Downtown Frankenstein: 1987 Downtown Initial Action Plan

October 24, 2006 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

All too often plans for downtown are just that. They ignore the political, financial or market realities of downtown and end up on the shelf ignored. - Quote from KBJ's Initial Action Plan for Jacksonville's Core Business District - 1987


Over 15 years had passed since the elaborate and lofty 1971 master plan had been concieved.  However, a changing market and its slow implementation had officially given the Hemming Plaza corridor the Mike Tyson knock out punch, as far as retail was concerned.  With this in mind, the DDA set out on a mission to develop a new master plan.  One that would be realistic enough, to follow through on, instead of collecting dust in a storage closet at city hall.

The goal of this plan was to identify the responsive and achievable actions for promoting the transition of downtown Jacksonville from a daytime workplace into a day/night activity center with an increasing downtown retail, entertainment, and residential presence.  What would eventually happen would be no different than the previous studies throughout the years that died from inaction.


KBJ Architects, Inc. and Strategic Planning Group, Inc.  The team also included Ed Bacon (known as the Father of "urban revitalization"), Jack Gould, Frederick Gorove, Bob Snow (developer of Orlando's Church Street Station) and Joseph Zuritsky ("known as the Czar of Parking") all which were nationally recognized experts of revitalization.


The DDA and Project Team was committed to developing a financially feasible revitalization program.  To achieve this, the team attempted to apply "lessons learned" in successful downtown revitalization projects across the country, which was a noble idea that should still be considered at all times today.

Lessons Learned:

1. All groups involved in downtown need to be involved in the preparation of the plan.

2. Charrettes would be used in the preparation of the plan.  Charrettes are short intensive meetings when everyone involved in the plan's preparation would meet and focus on specific parts of the plan.

3. The plan prepared would be turned into an Action/Implementation program, something Ron Barton has mentioned needs to be done with Delaney's 2000 Downtown Master Plan.

As shown in the above illustration, the 1971 Master Plan envisioned development going away from the river.  However, in reality, developed paralleled the river.


The Charrettes revealed several things about downtown.  These include:

1. Estimated that the downtown office market would add up to 400,000sf (or 5 new office towers) within the next 10 years.

2.That downtown's traditional retail market had died, due to the closing of the major anchor stores.

3. Felt that downtown only had a few historic structures worth saving, due to the Great Fire of 1901.

4. Predicted the NE quadrant of downtown offered the opportunity for low density residential infill.

5. Recognized downtown, as a major governmental center, religious and social welfare center.

6. Recognized city plans to relocate public offic facilities away from the river in order to place valuable property back on the tax rolls as high-rise-office development.

Distances can be deceiving downtown. This illustration shows the footprint of Regency Mall (before the last expansion) overlayed over downtown.  The corridor from Sears to JCPenney is the same length as the distance from the riverfront to Ashley Street.  One tends not to notice the distance at the mall because it is enclosed and offers a continuous array of stores along the route.

Because of this, the consulting team felt successful downtown retail revitalization could happen by coping the basic design strategies of the suburban mall.  A retail corridor with the endpoints anchored by large department stores or attractions.  While the team considered the Landing as the new southern anchor, they believed the challenge of the revitalization plan would be to find a way to attract additional anchors in other areas of the CBD, then interconnect them to provide a pleasant shopping experience. 


During Charettes, three development concepts were presented.  The first focused on "Retail Core Development".  This concept would concentrate all city development efforts towards developing a strong pedestrian spine between the Landing and Hemming Plaza.  Conceptt 2 was the Bay Street Corridor. With this concept the city would focus its efforts on creating a linear downtown with the new convention center and county courthouse as the anchor points.  Retail would then be encouraged to relocate along Bay, making it a major pedestrian arterial.  The last was the "Activity Nodes".  With this scenerio, the city would attempt to create a number of activity nodes around downtown, with the hope that new development would infill between the centers.

With minor modifications, the Activity Nodes concept was the preferred choice of the group.  Today we now know that this one of the most difficult routes to revitalization.  By spreading out redevelopment projects, more money has to be spent of the city's efforts.  Also without pouring money and efforts into creating a compact vibrant core pedestrian setting, the synergy needed to creat buzz and excitement doesn't occur.


Major recommendations included:

1. Adopting view corridors to preserve riverfront views (remember the Landing parking garage issue)

2. Transition all government offices off the river and around Hemming Plaza (forever abandoning the idea of it being a major retail center, which was the concept of the 1971 plan).

3. Conduct a downtown retail market feasibility study (we've always loved our studies).

4. Establish a funded downtown merchants association.

5. Provide incentives to attract a major retail anchor store downtown.

6. Locate new parking structures to support retail development.

7. Maintain a public zone along the riverfront.

8. Relocate the zoo to downtown.

9. Install storefront facade treatment along Hogan and Laura Streets

10. Require riverwalk improvements in all new riverfront developments.

11. Establish a design review committee to review all major new developments

12. Install special landscaping along retail and entertainment streets.

13. Construct small pocket parks in conjunction with residential development.

14. Assign a single agency to manage all downtown parking.

15. Improve parking visibility by color coding parking.


The illustration above shows the 1971 Transportation Loop System.  Created to make a pesdestrian mall feasible, it was more of a negative than positive, because it took vehicular traffic away from retail storefronts.  Once the major department stores closed around Hemming Plaza, the small specialty stores were left to struggle and eventually moved on the the suburban malls.

The image below, shows the suggested improvements of the 1987 plan. These included eliminating the loop system and demolishing most of the structures along Union to create and urban parkway opening land for infill development.  Other transportation improvements included constructing the skyway to the Gator Bowl, providing water taxis, improving the Main Street Bridge walkover and building skywalks to connect all major buildings along Bay Street.






Despite being an affordable plan, many of its recommendations would not become reality.  Today, we still have the dreaded loop system, the skyway was never extended, resulting in its horrific ridership numbers and we still struggle with the same parking issues today.  However, it did provide the backdrop for the eventual creation of the DRC, view corridors, constructing pocket parks and preserving public space along the river.  Nevertheless, its biggest flaw was its simplicity.  While many of its suggestions were dead on, it never really addressed making the downtown core a special unique place, instead attempting to take suburban mall strategies and applying them to the core, instead of following what had worked in urban areas for centuries.