The say the early bird catches the worm. With the recent news about the Landing deal, lets just hope the opportunity hasn’t passed us by and that we see redevelopment happen sooner, rather than later..
Recently, news was released that the Landing agreement, originally announced 5 months ago, may be finally signed any day now. As part of the deal, the city will sell the east parking lot to Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC for $4.7 million. $2.56 million coming from the Humana settlement will be used to make headway for several other downtown projects, including the 35-story Riverwatch condo hotel tower across the street. Those projects include $600,000 for the mayor’s downtown greening initiative and $600,000 for improvements to Friendship Fountain. Also, the settlement gives Cameron Kuhn’s River Watch project the green light, helping the city finally fulfill its 20+ year parking obligation by including 375 parking spaces in its garage for Landing patrons.
This is a far cry from the city’s position earlier this year. Back in February, while seriously courting first-rate tenants such as Cheesecake Factory and Barnes & Noble, the Landing had the rug pulled from under it in favor of the ill-advised “Big Idea”. The Big Idea, conceived by the Mayor’s office on a weekend getaway, called for lanes being reduced on the Main Street Bridge, for wider sidewalks featuring hot dog and Ice Cream vendors, as well as buying out River City Brewing’s long term lease for a small town fishing village of shops similar to a development in Hilton Head, SC. Worst of all, it also had the city assuming the role of developer, in which it would demolish most of the Landing in favor of passive green space featuring a merry-go-round.
Cameron Kuhn’s 35 story RiverWatch Tower will include 200 condo/hotel units, 200 residential condos, a 375 space parking garage and 15,000sf of ground level retail across the street from the Landing. As a part of the agreement, this project will be given the green light to proceed. Plans call for ground to be broken later this year.
Needless to say, after months of heavy criticism, if this deal goes through, it is the type Mayor Peyton and the JEDC should seek to make on a regular basis, instead of a one-time occasion. Selling under utilized city-owned property, then using the money generated to fund other downtown public projects is the ideal example of working WITH the private sector, instead of tying up market rate projects by attempting to compete against them. This method of public deal-making should also be conducted with the County Courthouse project, the Greening of Main pocket park site, and acres of land still being held by the city in the area that was once known as the community of LaVilla.
With county courthouse estimates (for the full building) well above $300 million, the money generated by selling the City Hall Annex and County Courthouse sites (downtown’s most valued city owned site) could make an impressive dent in those estimates. Going vertical and issuing RFP's for the remaining blocks could net the city more. If JEA can get $40 million from issuing an RFP for a brownfield site, why not the city of Jacksonville, for the Northbank’s most sought after riverfront parcel?