The Premature Destruction of Downtown Jacksonville

April 12, 2012 140 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In recent weeks, many have openly advocated the immediate demolition of the Duval County Courthouse and the former city hall buildings along East Bay Street. Today, Metro Jacksonville explains why this idea is just a repeat of the failed strategies that have torn Downtown Jacksonville apart over the last 60 years.

The Negatives of Premature Demolishing

"It's only productive if it's implemented. I've seen so many plans in the last 40 years that have talked about the development of downtown that have been put on paper and shelved."
Robert Wilson, Northside Resident
Talk of Downtown - Florida Times-Union 11/13/98

So what happens if we demolish both buildings, and the construction of a convention center is found to be unfeasible?  We don't have to travel far to find out the results. Downtown Jacksonville is littered with premature decisions to demolish building stock before having a funded redevelopment plan. Here are four downtown sites still waiting for the projects they were demolished for to finally be constructed.

1. Theatre District Block

Once home to the Imperial, Palace, and Empress Theatres, this full city block was leveled nearly 40 years ago (mid-1970s) for the construction of a $6 million, 10-story administration building for JEA. Needless to say, JEA's priorities changed, resulting in the purchase of the 19-story former Independent Life Building at the intersection of Julia and Duval Streets. Today, JEA's offices are located in the former Universal-Marion building while this once exciting block in the heart of downtown continues to be underutilized as a metal parking deck.

Still waiting for that office building after nearly 40 years of serving as a parking lot.

2. Railroad Row

Once the epicenter of Jacksonville's economy, this exciting district was virtually eliminated for new development that would spring up around the Prime Osborn Convention Center after it opened in 1985. Now, decades later, the Prime Osborn has failed to deliver, and there are calls to demolish these structures for a new unfunded convention center, and Railroad Row is nothing more than overgrown surface parking lots.

Railroad Row, 27 years later.

3. LaVilla

A major focus of Mayor Ed Austin's River City Renaissance, the elimination of LaVilla, Florida's first African-American urban district, is probably one of the most cold-blooded atrocities committed in the failed schemes to revitalize downtown Jacksonville. Efforts to "clean up the blight" during the 1990s has resulted in this once dense, walkable, mixed-use district becoming the no-mans land it is today.

Still waiting for the renaissance in LaVilla 15 years later.

4. West Adams Street (Duval County Courthouse)

West Adams Street looks completely different than it did in this 1944 image. Despite being in great shape, several of these buildings were demolished for the new Duval County Courthouse. However, the snake-bitten project's design changed so much that the current footprint is nowhere near Adams Street, meaning structures such as the Southern Bell Building could have been completely left alone. In the upcoming month, we'll be laying more sod in a downtown that's increasingly resembling a bad piece of swiss cheese, moreso than a place where market-rate revitalization will have a chance to naturally occur.

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