A Vision for Transit in Jacksonville

September 18, 2009 29 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville shares a vision of what the Prime Osborn and the surrounding land can become if converted into a compact intermodal transportation center.


Metro Jacksonville's vision is significantly different than the current JTA Transportation Center plans. Partially as a result of the city's inability to make a decision on the future of the convention center location, the current plan sprawls over six city blocks. As currently drawn, the plan limits the transit oriented development potential a typical transportation center could stimulate, while creating two poorly designed public facilities.  

The plan calls for a substandard convention facility boxed in by a transportation center that still lacks a convention hotel and complementing retail and entertainment uses.  

In addition, a transportation center sprawling six blocks would make it difficult and time consuming for transit users to transfer between modes. If transferring becomes to difficult, despite the investment, Jacksonville's mass transit system will continue to struggle to attract choice riders.


Metro Jacksonville believes that the best solution for the development of a new transportation center would feature a mix of old and new. Implementation of the center would be phased as various funding opportunities present themselves.

Historic Preservation #1

Metro Jacksonville is a proponent of historic preservation. As a part of the plan, the Neo-Classical Revival style 1919 terminal building would be preserved and converted back to its original use: a train station.  

Featuring a 75-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and currently closed off to the general public, this beautiful waiting room would be main entrance to Jacksonville's new state-of-the-art transportation center. Here, passengers would be able to purchase tickets for transit options, such as commuter rail, high speed rail, streetcar service, and Amtrak.

Additional space within the existing terminal structure could become the location of a museum that focuses on Jacksonville's historical contributions to the transportation industry. The Atlantic Coast Line Steam Locomotive #1504 and passenger rail car currently rusting in the convention center parking lot could be restored to become interactive exhibits for this cultural setting.

Historic Preservation #2

Continuing to be overlooked and discarded in the current plans, Metro Jacksonville believes the existing pedestrian tunnels beneath the terminal are worth preserving and incorporating into the project. As a part of this terminal's vision, the tunnels would be restored to their original use and used to provide access from the terminal building to rail platforms. The elevated addition shown in JTA's current plans would be eliminated in favor of historic preservation and saving money in the process. Furthermore, these tunnels provide wheelchair accessibility without the use of elevators.

A Central Square

The Prime Osborn's existing exterior courtyard would remain. However, it would be transformed into a centralized public space with the Project for Public Spaces' Power of 10 concept applied for better utilization. Adjacent to the central enclosed mall, a continuous flow of pedestrian traffic would be generated on all four sides of this space by placing multiple transit terminals, retail and cultural establishments.

With decent mix of uses directly integrated with this space, it could become a popular urban destination in its own right.  Detroit's Campus Martius Park presents a visual of how this space could look and feel.

Detroit's Campus Martius Park

The Mall

The existing convention center concourse would remain. It would be converted into a central enclosed mall, lined with retail which would connect various transit options at the transportation center. This space would be similar to Washington, DC's Union Station gallery and Jacksonville International Airport's new concourses shown below.

Washington, DC's Union Station features dining and retail

Jacksonville International Airport's new concourse lined with retail and dining operations

Demolition/Adaptive Reuse

An obsolete convention center is not a complementing use for a transportation center. This is especially true considering that the current convention center is located in the original transportation center. Attempting to design around this fact has only created two poorly designed public spaces.

In Metro Jacksonville's vision, the Mayor's Office, City Council, and the community should embrace moving the convention center to a more viable site that complements existing and future uses in downtown.

This would free up the existing non-historic exhibition hall for transit use. In Metro Jacksonville's plan, this structure would be partially preserved. The northern portion of the exhibition hall would be preserved and converted into a mix of uses spanning two floors. These uses would include offices, leasable retail spaces facing the enclosed pedestrian mall, and a Greyhound bus terminal. The southern portion of the exhibition hall would be demolished to create bus apron space and room for additional track.

Integrating JTA's plans

A compact transportation center would free up several nearby blocks for infill mixed use transit oriented development.

As a part of the JTA plan, a new JTA bus terminal, Skyway station, parking garage, and an office building would be constructed.

In Metro Jacksonville's vision, these plans would be integrated into a compact setting without changing the meat and bones of the construction documents. In this plan, with the removal of the convention center from this space, all buildings would be relocated south of Forsyth Street.

Doing so would resolve several major site design issues:

1. With everything south of Forsyth Street, a more compact facility is created. This will make it easier for the end user to transfer between different modes of transit.

2. By purposely placing various transit terminals around the central square and mall, continuous pedestrian traffic is created on all four sides of the space. This creates the foot traffic needed to support retail and the use of the square as a popular centralized gathering space.

3. Condensing the JTA's sprawling plan south of Forsyth clears up to six adjacent blocks for urban infill transit oriented development. With proper planning, this transportation center alone could transform a desolate stretch of LaVilla into a major vibrant walkable downtown gateway neighborhood.

In Metro Jacksonville's vision, the office building would be relocated from the center of expressway ramps to the city owned block bounded by Bay, Lee, Forsyth and Johnson Streets. This would allow for the creation of an urban street edge on all four sides of the structure. The current building layout also perfectly fits on the block that has its southwest corner encroached by the Skyway.

The existing and proposed Skyway structure would remain as shown in JTA's plan. It would form the northern edge of the central square and would combine with other facilities to create a pedestrian friendly sidewalk environment that would span multiple blocks along Bay Street.

JTA's proposed bus terminal would be moved two blocks south in an area currently occupied by the Prime Osborn's surface parking lot. Perfectly aligned with the mall (the new central public concourse), this terminal would serve as the west anchor for the central square and pedestrian mall.


This is an idea that needs to be sold to JTA, the Mayor's Office, and the City Council. Moving the Prime Osborn out of the old terminal is key to a plan such as this becoming a reality. To get to this point, contacting and sharing this information with the entities mentioned keeps these ideas front and center and leads to the community support needed to tip the scale.

In addition, we need to keep our eyes open for projects that present opportunities for us to begin to bring transit mode enhancements to this downtown property.

A project currently under consideration that could bring Amtrak back downtown is the Amtrak/FEC Project. As a part of this intercity rail plan, federal money would be provided to add eight new train stations between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach.  

Currently, the application suggests that additional money will be spent to upgrade Jacksonville's "Amshack" off of New Kings Road. If the local leadership can back such an idea, it may be possible to lobby for that money to be spent to bring Amtrak to the Prime Osborn instead of upgrades to an isolated facility. If this can be done, we will then have rail service back downtown and a facility that could be used for both Amtrak and future regional commuter rail.  

This is an example of the type of visionary opportunities we need to take advantage of to get our transportation center in use as quickly as possible. To help move this city in the right direction, contact the following email addresses below to encourage everyone to open the door while opportunities continue to knock.

Note: The first two email addresses are maintained by Metro Jacksonville and will automatically forward to the current City Council and Mayors office.

Article by Ennis Davis