Transform Jax Update

July 4, 2011 25 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The advocacy organization is pushing for the improvement of two of our urban core's most pressing issues, Downtown and Transportation - and more so, specific components of each. In the coming months, and years, it hopes to see submitted ideas usher in new change and the discussion of such transformation heightened. An update of what the group is currently working on, and a candid peek of the process.

Proposed Ideas to the Mayoral Transition Team Committees

The group was asked its ideas on Downtown and Transportation by Alvin Brown's related committees. Here are a list of ideas for each, to be implemented in the short, middle, and long terms. It was only with the positive feedback, input, and inflow of creative, feasible ideas from the community that the group was able to compile them.

Downtown Committee: Enhancement Implementation Plan

(Many items on this list come from MJ forum members:

Short-Term (2012)
1. Plan, view, and market downtown as part of a larger urban core including adjacent neighborhoods

2. Modify public policy
    a. Work with existing building owners to encourage integration of businesses with sidewalks
    b. To allow creative uses and concepts like mobile truck-food-courts, etc.
    c. Expand new Entertainment Zone policies to other areas (such as Laura Street)
    d. Adjust zoning so residential and commercial can easily co-exist without seeking exceptions.

3. Encourage creative/distinctive signage (including murals) for businesses and events downtown

4. Organize a Downtown Merchants Association

5. Schedule regular festivals/events/street parties on Laura Street (such as Farmer Fridays)

6. Extend last call for downtown bars to 3 am

7. Work with JSO on appropriate-scaled police presence downtown

8. Better integrate/connect FSCJ with downtown

9. Inventory all publicly owned property and buildings downtown

10. Develop plans for area around new courthouse (including courthouse park)

11. Re-evaluate specialty district boundaries downtown

12. Improve maintenance of public ROW (pick up trash, light the streets, maintain the landscaping, etc.)

13. Complete bulkhead/riverwalk at Shipyards and open site (incl. piers) for passive and active recreation

14. Replace all downtown directional signs

15. Remove parking meters where appropriate (enforced time limits) and modernize remaining meters

16. Continue converting one-way streets to two-way (except for Main/Ocean, Bay/Forsyth, & State/Union)

17. Restripe streets downtown to accommodate on-street parking and bike lanes

18. Evaluate road diets and/or dedicated transit lanes on remaining streets

19. Commence additional studies (planning/engineering) for first phase of streetcar line

20. Re-evaluate layout/design of the Regional Transportation Center

Mid-Term (2015)
21. Eliminate skyway fare and consolidate duplicate bus routes at the skyway's terminal points

22. Run a free trolley to/from Riverside and the downtown entertainment district on weekends

23. Initiate streetcar service connecting downtown w/ stadium, Springfield, and Riverside

24. Relocate Amtrak downtown to the Regional Transportation Center

25. Develop new Convention Center on courthouse site

26. Work to get additional academic institutions downtown

27. Encourage medium-density housing in LaVilla and Cathedral districts through tax abatements

Long-Term (Beyond 2015)
28. Develop Hogan’s Creek Greenway connecting downtown to Springfield

29. Construct new amphitheater at Metropolitan Park

30. Remove Main St Bridge ramps and replace Hart expressway w/ Bay Street boulevard.

Transportation Committee: Priorities

Short‐Term (2011 ‐ 2015)
1. Implement Mobility Plan

2. Modify zoning/LDR to better integrate w/ transportation, making it simple to facilitate sustainable development

3. Re‐evaluate design plans for Regional Transportation Center

4. Commence planning/engineering studies for regional commuter rail

5. Begin construction of Regional Transportation Center w/ intercity bus terminal

6. Commence planning/engineering studies for urban core streetcar line

7. Re-stripe roads, when possible, to reduce travel lanes and/or accommodate bike lanes

8. Commence planning/engineering studies for rail link connecting port to westside intermodal terminals

9. Implement Local bus/skyway operational improvements
    ‐ Streamline route duplication through system redesign, including ending routes at Skyway terminal points
    ‐ BRT style service along select corridors (NW and SE lines) with existing rolling stock and system redesign
    ‐ Revisit the public/private partnership concept for funding new bus shelters

10. Increase Skyway utilization through fare elimination, expanded hours, wrap advertising, leasing space in ground level of stations, land‐use coordination, and consolidating southbank private shuttle uses w/ Skyway

Mid‐Term (2016 ‐ 2019)
11. Relocate cruise ship terminal to allow construction of Hanjin facility

12. Work with FDOT to construct new interchange on MLK Parkway @ 21st St. for enhanced access to Talleyrand

13. Construct rail link connecting port to Westside and/or intermodal container transfer facility near port

14. Working with state and regional partners, commence river dredging for port expansion

15. Convert one‐way streets downtown to two‐way (except for Main/Ocean, Bay/Forsyth, & State/Union)

16. Construct initial streetcar line connecting downtown and Riverside

17. Implement first line of regional commuter rail service

18. Construct Amtrak and commuter rail station at Regional Transportation Center

19. Implement BRT service to the beaches and Orange Park (east and southwest lines)

20. Construct major modification to I‐95/JTB interchange

Long‐Term (2020 and Beyond)
21. Extend streetcar line to Springfield and Stadium

22. Work with FDOT to widen295/ 9A to 6 lanes (SR 105 to I‐95) for increased truck traffic to/from port

23. Implement additional regional commuter rail lines

24. Extend Skyway to San Marco (Atlantic Blvd)

25. Implement BRT service on Southside Blvd (Regency to Avenues)

26. Work with FDOT to construct flyover from I‐95 to airport (avoids Duval Rd intersection)

27. Construct JIA North Access Road (connecting to I‐95/Pecan Park interchange)

28. Widen Main Street/US 17 (New Berlin Rd to Pecan Park Rd) to 4 lanes

29. Remove Main St Bridge ramps and replace Hart expressway w/ Bay Street boulevard

30. Work with FDOT to re‐construct I‐10/US 301 interchange to afford better freight connections.

In addition to thought on these ideas, the guys are focusing in on one from each list out-and-out, making up their two "big projects": Convention Center first, then Streetcar second.

They believe, with Alvin Brown's win and the backing of the Civic Council, that Jacksonville will eventually end up with a new convention center on the Bay Street courthouse site, which is the Civic Council's top priority for Downtown Redevelopment. They've drawn up some sketches of a potential center layout. By no means are they finalized concepts, but they focus primarily on ensuring the convention center is designed to have 24/7, programmed mixed-activity to suit the needs of the convention market, and that it's well integrated with the Bay Street entertainment strip. Historic preservation (Hermiker Block, Groover-Stewart Bldg.), adaptive reuse (courthouse annex) and infill of surface parking lots (corner of Bay/Ocean, courthouse lot), and the presence of a "green roof", also play important roles in ensuring Jacksonville doesn't make the same design mistakes it has in the past with the Prime Osborne Center. Promoting and presenting mixed-use options for a convention center, without jeopardizing adjacent historical structures, is the goal.

The Site & Surrounding Area

Several variations of a proposed mixed-use convention center are being laid out for the existing courthouse site and parking along the Northbank riverwalk and adjacent to the Hyatt.  The adaptive reuse of the Courthouse Annex (the Mid-Century Modern highrise behind the Hyatt) will also be considered in conceptual layouts.

This building was constructed as the office/warehouse for the Groover-Stewart Drug Company in 1925. For many years, this was the largest wholesale drug firm in Florida.  One block north of the existing county courthouse and currently occupied by the Public Defender's Office, it's one of the most overlooked properties involving this proposal.  Nevertheless, the large historic structure would be ideal for loft-style adaptive reuse, such as offices, residences or a boutique hotel.

The Herkimer Block (now Baywater Square) was completed in 1902.  Transform Jax supports the preservation of all historic structures within the vicinity of the proposed convention center site.

A night on East Bay Street.  A major goal of a mixed-use convention center would be the design of complementing street-level retail, dining and entertainment space along Bay Street and the riverfront.

Convention Center: In-Depth
At a very recent meeting, the guys talked about their ideal convention center - the design, inclusions, and exclusions. Here, a video of the highlights.

A Model: Seattle
Seattle's Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Downtown is a great example of a mixed-use convention center with a variety of uses at street level.  Spanning four city blocks, this facility includes 206,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition hall space, street-level retail, plus a hotel and office tower both built above the center's meeting room and exhibition space. The City's business common is a model concept of what Transform Jax is pursuing for our Downtown. Throughout Seattle's design and implementation process of the center, in the mid-1980s, public input was largely consulted and the board sat it on many public meetings. It opened its doors in June 1988. Expansion marked a new standard in convention center integrated development, as additions stand below ground and above the center itself.


Building Components and Features
- Enclosed spaces of an exhibit hall floor, meeting room, and ballroom.
- Two covered parking garages connected to the center, with almost 1500 spaces. Event and daily parking for an average fee. Monthly and commuter parking available for purchase for about $140-$260.
- A 256-stall garage is located underground at the center's expansion site at the corner of 7th Avenue and Pike Street. A 16-story office building sits above the same site.
- Structured next to and over a main interstate, with adjunct points to an acclaimed urban public park (This proved to be a beneficial design, reducing traffic noise in nearby neighborhoods, filling in empty open space, and serving as a crossroads of the downtown core).
- Expansion work in 2001 doubled the available event space, after increasing demand for exhibition space. There are current plans to expand again, but a lack of state funding as of June 2011 has postponed them.
- Building and renovation work of adjacent affordable housing.
- Public-service focus, with community initiatives, educational programs, musical events, and outdoor gathering spots, all free to the public. The center also helps in charity work.
- Brings in big-name events such as Emerald City ComiCon, Microsoft MVP World Summit, Sakura-Con, and the annual TESOL Convention.
- Travel resource center component, booking accomodations for visitors, in turn propelling the inclusive businesses. Private catering and event staffing (incl. EMT's) also serves to please business conventions, events, banquets, tradeshows, etc.
- Retailers located inside:  Clay's Market & Sundries Shop, Seattle Shirt Company, 820 Pike Cafe, Espresso Cafe, The Juicy Cafe, Subway, Moby's Restaurant & Lounge, Taco Del Mar, and other quick-bite spots.
- Other services: a full-service hair salon, massage parlor, logo promotions company, sign shop, a coin and stamp shop, internet cafe, FedEx, Hertz Car Rental.
- A free public art gallery of local artists' work, with events and exhibits.

A view of Seattle's Freeway Park bridged over I-5. It's been called a "five-acre hanging garden" over the interstate. It sits between 6th and 9th Avenues, extending from downtown (where it connects with the center) to the First Hill neighborhood. Photo courtesy of

An unusual mixture of brutalist architecture and greenery, the 5.2-acre park, designed by Lawrence Halprin's office under the supervision of Angela Danadjieva, opened to the public July 4, 1976. A later addition to the park winds several blocks up First Hill, with a staircase and wheelchair ramp.
The park is also a significant cultural landscape, as a masterwork of a modernist master, and a precedent-setting park that single-handedly defined a new land-use typology for American cities.

Elliott Grand Hyatt Hotel
This Seattle location sits perched right atop the convention center, with a separate entrance one block away from the center's main entry point. Housing 425 guest rooms, the hotel provides to business travelers also with its own 25,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including a ballroom and "amphitheater" room. It is located in the 'air-rights' above the center's expansion site, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Its 960-stall garage is below the northwest exhibit hall.

The Hyatt on Pine Street in the heart of Downtown Seattle. Photo courtesy of

Landcaster County's new convention center is in the heart of its downtown and is another good example of a mixed-use center of its kind. A highrise Marriott Hotel sits above it.

Photo courtesy of Landcaster Convention Center.

Anchoring Downtown Lancaster and boldly incorporating the 110-year-old Beaux Arts facade of the historic former Watt & Shand department store, this uniquely integrated convention center / hotel facility offers a combined 90,000 square feet of meeting space and the latest technology for conventions, events, and trade shows. Appealing as a unique world-class facility set in a smaller, less expensive urban destination, the convention center facility is centrally located to the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and New York. The new venue offers space for groups up to 5,000 and includes a convention and exhibition hall, two grand ballrooms, and several finely appointed meeting and board rooms.

What's Next?

In taking the position of being a communal voice, Transform Jax will continue to take ideas stimulated in public dialogue and promote them in a manner that uplifts the local environment. The group is still working on a lot of organizational aspects to more formulate its platform. It expressed that it hasn't been able to reach out to or bring in everyone it would like. As the guys get themselves ramped up, it is their intention to engage those people, the forum, and the public, more. Other media outlets have been launched online, including a website and Facebook page. The website is in progress, so stay tuned.

They encourage you to send an email at for any questions, ideas, and/or information.

Article and video by Sarah Gojekian.