By: Mike Mendenhall
JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis, a likely 2023 Jacksonville mayoral candidate, added his voice to a growing group of city officials and advocates pushing for an interconnected park system on the Downtown riverfront.
On April 1, Davis told a meeting of the JAX Chamber Downtown Council that parks are important to private development along the river and will increase Downtown property values.
He said the chamber will back efforts led by the city Downtown Investment Authority and supported by area nonprofits like the Jessie Ball duPont Fund for a Downtown park system along the St. Johns River.
“I am a firm believer that we have to have world-class parks that draw people to the river to activate, not cut people off from, the river,” Davis said.
“That means every person in the public should have that opportunity, not just folks that can afford it.”
The DIA’s strategy is to redesign existing riverfront public spaces and build new ones to create at least nine interconnected “signature” parks and “smaller unique nodes” along the river.
It is part of the five-year update to the authority’s Business Investment and Development Strategy and Community Redevelopment Area Plan.
DIA CEO Lori Boyer said the agency intends to ask the city administration in April to file legislation with City Council to approve the update.
Davis has not announced a run for mayor, but his Building a Better Economy political committee has been actively raising money. State election filings show the campaign had about $3.6 million in cash as of the end of the Feb. 28 reporting period.
When asked by a chamber Downtown Council member April 1 if he would announce his run for mayor at the event, Davis declined to comment.
‘Holistic’ park plans
In an 11-6 vote in February, City Council approved Resolution 2021-566 that called for a “holistic approach” to developing the Downtown riverfront to connect “the entire Northbank riverfront — from the Riverside Arts Market to Metropolitan Park — and the Southbank riverfront — from the Fuller Warren Bridge to The District (now RiversEdge) — as a single integrated parkway that serves and brings together all citizens of Jacksonville and simultaneously enhances future investment of commercial property and public infrastructure along the downtown waterfront.”
The bill, introduced by Council members Matt Carlucci and Randy DeFoor and co-sponsored by Joyce Morgan, had its detractors.
LeAnna Cumber and Reggie Gaffney, who represent Downtown, voted against it, as did Aaron Bowman, who works for the chamber’s JAXUSA Partnership economic development division.
Council President Sam Newby and member Ju’Coby Pittman also voted against the bill.
During a Jan. 4 Council Rules Committee meeting, Cumber and Bowman said they were concerned that if the DIA changed its policy position on parks in the future the nonbinding resolution would be out of step with the agency and need updating.
The DIA did not request Carlucci’s bill, but Boyer told Council members it did not conflict with the agency’s policy direction.
Council members did not speak against the DIA’s parks plan.
Before the final vote, Gaffney said he could not support the bill because the parks plan had not been discussed with the Council Special Committee on Downtown Development, which he chairs.
The park network would include a 7-acre public space at the former Jacksonville Landing site, now called Riverfront Plaza, and a 9-acre park on the city’s Shipyards West property to replace the former Kids Kampus where Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan proposes a $321 million Four Seasons hotel-anchored development.
When asked about Riverfront Plaza, Davis called the property “our home plate.”
He said he knows of several companies interested in a private development pad at Riverfront Plaza. The DIA is advertising a request for proposals for a mixed-use high- or mid-rise building to complement the park under design by architectural firm Perkins & Will Inc.
“There are proposals out right now and some renderings of what it (Riverfront Plaza) could be, and I think that the chamber will be behind that,” Davis said.
“Most folks that look to see property values increase Downtown will be behind it, and all the developers …. they’re crazy not to be behind it because it just brings more value to their property.”
Jaguars and Downtown
Davis told the Downtown Council that he met with Jaguars’ leadership the week before to “understand more of what their desire is in Downtown.”
In a March 24 email, Boyer said the city and the Jaguars are expected to close in May on a property sale and lease agreement for the proposed Four Seasons development.
The development includes the hotel, a six-story Class A office building and a city-owned marina support building.
Northwest of TIAA Bank Field, work has started on the Jaguars Sports Performance Center — a $120 million, 127,087-square-foot practice, training and team office facility for the NFL team partially paid for and owned by the city.
Davis said the chamber needs to support the planning toward renovating the stadium.
“That’s critically important to making sure we provide the right facility for the Jags, not only the training facilities but, obviously, the stadium, which is going to be a question that we’re going to discuss over the next couple of years as a city,” Davis said.
During a Dec. 13 media roundtable with Khan, Jaguars President Mark Lamping said the Jaguars are on the path toward what he called the single biggest issue for the franchise and its stability — a full renovation of TIAA Bank Field.
Davis echoed those comments in his Q&A with Downtown Council members.
“I think we should do everything as an organization to make sure that we stand next to the Jags, that we make sure that they know that we’re a partner in business, and that we as a community make sure that they never think about any other place and they’re always stabilized here. I think that’s very important for us.”
Davis did not provide more details about the Jaguars' plans.
Lamping said in October 2021 that the Jaguars executive leadership sees market demand and a big need for a Downtown entertainment complex similar to what was proposed for Lot J at the stadium.
A proposed $450 million development with Baltimore-based The Cordish Companies was abandoned after it failed to win $245 million in city incentives from Council.
In October, Lamping said “it’s just a question of when versus if and where that should happen.”