A Cheap Solution To Jax's Convention Center Problem?

December 11, 2014 264 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Investing in a new convention center is an issue that has been debated in Jacksonville for over a decade now. Looking back, the Civic Council may have provided an affordable "no-frills" solution that may be worth dusting off and revisiting.

Explaining The Solution Through Graphics and Imagery

The 2014 APA Florida Annual Conference at the Prime F. Osborn Convention Center. The Prime Osborn contains 78,500 square feet of exhibition space, 29,000 square feet of meeting room space, and a 10,000 square foot ballroom. It has failed to meet expectation since its opening -- years ago, partially due to not having adjacent hotel rooms, dining and entertainment options.

Could a part of the Civic Council's 2011 recommendations for downtown's future include an affordable solution to resolve Jacksonville's long debated question of what to do with the convention center? Imagine if such a solution could be implemented for $20 million less than the cost to install pools and video scoreboards in Everbank Field.

Current aerial of the Hyatt Hotel, former county courthouse complex and the Elbow entertainment district.

Aerial illustrating adding a two-level, 160,000 square foot mixed use building to the Hyatt's existing meeting space. The new building would feature an 80,000 square foot exhibition hall attached to the Hyatt's existing ballroom level. A hybrid of the Hyatt's conference rooms, ballroom and meeting rooms, together with the new exhibition hall and flex-space would be significantly larger than the Prime Osborn Convention Center. It would also have 966 hotel rooms above it.

A street level, the new exhibition hall would include a full block of retail, dining and entertainment space. It would effectively bridge the gap between blocks where several restaurants, bars and clubs are already in operation. This supportive walkable environment of vibrant activity is something that can't be replicated around the Prime Osborn.

Completed in early 2014, the new 170,000 square foot Owensboro, KY convention center on the Ohio River cost $45 million or $265 per square foot. Applying this number to the 160,000 square foot addition to the Hyatt would put Jacksonville in the ballpark of $42 million to resolve the long standing issue of what to do with the Prime Osborn convention center.

For this plan to work, the 15-story Courthouse Annex building would have to be demolished. The 210-foot-tall structure was completed in 1960 as Jacksonville's City Hall. Designed by RS&H and built by the Auchter Company, the $6 million building was said to be a great institution of services to all our people for many years to come. The building features a 70-space parking structure and a terrace that once overlooked the river (now blocked by the Hyatt Hotel).

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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