Dog Without A Bone – JTA’S Great Greyhound Deception

March 19, 2014 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In this editorial, Metro Jacksonville's Bob Mann explains why JTA's proposed Greyhound station should be reconsidered and why Jacksonville may be a code word for Screw the Pooch.

Future of Convention Center and Greyhound Undecided?

Visit Jacksonville seeks to revive 'world class' convention center study
By David Bauerlein
Florida Times-Union

A 2007 study on building a top-flight convention center for Jacksonville went nowhere, buried under the double whammy of the Great Recession and city budget woes.

But as tourism rebounds, Visit Jacksonville is seeking to take another look at the study and see what it would take for Jacksonville to capture a bigger share of convention business.

“It’s about starting to have a meaningful discussion,” Visit Jacksonville board Chairman Bill Prescott told the Duval County Tourist Development Council last week.

Prescott said updating the study should focus on building a new convention center near the Hyatt Regency hotel. The city already owns the land at the sites of the old City Hall Annex and county courthouse, and the location is close to restaurants and nightlife that’s lacking at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

“It’s very obvious what is going to succeed,” said Paul Astleford, CEO of Visit Jacksonville, the organization designated by the city to boost tourism...

...City Councilman Richard Clark said since the decision on whether to invest in a convention center ultimately rests on the City Council, it would be best to have the council decide whether to reopen the convention center study.

Clark, who sits on the Tourist Development Council, said he would be willing to introduce such legislation to fund the study...

Build new convention center space in two phases next to the 966-room Hyatt Regency. The first phase would consist of an exhibit hall built at the site of the City Hall Annex. The second phase would build more convention center space on the site of the old county courthouse, which has been vacant since the new courthouse opened in 2012.

Downtown Jacksonville convention center conversation resurfaces
Ashley Gurbal Kritzer
Jacksonville Business Journal

The on-again, off-again push to build a convention center is on again.

City Councilman Richard Clark in mid-January introduced a bill to fund a $60,000 study to update a 2007 study on the feasibility of a convention center. The update would be funded from the executive operating reserve joint account to contract directly with Conventions, Sports and Leisure International LLC, which completed the original study...

...“If they call and ask and think they can find another option, I have no issue,” Clark said. “I want to work with them on things like this.”
Mayoral spokesman David DeCamp said the administration was reviewing the source of the funding.

“It’s not a question of supporting an update, it’s finding a good funding source for it,” DeCamp said, “but we’re comfortable we’ll be able to find it.”

Paul Astleford, CEO of Visit Jacksonville, said a new convention center would be a “major step forward” for the city.

One must consider what happens when the giant old station is empty once again? Did someone say real estate? Greyhound Corporation and/or All Aboard Florida (part of FECI, Flagler, Fortress) could well develop that magnificent old property into a world showcase transportation center. They could likewise develop all of that vacant space including the awful 'Greyhound Bus Terminal' location into a cluster of mid rise, multi use, apartments, condos, retail and offices clustered around a condensed, single historic building. Developing the multimodal station by simply replacing the exhibition hall with a bus and motor coach zone next to the railroad tracks in exchange for development rights on acres of vacant downtown urban property has got to be attractive.

I would be stunned if Dave Leach, CEO at Greyhound allows his company to be 'railroaded' into such a bad deal, Mr. Leach and Greyhound is smart, JTA not so much, but what JTA lacks in smart it appears capable of making up for with smoke and mirrors.

Plans for new Greyhound station hit a roadblock: JTA, Greyhound no longer see eye-to-eye on the project

Plans to construct a long-awaited $6 million bus terminal for Greyhound near the Prime Osborn Convention Center appear to have hit a roadblock.

State Transportation Department officials say they are ready to release federal money that would fully finance the project, but they are waiting for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and Greyhound to complete negotiations on the project.

The 'project' however is NOT the JRTC dream, it is simply the 'Greyhound module,' an isolated terminal in a desolate and dangerously perceived section of what was once downtown. Will Greyhounds business sixth sense cause them to simply wait out the new convention center and then move the entire multi-modal terminal into a most amazing and classic giant of a station?

“We’re ready to go anytime,” said James Bennett, the transportation department’s urban transportation development manager for Northeast Florida. “We’re just waiting for them to … give us the go-ahead to move with this.”

The atmosphere in the city is like a cat waiting for the mouse to make the next move. Locally we all know the drill, somebody must have promised Everbank that if they'd just move their operations into the mostly vacant AT&T building (now Everbank Center), we'd clean out the 'riffraff' next door. God knows we couldn't have bank executives eating lunch with 'those people.' Our city has refined running from 'best practice' in mass transit to a fine art replete with countless failures and reams of incomplete ghost projects.

JTA had initially wanted to break ground in the summer on land near the convention center that would house the new bus terminal, opening the way for Greyhound to vacate and sell its current space in the downtown core — a move city officials have talked about for more than a decade as part of revitalization efforts.

In February, Greyhound signed a 40-year lease to use the future building at a rental rate of $46,000 per year, and in August, the JTA board awarded a $5 million contract to Core Construction Co.

Officials had hoped the terminal would be complete sometime this year.

To date, however, work crews have only completed preliminary site work on the land, leaving the one-year construction project essentially untouched.

And now, it appears JTA and Greyhound no longer see eye-to-eye.

Perhaps it's because Greyhound realizes it is being lured to a desert for exile and the likelihood of ever being part of the rail terminal, aside from a seven block walk to the nearest train is zero. I for one am looking forward to the time when they reopen the station, if for no other reason then to look at their faces when they realize 200 train passengers a day in a 87,000 square foot building leaves a bit too much open space.

In a statement, a Greyhound spokeswoman said the company will move into the new terminal only after construction is complete on it as well as an adjacent “multimodal facility” that JTA officials had originally envisioned to be a major transportation hub.

But JTA dropped immediate efforts to build that hub — estimated to cost $180 million — in 2011 after Mayor Alvin Brown and other city officials wanted more time to review the idea and expressed concern about aspects of the project.

The ambitious plan called for a campus of buildings for a regional traffic management center, Greyhound, a relocated Amtrak station and a hub for a citywide rapid transit system of express buses.

JTA still has no immediate plan to begin construction on that project, according to John Finotti, an authority spokesman.

“The multimodal facility is a primary and very important part of this project and Greyhound will plan its move to the new terminal around the completion of the multimodal facility,” said Lanesha Gipson, a Greyhound spokeswoman. “We do not plan to move into the terminal prior to its completion since interacting with other modes of transportation would provide customers with a seamless, more convenient travel experience.”

The authority says it expects Greyhound to honor the terms of the 40-year lease it signed in February.

Another point is even if they build the adjacent "multimodal" hub, it will only be a transfer facility for the city buses and the "Skyway to nowhere".  An improvement to be sure, but hardly the multimodal "republic" envisioned. Fact is, without completely abandoning the railroad line and terminal and moving the whole complex three blocks north, there will never be a rail side to our "multimodal". As we've continuously witnessed over the last 30 years, multi-modal in Jacksonville means buses, taxis and cars. Some have actually said, "big deal, it's only Greyhound". Well remove Greyhound and you have kicked the regional connectivity completely out of the picture and hence the whole conceptual functionality of the structure collapses.

So whatever they end up offering to Greyhound short of the keys to the 1919 era headhouse, should be seen as poison bait.

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