The second part of the acclaimed Downtown White Paper of 1992. Produced by a select group of professionals, architects, and gentlemen businessmen, the White Paper confronted the nightmare scenario left in the wake of the cities ill managed Hemming Park improvement project. Reeling from the shocking loss of 4 million square feet of retail in 2 years, the unwinding of the office lease market, and the beginning signs of failure from the Riverfront projects, listen as the Blue Ribbon Panel makes proposals to save the sinking downtown.
What Should We Do to Reverse the Decline of Downtown Jacksonville?
While CJI recognizes that Jacksonville's downtown experienced considerable growth and achievement during the late 1970s and through the mid-1980s, it also believes that, since the mid to late 1980s the area has been in serious decline. That decline can still be reversed through private initiative and reasonable governmental assistance. A later section of this study recommends some ways in which government leaders, business leaders and ordinary citizens can make downtown Jacksonville the prosperous, growing and vital area that is so important to the City's future. Some of these goals can be accomplished in the near future; others will take years to accomplish. Nevertheless, it is crucial that a vision for downtown Jacksonville be developed through consensus and this vision be brought to realty through the concerted effort of Jacksonville's citizens and their leaders. This study is intended to be a first step toward reaching a consensus and achieving the realty. The development and achievements experienced during the brief span ending in the 1980s should not be viewed 50 years from now as the pinnacle of downtown Jacksonville's history. CJI strongly believes that the citizens of Jacksonville must move their downtown forward, together.
The following steps — individually and collectively — address immediate and long- term actions that CJI believes will help downtown Jacksonville move toward recovery. These seemingly diverse elements should be viewed as components of a coherent, fully integrated campaign. Each individual step will effect an improvement, but as a comprehensive multi-faceted program, the fully orchestrated effort will achieve disproportionately positive results.
Adoption of A Practical Master Plan
It is recommended that a master plan for downtown be created based on the City's 2010 Comprehensive Plan and the Initial Action Plan adopted by the City Council in 1987 after extensive public input. The plan should be realistic and flexible enough to accommodate changing circumstances and must provide for realistic enforcement measures. The core city area is currently subject to the provisions of development orders covering the three downtown developments of regional impact (DRIs). These development orders are currently in the process of being consolidated through the efforts of the DDA. The DRI structure provides a very good framework for implementing a masterplan that would incorporate a number of the recommendations that follow in this report.
Creation of a Distinctive "Jacksonville Heritage District"
Among the planning objectives should be a concentration of public and quasi-public facilities (museums, convention facilities, performing arts centers, etc.) so that they reinforce each other in a symbiotic way. Existing facilities in Jacksonville are currently widely dispersed, forcing each unit to exist in isolation and operate independently, thus minimizing the leveraging effect that such facilities can have if properly concentrated. For example, the Prime Osborn Convention Center is located 3/4 miles west of the City's hotels and downtown restaurants, and the Gator Bowl/Coliseum/Metropolitan Park complex is located nearly as far to the east. While this situation is a fact that cannot be changed, further dispersion can be discouraged and in-filling can and should be encouraged. Ideally, the City's major cultural, dining and entertaining facilities should be located within a shopping-cultural-entertainment "district" compact enough to allow patrons to walk between the various facilities. Those facilities not within walking distance of the central district can be integrated through the ASE and its proposed extensions and through dedicated ground and water transportation. Concentration would greatly encourage secondary development of shops and restaurants and would give visitors an enhanced sense of safety. Special design standards and upgraded "finish" to the streets, parks and other public facilities should be provided to set this area apart as an attraction for visitors. The DDA's efforts in proposing upgraded design standards for the core city should be supported and acceptable standards written into the development order or otherwise enacted in an enforceable form. The City's current downtown street renovation project represents another major step toward creating the sort of pedestrian-friendly district necessary for downtown revitalization. That project, when completed, will substantially upgrade the utility and appearance of downtown streets, particularly in the Laura and Hogan Streets corridor between the Landing and Hemming Plaza. Those two streets and the cross-streets between them will be substantially enhanced through brick work in the sidewalk and street intersections and through attractive new pedestrian lighting, as well as other upgrades.
The current efforts of the City with respect to downtown design and street improvements are a necessary first step but are not sufficient in themselves to turn around the decline in downtown. The downtown street projects represent a multi-million dollar attempt to revitalize downtown. It will take more than enhanced public improvements to stem the decline, however.
CJI also recommends that a distinctive name be adopted for the downtown shopping-cultural-entertainment district. This report will refer to that district as the "Heritage District," in recognition of the importance that the area has always had in the history of Jacksonville.
Of course, this justification falls disastrously apart once you consider that the historic streets are being recognized for their contribution to our heritage by being torn up and completely repaved. There is no indication as to what colorful brick pavers or well designed ground cover at strategic intersection are supposed to do to create any type of street life or business development. One could plausibly speculate that there is some hitherto unnoticed subspecies of human that is irresistibly drawn in great numbers to trickily patterned street pavers, but one would still be unable to explain how the presence of pavement aficionados, even in great numbers, would boost the economic life of a city in one iota. Unless of course, it were a city that specialized in the production and design of colorful street pavers. Then and only then would this make sense to anyone, even people who could be rightfully described as mad about bricks. This is so ridiculous that only an architect could possess the colossally misplaced sense of the value of pavers necessary to make such a proposal possible.
There is also no justification given for the claim that the cities "street renovation project represents another major step toward creating the sort of pedestrian-friendly district necessary for downtown revitalization" or how this, in any way, contributes to a "Heritage District", of any conceivable sort. A major step toward creating a pedestrian friendly district would have been to open twenty shops that the grossly underestimated pedestrian might pedestrate to.
Again, this is the kind of nonsense that is only possible amongst a group of architects trying to explain the behavior of 'pedestrians' to a group of private club members who would recoil from the very thought of being a member of the pedestrian class.
Also notable is the theoretical reliance on the Skyway system along with undefined 'water and ground' transport to connect Metropolitan Park, The Omni Hotel, and The 'Convention Center'.
Consider this for a moment. Hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations, Skyway construction, and incentives in the misguided belief that if only potential conventioneers could easily access a large facility, a park with 10 events (tops) per year and a single hotel, that the resulting godless horde of visitors would save the downtown through their sheer numbers.
The reasoning behind this is not so easily explained through the simple mechanism of professional attachment to colorful paver designs. This kind of reasoning normally requires a good deal more behind it. Namely a half bottle of Scotch per person involved in the discussion. Perhaps if there were some historic justification that would lead anyone to believe that our downtown could host at least 52 major conventions a year, there might be some slender thread of credence to this proposal, but frankly, in the absence of anything like a track record, the idea verges on ludicrous. This torch was carried by Bucky Clarkson and Jack Diamond, and has been impervious to any outside analysis.
The only thing for certain about this major proposal is that it failed utterly. Almost all traces of any historic districts or the grand heritage of this city were dynamited out of the ground. La Villa was subsequently leveled, along with another 50% of the cities historic building stock, including the bordello district of Houston Street.
The colored bricks and historic lighting, attractive and clever, though they failed to elicit anything more than a wheeze and the occasional wad of chewed gum. In the absence of any investment into small businesses and the application of predatory parking enforcement policies, the majority of small business that opened in the city core from that point until the present has been bankrupted within five years.
Security within the downtown core must be enhanced to overcome the erroneous public perception that residents, workers and visitors are less safe than in suburban areas. Data from the Jacksonville Sheriff's office show that police beats in the downtown area actually have fewer violent crimes and property crimes than the average beats in other parts of the City. Nevertheless, the public perception of downtown is that it is a crime-ridden area. CJI strongly recommends that the City promptly create a highly visible Heritage District security force headquartered in a substation located in the Laura/Hogan Street retail corridor. The patrolmen should preferably be on foot or bicycle and be in nearly constant view of pedestrians, particularly after dark. Such a move would do much to dispel the perception of high crime and would give employees and patrons of downtown businesses and entertainment facilities the sense of security needed to keep or bring people downtown after dark.
Development of New Cultural Facilities
Through a combination of private and public financial incentives, it is recommended that a new or existing museum (possibly the Jacksonville Art Museum) be encouraged to locate in the Jacksonville Heritage District. It is also suggested that another museum or attraction be recruited or developed to anchor the east end of the Northbank Riverfront Park now being built, with Jacksonville Landing serving as the western anchor. It is important that both ends of the Northbank Park have major attractions, in order to create pedestrian traffic throughout the area.
In addition to attracting new cultural facilities, Jacksonville needs to completely renovate the existing Civic Auditorium. This facility, once a state-of-the-art auditorium, has been badly neglected in recent years. Recent proposals for converting the Civic Auditorium into a modern performing arts center need to be supported. Given its central location, this facility could be the catalyst needed to spark a downtown cultural revival.
Creation of a Governmental Campus on Hemming Plaza
The most serious deterioration in downtown has occurred in the area around Hemming Plaza, until ten years ago the heart of the City. This area, which a decade ago bustled with shoppers and diners, is today virtually abandoned. However, this area also contains one of the City's most beautiful, historically important and serviceable buildings, the St. James Building, to the north of the Plaza, and a number of other functional, attractive but severely under-utilized buildings nearby. CJI strongly endorses the proposal to create a City governmental "campus" centered on Hemming Plaza. Eventually, as the economic climate improves and demand for increased office and retail space recovers, the City should consider the conversion of existing waterfront facilities to private use, thus putting these valuable properties on the tax rolls and realizing their highest and best use. The move would release a potential ____ square feet of prime riverfront office space, which could generate in excess of $2 million in new tax revenue. This property would be linked to the Northbank Riverfront Park.
The creation at Hemming Plaza of a governmental campus would serve as a vital northern anchor of the Jacksonville Heritage District centered along the Hogan and Laura corridor. It would also serve as a catalyst for additional development of urban retail, housing and support services between Hemming Plaza and the River. The creation of a five-block shopping/dining corridor along Laura and Hogan Streets from Hemming Plaza to Jacksonville Landing would increase retail opportunities dramatically.
The location of a governmental campus in the Hemming Plaza area would benefit greatly from the extension of the Automatic Skyway Express up Hogan Street to State Street. The location of a station (already planned) on Hemming Plaza would provide easy, cheap and convenient transportation to city government workers and the many citizens who deal with city government. The creation of this major employment center would also help ensure the success and cost-effectiveness of the ASE, which has been plagued by low ridership since the completion of its first leg.
The City has already made a significant investment in the Hemming Plaza area through the acquisition by the JEA of the former Charter Security Life Building and the former Ivey's department store building. While CJI recognizes the JEA's move as a major contribution to downtown redevelopment, it believes that only the creation of a major multi-agency campus will provide the critical mass and, equally important, the symbolic commitment that is needed to anchor the Jacksonville Heritage District.
In 1992, the necessity for mixed use zoning was little known and seldom implemented. Plus they were gun-shy. Since some of the very members of this committee had been advocates of the improvement project which destroyed Hemming Park by turning it into Hemming Plaza, certainly it was in their best interests to clean up the mess left in its wake as quickly as possible. Converting the now desolate area into a Government Center achieved both goals--preserving the historic buildings and covering up the city killing mistake of the original plan.
But again, consider that there is not any mention of how to build in street vibrancy, or life at night or to guarantee any reason to attract residents to the core. The assumption, clearly outlined in the proposal, is merely that people would want to live near a government center. Again, no other reason is given, and indeed it is unlikely that any other reason was considered. Question? Answer!
Also there is this pervasive belief that an economy is--or for that matter, can be---stimulated by acts of symbolism. This is the mentality of the professions, perhaps. But natural business growth and interdependent business districts requires more than symbolism or single reason motivations in order to cause or create. Consider this statement from the White Paper: "Only the creation of a major multi-agency campus will provide the critical mass and, equally important, the symbolic commitment that is needed to anchor the Jacksonville Heritage District" Does it make any sense? Does a multi agency campus create critical mass? What kind of critical mass does it create? It brings together perhaps three thousand people---What do those three thousand people do with the mass that is created by their togetherness if they all go home to the suburbs at 6. Perhaps if there had been street level retail built into the government campuses, there might be an argument that economic activity was stimulated. Perhaps if they weren't required to park cars completely outside of the district in garages that close at nightfall. But this was not the case. So we are left once again with the hypothetical 'critical mass'. The Paper claims that this Critical Mass will provide 'symbolic commitment'? It goes on to imply that Symbolic Commitment is needed to anchor the Jacksonville Historic District.
What the downtown needed was shops and industry. It needed (and still needs) economic systems of interrelated businesses in which it was possible to create wealth. Yet this blue ribbon panel is advocating instead that symbols and 'critical mass' will somehow combine to create a mysterious but apparently magical 'anchor' to a "Heritage District" which is apparently based on well designed brick paving applications and attractive street lights.
Land Banking and Incentives
To further encourage downtown redevelopment, CJI suggests that consideration be given to "land-banking" downtown property to be used for inducing future development. "Land-banking" is a mechanism of urban renewal whereby the City acquires blighted and under-utilized property to be held and later sold as the City's revitalization efforts begin to create demand.
The acquired land could be utilized to induce certain major businesses (those that would be compatible with the area and promote additional development) to locate in the Heritage District. By committing land for private development, the City could offer a large employer significant benefits such as lower development costs, ready access to public transportation and parking facilities, and the ability to competitively draw employees from the entire metropolitan area. This type development would provide:
•A dramatic increase in downtown population.
•An increase in surrounding property values with a boost in property tax revenues.
•An increase in retail merchants.
•Fuller utilization of the ASE.
•A central employment location easily accessible by public transportation.
•Significant job opportunities for persons living in and in close proximity to downtown.
Additionally, incentives such as matching grants, low interest loans or participating loans should be offered for a limited period of time to those small businesses willing to renovate existing blighted space or open new facilities for retail, dining or entertainment use, particularly those that would remain open in the evening. Again, the City would offer incentives only if those incentives could reasonably be expected to produce a multiplier or leveraging effect in the District.
But even without the practical experience that we have from today's viewpoint, why was there any belief that the city----with no financial or development experience whatsoever, employing academics and marketing professionals ---would be any better equipped to decide commercial land use than the actual Business Community? The outcome could have clearly been deduced from the expectation that "Again, the City would offer incentives only if those incentives could reasonably be expected to produce a multiplier or leveraging effect in the District". How exactly one would gauge the 'multiplier effect'---much less the more subtle but trickier to explain 'leveraging effect'---of a potential project while still in the planning stages is the greatest trick of all.
Then there is the matter of who determines what 'blighted or underutilized' means. And how long such property should be 'held'. For an example of 'land banking', see the Pocket Park across the street from the Library on Main St. There are exactly no businesses that have opened as a result of that bit of land banking. On the other hand, revenues have increased around that property in the high zeros. One is left again with a basic observation that escaped our group of architects, attorneys and distinguished board members.
Whenever property is not being used in an urban environment it is a detraction from the business community, not an asset. 'Landbanking' by its very definition guarantees the non use of a property. It is a development killer if the non use continues habitually or for too long. In the case of Jacksonville it resulted in both strategies being deployed.
What connection even a credulous person was supposed to make between city owned (and therefore undeveloped) properties and the 'fuller utilization of the Skyway' was supposed to make is left completely unexplained. Apparently the CJI (the group responsible for the White Paper) was under the impression that you could just unpack a whole box of ASE on every street corner with minimal assembly and a few large car batteries.
"Capitalizing" Tax Increment Income
It is also strongly recommended that the City consider municipal bonds as a source of funding to achieve not only the "land banking" proposed above but also many of the downtown infrastructure and capital improvements suggested in this report or otherwise needed. A portion of revenues generated by the Downtown Tax Increment Districts (TIDs) could be pledged to retire the bond debt. Currently the downtown receives only a small portion of the tax increment dollars generated by the downtown TIDs (less than $1.5 million out of approximately $7 million annually).
This form of financing could generate in excess of $30 million to be pledged for downtown improvements, facilities or attractions. These facilities and the new business which they will help generate will continue to provide additional tax revenues long after the bonds have been retired.
Development of Mass Transportation
A city-wide and fully integrated mass transit system utilizing light rail and bus transportation should be encouraged, focusing on the Automated Skyway Express as the hub. This system would greatly reduce the need to rely on automobile access to the core city, with its associated congestion and pollution.
Specifically, the existing Automated Skyway Express should be extended north from the present Omni Hotel terminus to the Downtown Campus of Florida Community College and possibly further north to serve the Northside residential areas and hospital complexes; south over the St. Johns River to the Southbank where it could connect with light rail commuter lines from the south, possibly along existing rail right-of-way; and east to the Gator Bowl Complex. A light rail commuter line could be constructed (possibly along existing rail right-of-way) to serve Orange Park and other fast-growing southern and southwestern suburbs.
Affordably priced parking facilities to encourage suburban utilization of the Automated Skyway Express and other forms of mass transit should be strategically located at the perimeter of the downtown area at the termini of the ASE. Later, as commuter rail is constructed, these parking facilities would be relocated to the suburban stations served by the rail system. Supporting bus transportation networks should be established to interface with the ASE-light rail system, supplement existing service and provide access to peripheral parking. The JTA and DDA have already proposed construction of a modern bus terminal near the State Street ASE station. This proposal should be supported. It will not only be a great convenience to riders but will eliminate the existing heavy bus traffic around Hemming Plaza and throughout the Hogan-Laura corridor. This existing traffic is not compatible with the activities contemplated for this area.
It cannot be ignored that the proposal for mass transit contemplates the extension of the skyway to possible light rail lines which could potentially connect to orange park, the municipal stadium, perhaps select neighborhoods of the northside, and rail lines from 'the south'.
In all of the entire report, this is the closest that the panel comes to a concept that has real economic merit, and the halfhearted endorsement clearly misses the importance of establishing immediate carless (and therefore traffic free) transit from the wealthy suburbs (and actual customers) and the downtown. Customers would provide at least half of the ingredients required for commerce after all.
However, the insistence on justifying the Skyway clouds the conversation, and the proposal hits on something useful without ever scoring the point.
Visual Enhancement of Downtown
It is also important to a downtown renaissance and the creation of a distinctive and attractive Heritage District that practical design standards be adopted and that the creation of greenspaces, both large and small, be encouraged and, in some cases, mandated. As the downtown area is developed, it is crucial to control development through strong but practical architectural and landscape standards and incentives in order to enhance the distinctiveness of the District. These standards and incentives might include such elements as:
•Promptly improving the appearance of the gateways to downtown, particularly those interchanges along I-95 and the streets leading from them into downtown.
•Encouraging street level frontage devoted to "pedestrian friendly" retail.
•Encouraging public art.
•Strengthening existing landscape ordinances as applied to the downtown area.
•Adopting and funding an aggressive urban forestry program.
•Mandatory window displays in vacant storefronts.
•Utilizing land-banked properties as parks pending redevelopment.
Most important of all, the City must commit to a much higher standard of maintenance and cleanliness than that which exists at present. Those who visit cities such as Portland are particularly impressed with the level of care and attention given to details such as litter pick-up, touch-up painting, mowing, edging and weeding. This level of care must be imposed and maintained in the Jacksonville Heritage District.
The DDA's Role Should Be Enhanced
The authority and responsibility of the Downtown Development Authority should be enhanced by converting it into a truly independent authority like the JEA and JTA. Unlike those authorities, the DDA is entirely dependent on the City Council for funding of all of its projects. CJI recommends that the DDA be empowered to collect and appropriate revenues generated by tax increment financing, including the authority to pledge those revenues to secure long-term bonds for downtown capital projects. The DDA needs independence so that needed projects and activities to enhance downtown can be accomplished in an orderly fashion without the delay and potential divisiveness of City Council review of each individual program. Provided that practical, broad limitations are placed on DDA activities by law, detailed oversight by the Council would not be necessary. The multiple, piecemeal attempts by a few Council members to dismember the Northbank Riverfront Park project is a prime example of how downtown affairs should not be run. A coherent, unified and coordinated approach to downtown development is a necessity and can best be accomplished by an independent public authority with a long-range perspective on downtown issues.
There was no benefit that came from this proposal. And indeed the idea that the establishment of an organization funded by tax dollars to execute the nebulous and ultimately aesthetic goals identified by this paper should never have been considered as a concrete proposal to revive the business life of the downtown.
At best, even had the DDA done something more useful than compile a wish list of projects that were eventually passed as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, it was simply a way of saying that someone else needed to solve the downtown problems.
Development of Downtown Housing
Central to the long-term success of a downtown resurrection will be the development of attractive, affordable and secure urban housing for all income levels.
People — and in particular, residents — will be the fuel to fire the future development of our downtown as a 24-hour environment. The more jobs, cultural activities, special events and entertainment which can be offered downtown, the more attractive our downtown becomes. The logical next step in the path of development is the expansion of residential living in the Jacksonville Heritage District. However, not until downtown offers sufficient attractive, secure and accessible amenities can we reasonably expect any substantial residential development downtown. CJI believes that the recommendations made in this study are implemented, our downtown will almost certainly begin to be considered by many as a very desirable alternative to suburban living. [Discuss existing housing proposals]
The conversion of municipally incentivised projects at Berkman, The Carling, and 11east, has added some stabilization to the urban core, a similar number of residents would also have come downtown if the buildings had merely been made available for renting. Despite the quasi legality of using commercial space for residence, a substantial number of lofts sprang into existence in the downtown by 2001.
The city literally bulldozed most of the buildings that housed dozens of urbanists in order to build parking lots for future downtown residents. If the city had instead relaxed its own zoning and looked to Seattle, Philadelphia and Portland models, the downtown would have ended up with the same net gain in residents. In any case, this vague proposal of support doesn't leave much to argue with, since once again it is a symbolic suggestion that implies that residents will naturally come, once appropriate paving and a multi campus government center are installed.
Jacksonville's 3.38 square mile urban core is spiraling toward disaster. Unless Jacksonville's civic and business leaders recognize and address the consequences of our neglect of the City's urban heart, this area will be lost as a community resource. The result will be not only a significantly increased economic burden to be borne by the rest of our City, but the loss of the historical and emotional heart of our City
End of the 1992 Downtown White Paper.
The Downtown White Paper was put together 18 years ago, in direct response to the wholesale disaster that followed the partial implementation of the 1971 plan.
It was a well meaning and respectable attempt to address the self inflicted collapse of the downtown commercial environment.
But in the end it was an intellectual exercise for architects, attorneys and gentlemen urbanists who did not themselves have an urban outlook. It is significant that a report written in response to a crisis in commercial viability failed to mention, even once, any suggestion to restore or finance the development of merchants, business startups, or even the traditional industries which had fueled downtown's growth.
Many of its proposals were implemented, and predictably the downward spiral of the downtown to its utter collapse progressed almost completely unabated by the stunning financial investments of one of the greatest and most prolonged building boom in the history of the United States.
It never addressed the obvious or basic conditions of the business equation. It never questioned what demands were driving the commercial or business market. It never addressed the end user experience of the downtown. It never looked beyond the predictable aesthetic concerns of the architectural profession or the uncommitted criticisms of urban life from the suburban mentality.
Despite the things it failed to do, the issues that the Downtown leadership managed to address were well thought out and they accurately assessed the scale of the disaster and provided a few very solid proposals.
Of the multitude of proposals that were forwarded as projects over the past twenty years or so, the only things that have actually come to fruition were those projects involved in making the Hemming Park government center. The sensible addition of the cultural institutions of the Library and Museum on the Park have given it the possibility of extending the activity to the night time as well----although lack of planning and the addition of the corrupt participation of parking entrepreneurs in the surrounding structures has significantly raised the investment bar for making that into a reality.
Finally the most significant thing to take away is that the present day is panicking over the loss of the Downtown fabric over the past 15 years.
What most people fail to realize is that most of us are talking about a starting point that was in itself a catastrophe of redevelopment and collapse all its own.
And many of the same people are still out there in decision making capacities.
Article by Stephen Dare