Urban Connectivity: Lighting Laura Street Update

January 25, 2007 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Could Laura Street become the home of an energetic urban environment similar to Denver's 16th Street Mall, Tampa's Ybor City, Cleveland's East 4th Street and Miami Beach's Lincoln Road? Today Metro Jacksonville gives an update to the status of the Lighting Laura Street plan, as well as several projects springing up along the Northbank's premier urban corridor.



JMOMA was recently named MOCA Jacksonville as a part of a plan to increase the facility's national presence.  As a part of this change, Cafe Nola will now be managed by the museum.  This move will allow for the restaurant to open at night and on Sundays to take advantage of First Baptist Church's 25,000 members who come into the corridor on a regular basis. 

Next door, a Shelby's Coffee Shoppe is under construction in the front entrance of the library.  Hopefully, both will take advantage of the large sidewalk and park fronting them and incorporate outdoor seating areas.  Combined with Boomtown and the restaurants in 140 Monroe Street, as well as Chamblin's, La Cena, Chew, The Loop Pizza Grill and others within a block of Hemming, a critical mass of urban dining destinations will be achieved.



Currently there are several groups and organizations attempting to push their various streetscape projects into reality.  The difference between MetroJacksonville's and others, such as DVI's and Tri Vu's "Connecting the Dots" is our focus is strictly on taking care of the essentials, without including expensive bells and whistles that delay the entire process from happening.  In simple terms, all we want is the city to focus on getting additional light on the street now.  Art work, design competitions and stars in the streets (the type of things that bloat the budget making simple projects unfeasible) can come later.  You don't need Fillet Mignon to survive, but a little bread will do wonders.  Lets take care of the basics (enhanced lighting, better signage, etc.) before diving into complicated redevelopment ideas.



The long delayed 20 West loft development in the old Lerner Shops Building is now under construction.  When complete, the structure will house 20 lofts on the upper levels, as well as downtown's first Loop Pizza Grill restaurant, giving the core another dining establishment with dinner hours. 



Work continues of Cameron Kuhn's 112 development.  When the $27.5 million dollar project is complete the structure will include 12,000 square feet of retail, 205 residential lofts and exterior lighting improvements at street level, as well as the reactivation of the historic electronic clock.



Originally under redevelopment by the Police & Fire Pension Fund, the Laura Trio is expected to be purchased by Cameron Kuhn  next month.  While ultimate plans for the three structures remain unknown, the first thing Kuhn plans to do with the site is construct a 10 story, 600 space parking garage structure in the vacant lot surrounding the buildings.  Preliminary plans call for 12,000 square feet of street level retail and an exterior "green" facade, instead of the mimic historic one the Fund originally intended.

The Kuhn Company will soon sign an agreement to have JEA provide chilled water to both the Trio and the Barnett (112) projects.  This is significant because installing the lines means that trenches will have to be dug in the middle of Laura Street, this Spring.  This means if Laura Street is to be lit by the city, the best time to do it would be then, since the street will be ripped up anyway.

One of the major dark spots along Laura lies directly in front of the Bank of America Tower.  The reason for this is the fact that it's the only full block between the Landing and Hemming Plaza without historic street lighting.  The addition of a few light poles along this block will be a major factor in making the corridor a safe connection between the two Northbank destinations at night.

In addition to this, Golds Gym, located across Forsyth Street in the Jacksonville Bank Building, recently announced plans for a future Smoothie Bar / Cafe that may possibly include an outdoor sidewalk seating area.  With so much private sector activity already occurring along the corridor, the least thing the city could do is light up it's property to foster a safe and inviting urban environment.

For those who think spending $20,000 to $75,000 a block is too expensive to enhance public owned property within the heart of the city, consider the amount of money being discussed for funding other projects that won't have as much of a positive impact on the core.  For example, the "Big Idea" plan to move Kids Kampus to Friendship Fountain will cost millions, yet it won't attract the amount of pedestrian activity a vibrant Laura Street will.  In addition to this, neither will the $750,000 pocket park planned for Main Street, a corridor with a sea of surface lots and garages with no retail or residences located on it. 

It's time for someone to get their priorities straight.  Focus on the little things like lighting the dark corridors, wayfaring signage and mass transit (trolley stops should be easily identifiable with information to let riders know where they go) and good things will naturally happen, without bending over backyards to give away incentives for ill-concieved one trick ponies.

The last block between Hemming and the Landing is also the home of Kuhn's River Watch development.  Ironically, this section gets pretty dark at night and is also void of historic street lighting.  Metro Jacksonville's solution to solve this problem is for the city to invest in a few fixtures to complete the public lighting connection between the two major destinations.  Seriously, we're not talking about breaking the bank here.  Only finishing up things that should have been properly done in the first place.

While many see Independent Square (MODIS for those who don't know the real name) as a problem in pedestrian connectivity, the design really isn't as bad as some make it out to be.  The entire first floor features street level retail space and wide sidewalks that could easily accomodate outdoor retail and dining uses.  Once a decent amount of pedestrian traffic begins to flow along the corridor on a 24/7 basis, retail at the base of this tower should evolve naturally, becoming the perfect complement to the Landing, downtown's premier destination.


This image taken in front of the old Suntrust Tower illustrates the lack of uniform historic street lighting along the sidewalk.  At this point, we don't even need to uplight the trees, just install public lighting in the manner it should have been from the beginning. 

Also, construction will begin soon on the site of the new River Watch Tower next door.  However, the latest plans call for the structure to house 264 condo units, instead of a hotel, as originally planned.  Once site work begins, the building should start to rise six months later.

The Jacksonville Landing makes up the southern anchor point of the Laura Street corridor.  While Sleiman's plans for redevelopment have been delayed, it is Metro Jacksonville's hope that the Landing's management include a sign or some type of lighting theme that will attract those with direct visual access four blocks away in the Hemming Park district.  Furthermore, as redevelopment continues, the vacant storefronts and the covered area facing Laura would be perfect spots for short term outdoor retail, markets, or food establishments, such as Dermola's in the background.

This last image provides a view of the corridor from the Landing looking north to Hemming Park.  The library and MOCA Jax can both be clearly seen behind the Florida Life Building (structure with no windows).  First Baptist's glass crosswalk can be seen in the distance as well.  Adding light or signage to these structures are also critical elements that could be incorporated into a solution that visually draws the common pedestrian between the two urban anchor points.

In addition to lighting enhancements, Laura Street is also perfectly positioned to serve as a local for occasional cultural events due to it's direct connection with the revitalizing Springfield community to the North, FCCJ, and the fact that it's not a major conduit of vehicular traffic flow. 



In the eight months that have passed since we first backed the concept of lighting Laura through the use of coordinating a Public/Private partnership, the private sector has continued to bloom as originally predicted.  While some believe it's difficult to coordinate private sector development, many of the things we wish for Laura Street will greatly benefit those invested along the corridor anyway and the only handout we're looking for is the creation of a vibrant downtown atmosphere for all residents to enjoy, soon rather than decades down the line. 

Currently within a block of this corridor there are over 400 residential units and 7 restuarants either already under construction or proposed, ranging from Fuddruckers at the Landing, the Loop Pizza Grill in 20 West, to the smoothie bar af Gold's Gym.  If private sector development continues at it's current pace, it won't be too long before a critical mass of pedestrian friendly development will be attained. 

The public sector, as predicted has been slow to react.  Getting anything done downtown on a public level requires wading through several levels of bureaucracy and different agendas outside of making downtown a place we can all be proud of.  Nevertheless, the massive amount of private development under construction has the power to pull the city kicking and screaming to finally hold up it's end of the bargain and simply do something that should have been done correctly in the first place....light the street properly! 

The opportunity for the city to jump on board has now arrived thanks to the need to install chilled water lines down Laura Street in a few months as a part of the Kuhn development projects.  Due to the schedule, there's no time to wrap ourselves in the never ending situation of financing studies, forming task forces, and hiring consultants to tell us what most already know and will inform for free.   All that's needed from the public sector is to get it's priorities on downtown redevelopment straight.  We're not trying to send a man to the moon or dig a tunnel to China, all we want is a major downtown corridor to have quality lighting, creating an atmosphere that will help stimulate additional growth in the core for a minimum expense. 


Link to Lighting Laura Street Presentation: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/52/49/



This past weekend, a few MetroJacksonville members had the chance to take an inside tour of what will be known as Chamblin's Uptown on Laura Street, adjacent to La Cena.  When complete in March, Chamblin's Uptown will offer two retail levels of space featuring an espresso and coffee bar with outdoor seating, new and used books, audiobooks and DVD rentals and sales.  Chamblin's plans fall in line with the Metro Jacksonville dream of energizing the corridor with simple features like illuminated signage and facades, along with opening up and incorporating the sidewalk into the retail experience.


Exterior Photos




Interior Photos - First Floor




Interior Photos - Second Floor