By: Mike Mendenhall
The Museum of Science & History’s plans announced Oct. 15 to relocate and build a new facility at the vacant Shipyards property could hinge on the future of the adjacent Metropolitan Park.
The city-owned Shipyards is not immediately available for MOSH - or anyone - to develop, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said Oct. 15.
MOSH said its plan to build at the Shipyards will replace its effort to renovate at 1025 Museum Circle on the Downtown Southbank.
The Shipyards and Metropolitan Park are across the St. Johns River on the Downtown Northbank.
The DIA is waiting for the National Park Service to decide if the city can swap Metropolitan Park for Shipyards property to satisfy the requirements of a 1981 grant agreement that prohibits selling the 24.7-acre park without a comparable replacement.
The 45.28-acre Shipyards is west of Metropolitan Park and east of the unfinished Berkman Plaza II.
The DIA engaged the federal agency after a Sept. 9 committee meeting, anticipating Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan submitting a new development proposal focused on Metropolitan Park.
The National Park Service decision will impact the DIA board’s policy on future Shipyards development and MOSH’s plans to build on the Downtown Northbank.
“From my board’s perspective, (the Shipyards) had always been viewed as development land where we were looking for a return on investment,” Boyer said. “We were looking for active, taxpaying uses. It wasn’t going to be parkland or other uses that didn’t provide any return on investment.”
Boyer said she is waiting to hear from the National Park Service.
“The board agreed to consider giving up the development potential and potentially converting this to a park.”
MOSH seeking 4-acre site
MOSH CEO Bruce Fafard said after the announcement that the museum wants to secure 4 acres for a proposed $80 million to $90 million facility at the Shipyards.
Fafard said talks with the DIA and the city are ongoing and he agreed that where MOSH lands at the Shipyards depends on the National Park Service’s decision.
“Until that specifically is settled, I don’t think we’re going to be able to pinpoint and say, ‘Here’s exactly where we’re going to be,’” he said.
Fafard said all parties in the negotiations are committed to bringing MOSH to the Northbank.
MOSH will be required to submit an unsolicited bid to develop any portion of the Shipyards and it would need DIA board approval.
Iguana Investments Florida LLC, led by Khan, had rights to develop at the Shipyards, but those expired in August.
Khan now is focused on a $445 million mixed-use development in the stadium’s parking Lot J, across from the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, but he still has an interest in developing on the St. Johns River waterfront, according to DIA officials.
Boyer said the uncertainty doesn’t mean the DIA is not supportive of attractions like MOSH on the Northbank.
If the National Park Service agrees to the swap, some of the Shipyards would become a public green space that would not generate tax revenue for the city.
Boyer said the DIA board might then be more open to a nontaxable entity like MOSH building at the Shipyards to enhance the riverfront parkland.
“Which is why I think it’s a much easier thing for (MOSH) to do if my board has already made a decision that they’re going to put a park there because then you’re already forgoing the economic value,” Boyer said.
Since the city Office of General Counsel sent its initial letter in September, National Park Service officials have asked for more environmental information about the Shipyards, Boyer said.
In an emailed statement Oct. 15, Khan said that he’s “all in” on the MOSH proposal to relocate and be “the centerpiece of a new riverfront park.”
“I’ve expressed my interest and endorsement to museum officials and pledge to wholeheartedly and personally support the effort,” Khan said. “Opening a world-class destination like the Museum of Science and History at the confluence of Hogan’s Creek and the St. Johns River would be a spectacular addition to Downtown Jacksonville.”
The mouth of Hogans Creek is bordered to the east and west by parkland in an aerial site plan that Iguana Investments provided to City Council in July.
Fafard said he has not personally spoken with the Jaguars about MOSH’s plans.
City Hall Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury confirmed Oct. 15 that Mayor Lenny Curry's office is involved in the talks with MOSH.
Curry voiced support for the proposal in the museum's news release.
“For nearly 80 years, MOSH has inspired Jacksonville citizens of all ages to embrace the joy of lifelong learning. We applaud the Museum’s leaders for their commitment to Downtown and their bold, innovative vision for the future that will inspire generations and strengthen our reputation as a premier destination in the Southeastern United States,” Curry said.
The MOSH plan
MOSH said in a news release that it could begin preconstruction activity on the new museum in 2021 and open by 2024.
Fafard said the MOSH board of trustees is in full support of the proposal. He said the plan’s central appeal is it will allow MOSH to continue operations at its Southbank facility through construction.
MOSH is consulting with architects and design firms but has not made a selection for the project.
Fafard said MOSH leadership was advised that disruption from renovations could have caused the museum to close for two years.
“By moving to the Northbank, that disruption is eliminated,” Fafard said. “We’re going to be able to continue to provide access to the community at this location. We’re going to continue to expand our education programs and work collaboratively with the local school system. We’re going to be able to continue to bring in traveling exhibits to benefit the community.”
Although MOSH’s Shipyards plan lacks details, Fafard said the museum will be able to incorporate more outdoor programming and the Riverwalk.
“Part of the inclusion of the St. Johns River is important to us,” he said. “The new site allows us to incorporate that, but it also allows us to really highlight the importance of the ecosystem and our interaction with the St. Johns.
The MOSH 2.0 capital campaign that began in March 2019 and has a $20 million to $25 million fundraising goal.
What happens on the Southbank?
If MOSH moves to the Shipyards, it will leave a vacant building on a 7.49-acre parcel near Friendship Fountain and St. Johns River Park.
Boyer said if MOSH is replaced with private development, she wants it to remain “experiential”and open to the public.
“Whether that’s a restaurant or a different type of museum, I want it to be something that the public is invited to.”
Fafard said an independent appraisal of MOSH valued the museum property at $5 million.
Boyer said that MOSH officials were discussing renovating its existing location with the DIA as recently as mid-July.
Miami-based developer Related Group, which intends to raze the adjacent River City Brewing Co. restaurant to build apartments and a smaller eatery, took the MOSH river view corridor into account in its design.
Related designed its building so that it did not block MOSH’s view of the river, Boyer said.