Peyton's Struggles: The Convention Center

January 19, 2009 46 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

"There are many pressing priorities in the community. Right now, those don't include a new convention center." Former Peyton spokeswoman Susie Wiles - 07/30/05


Jacksonville Terminal is currently serving as the city's convention center, forcing JTA to build a transportation center on the surrounding blocks.


A study by the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus indicates convention-goers spend an average of $266 a day, or $945 per event, during a typical 3.5-day stay.

According to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Jacksonville attracted 6.6 million visitors in 2004, spending $2.5 billion on hotels, dining, shopping, entertainment and transportation.  The direct impact on the economy was to the tune of $4.3 billion.

Despite being the main convention facility in the country's 45th largest metropolitan area, the Prime Osborn ranks 205th in the nation as a meeting and exhibit center.

Examples of cities with larger convention centers:

Exhibition hall square footage - City

320,000 - Louisville, KY
280,000 - Charlotte, NC
230,000 - Greenville, SC
220,000 - Birmingham, AL
199,992 - Knoxville, TN
135,000 - Charleston, SC
119,000 - Nashville, TN
102,600 - Tulsa, OK
100,000 - Mobile, AL
 95,006 - Shreveport, LA
 93,000 - Witchita, KS
 78,540 - Jacksonville, FL


With 78,500sf of exhibit space, the Prime Osborn is large enough for just 5% of all conventions in the United States. Studies show that increasing the square footage to 250,000sf would increase that figure to roughly 60%, thus giving the city a realistic chance to complete in this convention business.

Since 1999, almost $300,000 in hotel taxes has been spent on three convention center studies.  Two others have been commissioned by private entities.  Recommendations from those studies have ended up collecting dust because city leaders have not shown interest in doing anything about Jacksonville's convention center situation.

Diamond stops, Peyton not interested

Diamond and former CVB President Kitty Ratcliffe made at least 80 speeches since fall 2003 to build community support for a convention center.

They said a center needed 10 to 15 acres and land for expansion and said the basic building box would cost $100 million, not counting land, fees, equipment and all that goes with it. They said it could be financed with part of the bed tax.

Former Mayor Jake Godbold, a chief challenger, maintained costs were closer to $400 million and called a new riverfront center "the most stupid idea I've heard in my life."

Peyton, meanwhile, maintained that he had too much on his plate to even think about it. He didn't have the money nor the willpower to take on another city project. He apparently still doesn't.

One of the major problems in refusing to deal with the convention center is that all urban projects can have a significant impact on nearby development.


The Jacksonville Transportation Center

Next to raising money, Miller said JTA has focused first on cultivating the partnerships needed for a project of the transportation center’s size and scope. A Monday update meeting in Council member Elaine Brown’s City Hall office brought together representatives from the mayor’s office, state officials, property owners, Brown and Council member Reggie Fullwood.

Next JTA hopes to engage Northeast Florida’s lawmakers. Federal funds are being counted on to pay 80 percent of the center’s cost, leaving the state and City to pay the rest. Most of the money currently pledged to the project comes from the federal government, including a $1 million outlay from a 2004 transportation bill.

Brown, one of the project’s key backers, has told Mayor John Peyton that the City could pay its share by contributing land and investing in infrastructure, including a parking garage.

JTA CEO Mike Blaylock told Peyton in a letter that owning the land was important to convince federal funding agents that the City is serious about the project.

The project’s early development stalled a bit due to its planned connection to a new convention center. Peyton has said a new convention center isn’t a priority.

But the transportation center is now viewed as a first step with a decision on a convention center to come later.

Transportation center will cost $86 million - Jax Daily Record 2/15/06

While there may not be money set aside for an expanded or new convention center, ignoring the topic because of the city's current financial picture does a disservice to the community.

Not only is there no long range solution to the convention center issue, it has resulted in additional hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on the design of an inefficient, multiple block intermodal transportation center.

The current JTC Plan

Not user friendly: Because the convention center occupies the old rail terminal, a passenger transferring from commuter rail to BRT or the Skyway will be required to walk three blocks between modes.

No convention center:

This illustration shows how a compact and efficient transportation center could be created if the convention center were removed from the rail terminal.

“We want it and need it, but the current feeling of our board is that a new or expanded convention center should be part of an overall master plan,” said John Reyes, president of Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It will make sense in the overall growth of the city. We think we can continue our message as part of an overall plan.”

CVB taking new approach to new convention center - Jax Daily Record - 2/7/06

Seattle's urban convention center by Kevin Devin at

While this may be an issue best suited for a future administration, as Mr. Reyes suggested three years ago, a convention center solution should at least be a part of the downtown master plan.  Knowing where public facilities are to be relocated or expanded leads to other projects not being held hostage to public indecision.

Because, at this point, two things are certain.  Jacksonville's limited and aging convention facility is causing the city to miss out on millions in tourism dollars and indecision has resulted in the creation of a poor land grabbing transportation center design.

As mentioned in a Jacksonville Times Union editorial, it is past time for the city to figure out how it can take full advantage of its geography and other assets to cash in.

The Prime Osborne Convention Center fails to attract conventions because of space limitations.


CVB taking new approach to new convention center - Jax Daily Record - 2/7/06

Transportation center will cost $86 million - Jax Daily Record 2/15/06

Local Hotels: Build new convention center - Jax Daily Record - 4/14/06 - 08/17/06

Diamond's stumping, but few listen

Study gives insight to top spots

NEWS ANALYSIS: Convention debate goes to a new forum -- the public 10/15/06