Creating Synergy: History, The Landing or Metro Park?

May 21, 2010 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

"As Downtown goes, so goes your city. [People] judge a city on Downtown and it can't be a ghost town." - Former Mayor Jake Godbold. In an attempt to resolve the dedicated parking obligation for the Landing, the future of historic preservation in Jacksonville has been thrown into the middle of the JEDC's mudslinging fest with Toney Sleiman. Metro Jacksonville explains why the City Council made the right decision in targeting money intended for improvements in Metropolitan Park to resolve the Landing situation instead of raiding the Historic Preservation Fund.

Why is fixing the Landing's parking situation and creating an environment where it can succeed so important?  

The Jacksonville Landing is downtown's top destination. Providing the dedicated parking that was promised when bringing the complex to Jacksonville will give it the ability to strengthen its tenant mix and stimulate additional foot traffic in the urban core.

All we need to do is look at the latest State of Downtown paper put together by Downtown Vision, Inc. and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission:

Estimated Visits to Downtown by Category

Source: City of Jacksonville Office of Special Events, Downtown Venues, SMG, Visit Jacksonville & Downtown Vision, Inc.

                                           2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

Professional Sports Team Events 939,294 979,708 995,683 1,049,314 887,441

Special Events 1,271,689 1,945,457 1,353,404 1,480,000 1,509,300

Sports Complex Facilities 961,301 982,417 955,686 945,251 892,203

Theatres & Performing Arts Centers 616,826 644,479 743,521 585,270 505,863

Museums & Galleries 237,481 321,975 284,000 267,374 242,525

The Jacksonville Landing 3,500,000 4,100,000 4,500,000 4,500,000 4,050,000

Main Library N/A 337,855 771,141 807,745 894,182

Nightlife Venues 156,000 256,000 275,000 300,000 300,000

Churches 821,200 821,200 821,200 821,200 821,200

Business 1,435,200 1,435,200 1,435,200 1,435,200 1,435,200

Convention Center 221,530 233,517 227,096 159,554 203,991

Hotels 575,240 587,068 612,959 675,277 643,607
Total 10,735,761 12,644,876 12,974,890 13,027,357 12,385,512,8469.msg150497.html#msg150497

33% of all 'visits' downtown are the result of the Jacksonville Landing. To allow the quintessential centerpiece of our city to fail, is to allow our community at large to fail.

Resolving the parking obligation will put the downtown landmark in position to attract first tier anchor tenants and reconfigure mall storefronts to face Independent Drive and downtown.

Why Preserve the Downtown Historic Preservation Trust Fund?

The Historic Preservation Trust Fund will be needed for the redevelopment of significant historic structures such as the Laura Trio.

Historic preservation enhances the quality of life of a community through economic and cultural contributions to an improved sense of place. Recently, a bill was moving through City Council that would wipe out the Historic Preservation Trust Fund in order to resolve the city's parking obligation for the Landing.

With the restoration of the Barnett Building, Laura Trio and Ambassador Hotel hanging in the balance, such a move would put a dagger in the heart of efforts to pump new life into downtown's landmark buildings and historic urban landscape.

Barton said talks with the developer about restoring the Barnett Bank and Laura Street Trio buildings have been productive and justify keeping the trust fund for its intended purpose — restoration of abandoned buildings in the heart of downtown.

Located three blocks from the Landing, the 18-story Barnett Bank building sits diagonally to the two-story, 10-story and 12-story buildings that comprise the Laura Street Trio. The gutted buildings flank Laura Street, which the city is rebuilding in a multimillion makeover.

In his letter to the council, Barton said redevelopment would help merchants by adding “residents and foot traffic to downtown.

However, these buildings will remain in their current blighted condition unless the city is willing to entertain an investment.

The logical source of funding for this project is the Historic Preservation Trust Fund.”

Neither Barton nor Addison Commercial Real Estate, the company listing the buildings, identified the interested developer.

The developer has a contract to purchase the buildings, said Bob Knight, broker associate at Addison.

Knight said it’s difficult for developers to secure financing in the current market, and the Historic Preservation Trust Fund would be a necessity for putting together a deal.

“It would be crucial because any major renovation usually costs more than something that is built new, especially for a historic building,” he said.

Developers have indicated that the proposed restoration of the Ambassador Hotel into 52 loft apartments will not be feasible without the Historic Preservation Trust Fund. The Ambassador Hotel is within two blocks of Hemming Plaza and four blocks of the Barnett/Laura Trio.

On Tuesday, May 18, the City Council amended the bill to resolve the Landing parking situation with money slated for Metropolitan Park improvements instead of the historic preservation trust fund. Mayor Peyton is now considering to veto the bill to preserve the JEDC's desire to spend $8.2 million reconfiguring Kids Kampus and Metropolitan Park.

The Jacksonville Landing moved one step closer to getting $6 million from the city to try to solve its parking problem, but Mayor John Peyton is considering a rare use of his veto pen.

The City Council’s Finance Committee approved the project Monday. The bill was amended so that $3.5 million to help finance the land for a parking lot doesn’t come from the Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization trust fund but instead to what committee members considered a more palatable source: money set aside in February for renovations at Metropolitan Park.

Finance Committee members pointed out that the Metro Park money was slated for Landing parking anyway, until it was diverted three months ago.

Ron Barton, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, argued during Monday’s committee meeting that there is no imminent need for the city to pay for Landing parking and that both the historic preservation and Metro Park money should not be touched.

Though the bill was approved by the Finance Committee, it faces another committee vote before it comes before the full council on May 25.

How far is Metropolitan Park from the Northbank Core?

1. Ambassador Hotel, 2. Barnett/Laura Trio, 3. Jacksonville Landing and 4. Metropolitan Park. This image illustrates the distance between Metropolitan Park and "core" walkable area of downtown.

Metropolitan Park is 1.11 miles from the intersection of Laura and Forsyth Streets. Here is how that distance stacks up in other directions, by foot.

Distance from Laura/Forsyth intersection

1.05 miles - Bay Street at Myrtle Street (JTA Offices just west of I-95)

1.08 miles - Laura Street at 5th Street (Springfield Historic District)

1.11 miles - San Marco Blvd. at Nira Street (Oral Explosions in San Marco)

1.11 miles - Kids Kampus/Metropolitan Park (NW corner)

Should Metropolitan Park funds be targeted?

Although it will have no impact on the viability of downtown, there are plans to spend $8.2 million this year on the reconstruction of Kids Kampus at Metropolitan Park. The new plan will deliver the Mayor's dream of incorporating "flex green space" in the Sports District.

If the city's goals are to revitalize downtown, prioritizing these various projects puts Metropolitan Park in last place due to its isolation and distance from the walkable downtown core.

Downtown Vision's recently released "Rethinking and Remaking Downtown" report lists several compelling reasons why a significant portion of the $8.2 million intended for Metropolitan Park's improvements should be shifted to resolve the Landing's dedicated parking dilemma.

Focus on the Core

The terms "urban core," "walkable core" or "core" refer to the walkable area of Downtown Jacksonville consisting of approximately 25 blocks on the Northbank centered on Laura Street, plus the Southbank Riverwalk and Friendship Fountain area, which is accessible to pedestrians via the Main Street Bridge and water taxi.  The core contains the three major "nodes" of Downtown activity: The Jacksonville Landing/Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts; the Hemming Plaza government and cultural center; and the emerging entertainment district around Bay, Forsyth and Adams Streets, anchored by the Florida Theatre.

Both the Jacksonville Landing and historic preservation projects are located within the "urban core."  Metropolitan Park is located over a mile outside of the "urban core."

The "walkable" core is what people mean when they refer to Downtown. When people talk about Downtown, and their negative perceptions of Downtown, they are not talking about the Sports Complex, LaVilla, most of the Southbank or Riverside Avenue - they are talking about the walkable Northbank core of Downtown and the Southbank Riverwalk and Friendship Park, which are easily accessed by pedestrians from the Northbank via the Main Street Bridge and water taxi. This is the "core" referred to in this paper. Similarly, most people consider the Sports Complex, LaVilla and Riverside Avenue/Brooklyn as adjacent neighborhoods that one has to drive to from the core.

Metropolitan Park is located in the Sports District.

According to a 2006 survey by Downtown Vision, 37% of Downtown visitors will only walk one or two blocks, 37% will walk three or four blocks, and only 25% will walk more than four blocks. Our urban core is separated from both our convention center and our sports venues by approximately three-fourths of a mile - in opposite directions.  The resulting isolation of these areas of activity has prevented development of the "critical mass" needed to engage secondary development of supportive retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.

The Landing, Barnett Building and Laura Trio are located within two blocks of each other.  Enhancing the Landing and investing in historic preservation within the walkable "urban core" creates the critical mass that stimulates the vibrant image the community seeks for downtown.

During the past ten years, more than $1.1 billion in development has taken place in Downtown, of which less than one third was in the urban core.

Hundreds of millions have already been spent on the construction of a new arena, ballpark, the Shipyards, reversible lanes for Bay Street, and stadium upgrades for the Jaguars. Despite this investment, vibrancy has not taken place due to the area's isolation in relation to the rest of downtown.

We've overestimated the impact of projects outside the core. During the past two decades, we have overestimated the impact that development outside the core has on the core of Downtown. For example, the redevelopment and in-fill development in LaVilla and Riverside Avenue/Brooklyn have improved the appearance of these areas, but they have had little impact on walkability, business, employment and activity in the core.  Despite major development in the Sports Complex, Downtown has not experienced the desired spinoff effects on nightlife and other activity in the core (or even at the Sports Complex). Downtown club owners indicate that, with the exception of Florida-Georgia weekend and certain events at Veterans Memorial Arena, activities at the Sports Complex have had little impact on their business volume.

The bolded text in the quote above sums up what we can expect on our Return on Investment if we prioritize Metropolitan Park's plans above others inside of the walkable downtown "urban core."

Scatter-shot development has not been successful. Jacksonville has one of the largest downtowns in the country among cities of comparable population. Spreading our investment over too large an area has resulted in several problems: 1) public investment has been diluted over a large area and the core of Downtown is still underdeveloped and struggling, 2) relatively little in the way of non-residential private-sector investment has been spurred by the city's investments, and 3) we've failed to take full advantage of the best years in the current real estate cycle.

Metropolitan Park's isolation would qualify it as a poster child of scatter-shot development.

In this economy and at this time, we need to focus our efforts on the core of Downtown - cleaning it up, reducing unwanted behavior, rehabilitating and reusing our existing assets, encouraging in-fill on smaller parcels to build critical mass, supporting our existing stakeholders and developing a compelling Downtown product from which we can launch the expansion of further Downtown revitalization initiatives.

Prioritizing the Jacksonville Landing and historic preservation over Metropolitan Park would be an example of focusing our efforts on the core.

Downtown Vision believes that, by applying best practices in urban revitalization to a compact, manageable area, Jacksonville can become a truly great city. Furthermore, we believe this transformation can be well along in a relatively short time and without further large expenditures for capital projects.  In fact, significant progress can be made in the next three years, with an immediate start on inexpensive but strategic initiatives, such as higher maintenance and design standards, regulatory and governance reforms and emphasis on improving the street environment and connectivity.

Investing $3.5 million to enable the Landing to upgrade its tenant mix would be a more cost effective and short term strategy for urban revitalization than spending $8.2 million in reconfiguring Kids Kampus. In addition, resolving the Landing parking situation allows the city to collect annual lease payments on the waterfront Landing property. This makes the Landing proposal the only downtown investment on the table that will immediately generate income for a cash strapped community.  

With the city already upgrading Laura Street, an improved Jacksonville Landing and restored Barnett/Laura Trio buildings have the ability to serve as major anchors in the core, stimulating a vibrant street scene that has eluded downtown for over 30 years.

Despite being sold as a project that will bring people to Downtown, any improvements to Metropolitan Park would be just as beneficial to downtown as a project in Springfield or San Marco would. Minimal at best.

Prioritizing downtown improvements in this isolated location over finally resolving the Landing parking obligation would also continue the negative trends and patterns quoted from DVI's study above.


Any investment in Metropolitan Park will have a limited impact on the viability of downtown due to its physical isolation from the walkable core (skyline in distant background). However, removing $3.5 million from Metropolitan Park's improvement plan will still leave $4.7 million for phased improvements to take place.

After a review of the facts presented above, if city leaders are truly interested in rapidly revitalizing the downtown core, investing in actual "downtown core" projects would be the best utilization of taxpayer money.

This can be done by preserving the historic preservation fund to serve its actual purpose and at the same time honoring the Landing's 23-year-old parking obligation by using $3.5 million of the $8.2 million intended for Metropolitan Park to settle this situation once and for all.

Article by Ennis Davis