trail system; a 4-acre park planned for The District development on the Southbank; and a 4.5-acre public park at the former Jacksonville Landing site.
She said a Jacksonville Music Heritage Park at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts is scheduled to break ground this year.
Boyer said she recommends that Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration include funding for a Northbank Riverwalk connection from the Berkman Plaza II property to Metropolitan Park in its fiscal year 2021-22 budget.
Iguana and MOSH
Lamping said that Khan development company Iguana Investments Florida LLC’s proposed Four Seasons hotel, orthopedic medical facility and condominium development would be a minimum $200 million private capital investment and create 500 jobs.
He said Khan’s investment and job creation likely will exceed that estimate.
The Jaguars president said in January that Khan wants to lead a $535 million redevelopment of a portion of the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park.
Lamping said to become a destination hotel and draw business and leisure travelers, the proposed Four Seasons will need proximity to the river, entertainment, a public marina and park space.
“We think that’s a key part of the plan,” Lamping said.
An aerial map presented Feb. 23 shows Khan wants the 8-acre city-owned former Kids Kampus, which is part of Metropolitan Park’s 24.7-acre footprint, and 6 acres adjacent to the publicly owned Shipyards site.
The Jacksonville Museum of Science and History is considering a 4-acre piece of the Shipyards to the west for its estimated $80 million move from the Southbank to the Downtown Northbank.
Khan’s plans exclude a 14.32-acre Metropolitan Park parcel that is restricted by a 1981 National Park Service grant used to create the riverfront public space.
Boyer said that the city ordinance code and the DIA bid plan require any private developer that builds on the Kids Kampus parkland to replace it with an equal or greater-sized park.
She said a park on the Shipyards closer to the urban core would better connect the two ends of Downtown than what’s currently there.
Some local leaders and organizations say that no portion of Metropolitan Park should be considered for private development.
“Accepting private development proposals for our parks establishes a dangerous precedent,” said Jimmy Orth, St. Johns Riverkeeper executive director. “Especially when no formal evaluation has occurred to determine whether or not this particular park can still serve the public’s interest.”
DIA officials said they received 66 emails before the meeting in support of Iguana’s Shipyards plan, 24 supporting both the Shipyards and MOSH relocation and two emails keeping Metropolitan Park as is.
Jessie Ball duPont Fund President Mari Kuraishi said the duPont Fund will have a draft report within six months with recommendations to the DIA for designs and programming preferences for Northbank and Southbank waterfront public spaces.
The study will use Downtown stakeholder and community comments to determine riverfront development preferences, she said.
Kuraishi said the nonprofit is funding the research commissioned by the DIA. The duPont Fund contracted New York City-based urban landscape architect David Van Der Leer to consult with other landscape firms for Downtown riverfront park designs.
Kuraishi called the St. Johns River Jacksonville’s “lifeblood asset and treasure.”
“Great public spaces enhance prosperity because private development that is adjacent to such public spaces is proven in other communities to generate more income, activity and value,” she said.
Downtown Development Review Board member and Southern Group lobbyist Matt Brockelman said real estate investors are beginning to look at secondary markets like Jacksonville because of the impact of COVID-19 on larger U.S. cities.
Brockelman said the city should quickly pursue projects that have “capital at the table,” like Khan’s Shipyards project, and not wait for a study.
“When it comes to timing, I think it’s a false choice to say we need to have a public process, a private process and those two cannot happen simultaneously,” he said.
“I think we need to take advantage of this opportunity we have today.”
Council member Randy DeFoor said not allowing the duPont Fund time to work before making major riverfront development decisions would be a waste of the nonprofit’s money and time.
DDRB member Brenna Durden said work on riverfront planning shouldn’t completely stop, but she called the inclusion of the duPont Fund study “a no-brainer.”