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Visions of Yesteryear: The 1971 Downtown Master Plan

This is the redevelopment plan that started it all. MetroJacksonville brings to you the first of several competing visions of the city in the era of Downtown Demolition. Read it and give us your thoughts on the outcomes and even the unintended consequences of the 1971 Master Plan.

Published November 22, 2012 in History      21 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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INTRODUCTION:

By the 1970s, right off the heels of Axe Handle Saturday, downtown had become a decaying district suffering from many of the same factors that decimated urban cities throughout the United States, such as white flight, racism, and blight.

Mix in a draconian parking meter situation, toll bridges, poor marketing along with new suburban malls and you have a potent combination for ultimate failure.

To stop the hemorrhaging, a new public entity known as the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) was created. Unfortunately, instead of successful revitalization, the DDA would end up assuming the role of a bull with downtown being its own personal china shop. The famed 1971 Downtown Jacksonville Master Plan would be the first of many studies produced by this group that would eventually drive the final nail in the downtown’s retail scene’s coffin. Worst of all, the DDA had no problem spending taxpayer money as if it flowed freely from the land of milk and honey.

CONSULTANT:

Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky, and Lamb (RTKL) of Baltimore.  This firm was known for its impressive work on the Charles Center area in downtown Baltimore.  RTKL believed downtown revitalization would be most effective by transforming the area into a mall-like environment to help rejuvenate retail sales in an area that had suffered from the competition of new suburban malls like Regency, Gateway, Roosevelt, and Normandy Malls.


A sketch of the 1971 Master Plan from a Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce brochure about downtown revitalization.

THE TRANSPORTATION LOOP SYSTEM



A major part of the plan was to separate vehicular and pedestrian traffic throughout the downtown core.  A new loop system was the solution recommended by RKTL.  Vehicular traffic would be routed around the heart of the Northbank and in the process, converting the core of downtown into a large pedestrian mall. The Loop system consisted of converting Water, Ocean, Beaver, and Pearl Streets into a one way outer loop, while turning Main, Ashley, Julia, and Bay Streets into the inner loop.  Parking garages and surface lots containing at least 5,000 spaces would then be constructed along the loop streets.

PEDESTRIAN MALL



A pedestrian street or pedestrian mall is a street where pedestrian traffic is given partial or total priority over all other kinds of traffic. It is a limited form of an auto-free zone. Under the 1971 plan, Hogan between Duval and Bay, Laura between Church and Bay and Duval/Monroe, between Hogan and Laura would have been converted into pedestrian use only.  This pedestrian only section of downtown, surrounded by the transportation loops, would be divided into three major sections.

1. New Riverfront Center
2. Laura / Hogan Axis
3. Retail Core Area


This illustration shows the entire plan of the proposed pedestrian mall concept.  Many buildings, such as the Snyder Memorial and Knight Lofts would have been demolished for this concept to be fully developed.

ELEVATED WALKWAYS



With the emphasis on completely separating pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the plan also called for a series of elevated walkways that would stretch from the river to the Cathedral Apartments off of Ocean Street.

1. NEW RIVERFRONT CENTER AREA



The Riverfront Center area would be the southern focal point of the pedestrian mall idea.  It would include a riverfront park, Convention Hotel, Exhibition Center, Sears Department Store, and a vertical financial-office complex that would bridge over Bay Street, as shown in the above section graphic.


2. LAURA / HOGAN AXIS



The Laura / Hogan Axis would serve as a retail connector and pedestrian zone between the River Center area, to the South, and the core retail area, that once surrounded Hemming Park.  The illustrations above are examples of what this corridor would resemble, when fully built out.

Another major element of the Laura/Hogan Axis was the Atlantic Bank Complex.  During this period, the bank had plans to construct new a headquarter tower on the corner of Forsyth and Hogan.  Once this tower was completed, the old Atlantic Bank complex would be converted into a retail / entertainment complex, featuring a movie theater complex and retail arcade, inside of the historic Atlantic Bank Tower.

RETAIL CORE AREA



For most of the 20th Century, the area around Hemming Park was the retail core for the entire city.  In the 1970s major anchors in this area included Ivey's, May-Cohens, JCPenney's, and Purcells. The 1971 plan suggested that Hemming Park should be paved over, forming a central plaza (3) for the pedestrian mall and a transit terminal for JTA buses (5).  Similar to Circle City Center in Indianapolis, an enclosed vertical retail galleria mall (1) would connect May-Cohens, Ivey's, and Purcells with a multi-level parking garage.

Other improvements included in this general area were the expansion of First Baptist Church (2) and landscaping improvements to Block 17 (4).



This illustration gives an idea of how the Retail Galleria would extend over the intersection of Laura and Church Streets.


A view of the Retail Galleria from Church & Main Streets. Notice the elevated courtyard and pedestrian walkway extending from Ivey's and the Universal Marion Building? Plans called for this walkway to connect the mall to the Cathedral Apartment Towers along Ocean Street.


The 1971 Master Plan also came complete with a scale model of build out, which was anticipated to be completed within 10 to 20 years.

IMPLEMENTATION

Now looking back, the implementation of the 1971 plan was foreshadowing of common pattern that continues to plague downtown today. While the plan was estimated to be fully complete within 20 years (1991), it never was and its partial implementation can be considered the final nail in the coffin.

HEMMING PARK BECOMES HEMMING PLAZA





Implementation of the 1971 plan was a very slow process.  The renovation of Hemming Park into an urban plaza was intended to be the pedestrian mall's first phase. The the first phase of the plaza was completed in 1978 for $648,000.  However, the $2.2 million second phase, which would involve closing streets and changing the traffic directional flow was delayed at the request of retail owners because they did not want construction to disrupt the holiday shopping season.  

The money set aside for phase 2, was then diverted to fund a railroad overpass on University Blvd near Phillips Hwy.  In 1981, new funds were diverted to fund the widening of 103rd Street.  

Construction finally got underway in 1984. Unfortunately several streets were closed during the construction phase and the project dragged on for two years.  For retailers who had been struggling for years to stay afloat, already dealing with the parking meter situation, urban blight, and aggressive marketing from suburban malls, the retail core's three major retailers (May-Cohens, JCPenney, and Ivey's) all shut down within a few months of each other.

With no major retail anchors and the Landing planned for the waterfront, the 1971 master plan was officially dead.



Several private sector projects were constructed during this era, in accordance with the plan.  They included FCCJ, Atlantic Bank (now BB&T), Independent Life (MODIS) and the sheriff's station on the corner of Liberty and Bay.  



Elements of the 1971 plan can still be seen today. The photo above points out a few:

A.  Atlantic Bank (BB&T) - the elevated courtyard was supposed to be a part of the elevated walkway system.
B.  The stop lights and streetlights throughout downtown, come from the 1971 plan.
C.  This courtyard at the JEA complex (originally Ivey's Department Store and the Universal Marion Building, was supposed to be a part of the Retail Galleria Mall.
D.  Today's building-less Main Street is a direct result of the plan.  The plan endorsed using eminent domain to demolish structures along the "Loop" streets, so that surface parking lots and garages could be built in their place.

Not Shown: The Main Street Bridge Ramps:  This ramp system was another segment of the "Loop" system.

CONCLUSION:

The test of time has revealed that the 1971 plan had both good and bad components.  The good, being the Retail Galleria, which would have connected three existing department stores, similar to popular downtown malls in Norfolk and Indianapolis. The bad, being the loop system, which still diverts vehicular traffic away from the retail core today, as well as confuse the few visiting tourist who do come downtown. Then the ugly, which was the idea of constructing elevated covered walkways throughout the core, as if this community was located in Siberia or the Northpole.

A major flaw in this plan was that it did not directly deal with the negative factors that hindered retail growth in the core, such as parking meters, lack of directional signage and crime, all of which can be summed up as creating a non-user friendly and hostile retail environment.

In any event, this was only the first of several, after 1970, that have combined to form the downtown that exists today.

**In 2006, the staff of Metro Jacksonville spent considerable time studying several former plans that have collected dust in the bowels of City Hall over the decades. In an effort to show how much money, time and effort has been wasted over the years with consultant fees and public development ideas, it is our quest to share as much of this information with the general public as possible. The overall goal is to raise public awareness to get to the point where we can move on to addressing the nagging issues that have plagued the core for decades.**

This article was originally released by Metro Jacksonville as a part of the Downtown Frankenstein Series on October 12, 2006.







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21 Comments

Bativac

September 11, 2009, 08:54:39 AM
This is really interesting. I didn't realize the city had been trying to revitalize downtown since the 1970s. Can there still be hope at this point? I ask as a 30 year old who has never really seen downtown as anything but a few office buildings and a lot of empty storefronts...

civil42806

September 11, 2009, 09:30:12 AM
Seen this before, it was incredibly unrealistict then,  andd nothing has changed.  Sure the consulting firms made a huge amount of money though

heights unknown

September 11, 2009, 10:43:43 AM
Never knew this plan was enacted or even existed.  This explains why numerous city blocks were demolished, not on purpose but in anticipation possibly of this plan.  So, we can deduce from this that downtown's potential was blocked, cancelled, and never allowed to progress to its ultimate goal intended potential.  I always thought they demolished the historic buildings and city blocks on purpose with no thought out plan, but looking at this plan I was wrong, and, looking more closely at this plan, it appears it (demolition of historic buildings, etc.) was all done in anticipation of this plan coming to fruition with a vibrant, second to none downtown.

I could be wrong but I strongly believe that was the case from looking at this plan.

Heights Unknown

Ocklawaha

September 11, 2009, 10:51:25 AM
Want another shock? Jim Cattlet, leader of the DDA organization, agreed and promoted a heritage streetcar line. DDA even published a "study," suggesting that streetcars were the answer to downtown development and tourism in the Urban Core. I spoke to the DDA both in closed meetings as well as on stage in front of everybody and anybody downtown.

OCKLAWAHA

stephendare

September 11, 2009, 11:56:17 AM
This was the plan which began the dynamiting of downtown in earnest.

Problem was, once they tore down the buildings, they never built the rest of it.

It also the origin of the "downtown seam" favored by champion dynamiter Jack Diamond.

He still entertains a private fantasy of dynamiting all of the buildings between Main and Ocean, from Bay Street to Union, in order to put in a vast park boulevard.

So that downtown can be like Paris, he informed us.

thelakelander

September 11, 2009, 12:02:25 PM
I'm not sure the residents of 11 East and fans of BG would like his ideas on the DT seam.  You can't put Paris or DC in DT Jax.  You have design according to your own physical, historical, social and economic atmosphere.

vicupstate

September 11, 2009, 12:06:50 PM
This is really interesting. I didn't realize the city had been trying to revitalize downtown since the 1970s. Can there still be hope at this point? I ask as a 30 year old who has never really seen downtown as anything but a few office buildings and a lot of empty storefronts...

Nearly any city of any size has been trying to bring back it's downtown since the '70s.  That's is when the  'Malling of America' was in full swing.  For years many tried to make DT into a mall, which is essentially what this master plan was seeking to do.  Albeit, this particular plan was more unrealistic than most.

Over time, most cities came to realize that going back to what made Downtowns work in the first place, is what needed to be done.  Trying to replicate a mall physically was a widespread mistake.  Putting suburban style office parks in the urban DT was tried too, with little overall success.  

Since the '90's, many cities, particularly the larger ones, have found the right formula.  Jax is still way behind the curve on that though.   The new plans for Met Park prove that, IMO.

Downtown can't be just retail, or office, or tourists venues, it has to be an integrated mix of many uses.  
That 'formula', of course, is discussed in this forum non-stop.

So to answer your question, no, it is not too late.  But it is getting tiresome waiting for someone with authority to actually see the light.    

jeh1980

September 11, 2009, 12:32:31 PM
I know that at least 60 to 80% of the project was already done.

Modis Tower (Independent Square) - summer 1975
Block 12 - late 70s
Convention Hotel (Omni) - 1987
Wachovia Tower - 1986
Covered walkways - @ First Baptist Church
BB&T - early 1975
Street lamps and stop lights installed
Riverfront Center and Museum Cultural Center - probably replaced by Jacksonville Landing - 1987
FCCJ - 1977
Police Memorial Building - 1977
Hemming Park renovated - changed into Hemming Plaza - 1978

All is not lost really. At least I thought it had some success. But I know we can do a lot more real soon. Keep the faith!

stephendare

September 11, 2009, 12:33:58 PM
you got that right vicupstate.

Jacksonville has truly missed some great opportunities through lack of vision, and unfortunately the city is going to pay the price for it during this downturn.

Starting in July of this year, the number of reposessed cars began an sharp upward tick along with the general number of bankruptcies.  One of the first things given up in a BK is the new car.

Can you imagine the impact of even 1% more of our population going carless in this city with transit system that is complete inadequate for the needs of students?

mrbeary

September 13, 2009, 09:42:05 PM
Interesting that 1st Baptist got their Light House regardless...Jax is in good hands :0

David

September 14, 2009, 05:04:13 AM
Quote
The money set aside for phase 2, was then diverted to fund a railroad overpass on University Blvd near Phillips Hwy.

In defense, that overpass was badly needed on University Blvd. I was only a kid at the time, but I remember the trains would hold us up for a ridicliously long time when going to school. Reading this triggered that childhood memory actually, thanks MJ! Back when University blvd had a drive in movie theater and a Krispy Kreme.....

I wish they would've gone through with The Musuem Cultural Center though. That looked promising.

stephendare

September 14, 2009, 02:32:47 PM
Anyone catch the motorized sidewalks in this plan?

finehoe

September 14, 2009, 09:08:31 PM
As late as the 90s, Jax planners were still singing the praises of elevated skywalks and pedestrian bridges.  I remember reading a quote in the T-U from one who claimed that no city that he knew of had revived its downtown without them.  Let's hope the clueless fool has since retired.

stephendare

September 14, 2009, 09:10:18 PM
lol.  any idea who that was?

finehoe

September 14, 2009, 09:28:37 PM
lol.  any idea who that was?
Unfortunately, no.

BackinJax05

November 22, 2012, 11:55:16 AM
This plan looks like it had a few good ideas, and a few bad ones as well. Problem is, typical Jacksonville, the plan was implemented half @SSed and done on the cheap - while the city fathers patted themselves on the back & acted like they did something really special.

Of course if this plan had been fully implememted, we wouldnt have that eyesore "Helmut's pencil" dominating our skyline today.

I have faint memories of the Hemming Park band shell.

Debbie Thompson

November 22, 2012, 12:20:22 PM
I get so discouraged reading these old threads, because we are still making the same mistakes.  Over and over...and over.  While other cities are getting their act together and making the capital commitments necessary to bring their downtowns back, Jacksonville keeps spinning it's wheels.

Other cities are making the most of their old buildings.  We are tearing them down. Other cities are re-building street car lines, a tourist attraction if there ever was one (ask San Francisco.)  We come up with stupid BRT.  Other cities are making downtown great places to be.  We are building government buildings and closing streets.  Other cities are building retail.  We are building retail-less parking garages in a downtown that has little retail and more parking that it needs now.  Other cities are making the most of their close-in historic neighborhoods.  We do our best to bulldoze them and turn them into Gatsby-esqe Wastelands.

I honestly can't blame our surburbanites for not caring about downtown at this point. They have seen millions and millions of taxpayer dollars go to poor planning and execution for decades

Where are the leaders with vision and the will to make it happen?  Is Jacksonville destined to be a back-water joke forever?

stephendare

November 22, 2012, 12:28:59 PM
I get so discouraged reading these old threads, because we are still making the same mistakes.  Over and over...and over.  While other cities are getting their act together and making the capital commitments necessary to bring their downtowns back, Jacksonville keeps spinning it's wheels.

Other cities are making the most of their old buildings.  We are tearing them down. Other cities are re-building street car lines, a tourist attraction if there ever was one (ask San Francisco.)  We come up with stupid BRT.  Other cities are making downtown great places to be.  We are building government buildings and closing streets.  Other cities are building retail.  We are building retail-less parking garages in a downtown that has little retail and more parking that it needs now.  Other cities are making the most of their close-in historic neighborhoods.  We do our best to bulldoze them and turn them into Gatsby-esqe Wastelands.

I honestly can't blame our surburbanites for not caring about downtown at this point. They have seen millions and millions of taxpayer dollars go to poor planning and execution for decades

Where are the leaders with vision and the will to make it happen?  Is Jacksonville destined to be a back-water joke forever?

we are those leaders Debbie.  You included.

Ive been reading these threads as well with you, and I have to say that there seems to be some kind of disconnect with what people have been complaining about and what they actually proposed that we do to solve those problems.

For example, the outcome of the planning videos that channel four produced in 1965 was this 1971 plan.

Can you see the basic problem with the solutions that they proposed, and the weird compromises that they made?

The answer to the dilemna was not to create the 1970s version of 'plazas' in Hemming Park.

It wasnt to have elevated mechanical sidewalks that pulled all life off the streets.

It wasnt to reduce walkability.

We correctly identified the growing hostility to people in the downtown, but the answer wasnt to tear everything down and redesign for cars on the groundlevel and pedestrian walkways with no access to commercial ventures.

I think we have begun to reverse that wrong headed thinking----meaning all of us over the past five years.

But keep in mind that it was literally the same group of people making the same kinds of suggestions for the previous 40 years.

JayBird

November 23, 2012, 02:56:04 PM
I get so discouraged reading these old threads, because we are still making the same mistakes.  Over and over...and over.  While other cities are getting their act together and making the capital commitments necessary to bring their downtowns back, Jacksonville keeps spinning it's wheels.

Other cities are making the most of their old buildings.  We are tearing them down. Other cities are re-building street car lines, a tourist attraction if there ever was one (ask San Francisco.)  We come up with stupid BRT.  Other cities are making downtown great places to be.  We are building government buildings and closing streets.  Other cities are building retail.  We are building retail-less parking garages in a downtown that has little retail and more parking that it needs now.  Other cities are making the most of their close-in historic neighborhoods.  We do our best to bulldoze them and turn them into Gatsby-esqe Wastelands.

I honestly can't blame our surburbanites for not caring about downtown at this point. They have seen millions and millions of taxpayer dollars go to poor planning and execution for decades

Where are the leaders with vision and the will to make it happen?  Is Jacksonville destined to be a back-water joke forever?

+1

gypsie2009

April 14, 2014, 11:42:19 AM
I am an "old" native and have seen this play,re-play, and process come and go for 61/2 decades. It's failures are directly related to horrible City Council leadership, refusal to work with past and present Mayors, and religious agendas. There is total disregard for our ecological responsibilities, corruption throughout every segment of our government, especially our prison system,educational system,code enforcement divisions,and offices like the D.A. These people do not have a clue of how to run a city. They are more like actors in a bad play. They are either poorly educated,uneducated, or just plain obtuse. They only know how to govern from their perspective which is usually from an interpretation of some form of religion. We have wasted billions on non-profit schemes,poor choices in hiring firms outside of our city or state, and our quality of life has gotten worse by the decade. This was a great town at one time. It is now slow to change and react to a fast paced tech based world.
OneSpark was a chaotic example of a good idea gone bad.What I saw downtown was a lot of drunks,nowhere to park,and a pandering to figure out what poor people would buy. It was more like a third world bizarre than a platform of innovation. I didn't see a thing I'd not seen before.It was not even close to being handicapped accessible.

stephendare

April 14, 2014, 11:45:06 AM
Ive been in market places in the 'Third World', Gypsie, and I don't think ive ever heard of a less accurate comparison really.
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