Author Topic: Lack of Downtown Development  (Read 5782 times)

Kerry

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Lack of Downtown Development
« on: April 23, 2018, 01:36:44 PM »
This is just kind of general question (or maybe I should say 'rant of frustration"), but why is downtown development in Jacksonville so stagnant, especially when compared to pier cities around the country and other cities in Florida?  I was in downtown West Palm Beach over the weekend and it seems they have more buildings under construction than there are buildings in downtown Jax, and many of the new ones are going to be among their tallest.  6 months ago I was in St Pete and they have more downtown retail than the Avenues Mall.  Downtown Tampa has new retail/entertainment/residential development.  Miami is on insane autopilot, Orlando can't build fast enough, and across the country places like Omaha, NE are going all out on downtown development.

Meanwhile, here in Jax there is practically nothing.  It has me wondering if I should just pack it in and move.  Why can't Jax seem to get the wheels turning?  Are we just sitting around waiting for Khan to do something?  Do we not have any local developers capable of building anything?  Is the City not making downtown development a priority?  Is the population in general just opposed to urbanism?  What the heck is making Jax so different than almost every place else?
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downtownbrown

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2018, 01:53:52 PM »
...because people expect either the government or a white knight like Khan to make it happen, when in reality it only happens when private money takes big risks.  The Market either creates the activity, or it doesn't...

Kerry

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2018, 02:03:32 PM »
...because people expect either the government or a white knight like Khan to make it happen, when in reality it only happens when private money takes big risks.  The Market either creates the activity, or it doesn't...

Maybe, but every city in America has that going on EXCEPT Jax, and if that is the case why isn't the City doing something?  Last year I listened to a speech from the West Palm Beach Mayor and she mentioned their focus on downtown multiple times - and then how they were acting on it.  I am starting to think it is a cultural thing here in Jax.
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downtownbrown

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2018, 02:08:29 PM »
...also takes a city government that is comfortable with huge debt.  "No new taxes"= No New Projects.

Kerry

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2018, 02:19:48 PM »
So Tampa, West Palm, Savannah, Omaha, etc... are all taxing themselves to prosperity?  I don't think so.  And Jax has just as much debt as anyone.  The Better Jacksonville Plan was $2billion in taxes - what did we build with it?  How much private sector development was created by that spending?  Did we just spend it all on the wrong things (like overpasses)?
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remc86007

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2018, 02:26:37 PM »
I guess I have a slightly different view of things. The multiple apartment buildings under construction in Lavilla are a huge step in the right direction. As has been discussed on here multiple times, the lack of residential density downtown essentially prevents other development from occurring. Clearly the demand exists for residential downtown as can be seen by the pre-leasing at the Barnett Bank building. The longer this slow pace of development continues, the more the demand will rise, eventually to the point that it will be viable for private investors. In a city with so much available land, and such a spread out population, slow and steady is probably what we need at this point; nobody wants to see another Berkman II (I know that failed for a variety of reasons). In the meantime, the best thing the city can do in my opinion is to subsidize the redevelopment of our existing unused buildings downtown into residential. Once the ball gets rolling again, and most of the vacant property is redeveloped, I think new construction will be very hard to stop.

I do think Jax is very much held back by the aversion to spending, but I don't think that's a permanent condition.

CityLife

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2018, 02:42:07 PM »
Good post OP. Always interesting to compare what is going on elsewhere for perspective. DT Jax has a made a few strides recently, but I've been saying for sometime that it is getting lapped by peers during this growth cycle. Would take quite a bit of time to get in depth in the market forces, but one simple explanation I will offer is that WPB, Miami, and Orlando in particular have far more established and professional downtown development agencies. Go to the ICSC Conference this fall and compare their booths. Maybe DIA has stepped it up, but their booth was worse than Lake City's a few years ago. Comparitively Orlando, WPB, and Miami have extremely impressive booths, staff, and recruiting materials. They give off an aura of success and confidence to large developers. I have heard from several people that the DIA does not compare well with peer cities. Does DVI even do anything anymore?

Back to WPB, the ED of their Downtown agency, Raphael Clemente is a well regarded and innovative planner/urbanist. There are some obvious market advantages over DT Jax, but Raphael and his team do a lot to improve the market, make DT WPB interesting, and stimulate development. Instead of doing tours of Kansas City or wherever they usually go, the leaders of Jax simply need to visit WPB, Orlando, Tampa, St. Pete, and Miami and see what those cities are doing. Would also be interesting to see how much the other municipalties get for downtown agency operating budget and capital improvements compared to Jax.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2018, 02:59:37 PM by CityLife »

Tacachale

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2018, 03:26:50 PM »
Combination of all the things we talk about on this forum. The city government can't keep a consistent vision between administrations. The downtown authority was totally (and probably unnecessarily) reorganized over the last 5 or 6 years and has not always been properly supported by the city. Consolidation disguised how much of a decline we really faced. Historical trends have meant there's not much residential downtown, and current trends make new residential developments unfeasible without incentives (which the city hasn't been committing to). And many people don't value downtown revitalization, or at least understand what it really takes to do. Etc., etc.

There's also a cultural element. We're now caught somewhere between the historical sad sack inferiority complex mentality where people don't expect improvement, and starry-eyed optimism where we get our hopes up over dazzling "big city" projects that aren't necessarily realistic. Both of those attitudes leave average people thinking they don't have to do anything themselves to support downtown development. Either things just suck and there's nothing to do about it but complain, or things are so awesome that only the hard hitters have to go up to bat.
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jaxnyc79

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2018, 03:44:02 PM »
I've raised this comparison concern on multiple occasions and usually get skewered for not being positive enough on what's happening in Jax, and this is supposed to be a pretty open-minded and forward-looking thread. 

I do believe it's partly cultural.  In my view, the city should do more to brand itself to outsiders in many different contexts.  Yes, the Jags help, but there has to be much more, and not just the Chamber touting low taxes and temperate weather and friendly people (how is that last attribute even verifiably measurable). 

ONE SPARK

Frankly, the city getting behind One Spark and, not just contributing, but coordinating its funding to the levels of what was seen in its first year, would be a bold step in the right direction. 

The original One Spark is the kind of event that reverberates culturally.  If it had been established as a reliable Jax tradition, I have no doubt its standing would've gone international at this point.  It started around the time of regulatory allowances for crowdfunding, and made a ton of sense.

ECONOMIC DEALS/INCENTIVES WITH OUTSIDER AND EVEN INTERNATIONAL FIRMS

In addition, I believe the DIA and others have to put Jax on the international real estate development radar more effectively.  I'm always shocked by RFP responses.  I just feel like we're not negotiating with the players who know how to tap into alternative funding sources, and who have done transformational urban projects over and over again.  Real estate contamination - people the world over have dealt with this - and yet only a trickle of responses come in?  How are these RFPs getting distributed?  Hire a commercial real estate firm out of Manhattan to circulate these requests - yes, they'll get a hefty commission, but just get it done a few times and the name out to a massive circle that downtown Jax is open for business.

At any rate, the One Spark example and other means of cultural re-branding are where I'd focus.  The money that might be spent on bricks-and-mortar, I'd instead spend on "knock your socks off" festivals like One Spark was in year one.  One-of-a-kind and incredible experiences, bringing together elements like technological innovation to arts and music and food and wine and eco-engagement and everything in grand celebration of the humanities and nature. 

Step One, an events and culture agency should be given the mandate to say, let's look at what's happening at other massive regional draws, and then let's strategize on "how do we one-up that," even if we have to poach the executive events talent from these other cities that appear to be "crushing it."

I believe Jax has more natural assets than Nashville or Austin, I just don't think the city has the right national and even international "positioning" or "relationships."  But that can definitely change with the right energy and hunger and willingness to invest.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2018, 03:46:21 PM by jaxnyc79 »

jagsonville

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2018, 06:32:01 PM »
Maybe I’m a bit of an optimist but I think downtown is heading in the right direction. The subsidized lavilla housing is bound to stimulate other development. The Barnett/trio will be a huge game changer, maybe the biggest project in several generations. Khan will get something done near the stadium, lot J at the very least. In two years unless the economy tanks we could see way more things materialize downtown.

Kerry

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2018, 07:28:38 PM »
I personally think the Jags have been a big part of the problem.  They have redirected so much of the City tourism spending and I am not seeing a return on any of it.  When do we see the financial windfall from spending $43 million tax dollars on video scoreboards?  I wasn't living in Jax when the NFL selected it for expansion but it seems to me that the City thought getting the NFL would be the catalyst to launch the building of a great city.  Compare that to say Oklahoma City that took the exact opposite approach and created a great city that an NBA owner would want to be a part of.  Of course, that isn't the problem in and of itself - Miami has wasted billions on sports team with no financial benefit and their urban core is growing like crazy.
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Keith-N-Jax

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2018, 07:45:54 PM »
Blaming the Jaguars is pretty dumb, Khan has been the owner for a few years, the downtown area has been neglected for many decades before the Jaguars where even born. Looking to blame ,,COJ/JTA is where you need to start.

Kerry

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2018, 07:54:36 PM »
Blaming the Jaguars is pretty dumb, Khan has been the owner for a few years, the downtown area has been neglected for many decades before the Jaguars where even born. Looking to blame ,,COJ/JTA is where you need to start.

Jags have been here for 23 seasons and there isn't even a sports bar next to the stadium.  When does it start to pay off?
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thelakelander

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2018, 08:04:09 PM »
Overall, some things must be put in perspective.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach MSA - 6,158,824
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA -3,091,399
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford MSA - 2,509,831
Jacksonville MSA - 1,504,980

If all things were equal, these other places are going to have much more going on due to scale alone. Then there's other things that have caused these places to boom economically as well. In South Florida, Miami's real estate market has been boosted by drug money since the 1980s. Orlando has one of the most successful Downtown CRAs in the state. A complete opposite to DT Jax's which is in the red due to bad investments from previous administrations. St. Pete started investing in the arts, being bicycle friendly and cleaning up its waterfront parks as far back as the 1990s.

Despite the different paths these places have taken, the one thing they have in common is their most lively areas of activity have density. There's nothing special about DT Orlando. However if you really look at it, you'll see most of the activity is centered around a few major corridors (Ex. Orange, Central, etc.) where infill and redevelopment has clustered together. In Miami, you have Brickell and in St. Pete, you have Central and the waterfront parks. In Jax, we don't know what the hell we want to focus on. One day it's the District, then the Shipyards and Brooklyn on the next. Ultimately, you end up with billions spent and not much to visibly show for it expect a few isolated nodes of development that all struggle to survive long term.

We can come up with a million reasons of why Downtown Jax seems to struggle but it really boils down to this....density. Jax's real downtown is the Northbank. Until it floods the Northbank with development on top of development to build pedestrian scale activity and density, downtown will struggle to economically benefit from the synergy and image enhancement achieved from clustering urban development together.

This stuff isn't complicated. Try finding a vibrant urban center that's not walkable and pedestrian centered. You won't. If that's the case, why is Jax trying to be the first? Stuff like the Trio, Barnett, FSCJ's dorms, Hotel Indigo, etc. are the best thing that can happen to Downtown Jax to change its image and ultimately its economy. Continuing to spread the redevelopment focus to thin, will simply lead to the same underwhelming results.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2018, 08:05:44 PM by thelakelander »
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Alex Sifakis

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Re: Lack of Downtown Development
« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2018, 08:32:45 PM »
The reasons downtown Jacksonville has been slow to develop (and doesn't have density - as Lake said, which is a huge issue) are very simple:
1) The numbers have not worked for private developers in the northbank core - either to build or renovate old buildings.  For the vast majority of projects, the value of the buildings after they are finished would be been less than what the developers are into them for.  So the projects don't happen.  The numbers don't work because rents are too low.  Higher rents = higher property values.
2) COJ (mainly past city councils) have not chosen to incentivize private developers enough to make the numbers work for those developers. Rev grants are not enough.  The majority of these downtown deals need large cash grants from the city (like Barnett, Jones, etc) to make the numbers work.

That's it!  All the other downtowns that are booming right now, either 1) rents (and therefore values) were already high enough to justify private development, or 2) the city is incentivizing developers at proper levels. If a developer (and the developers lender) can see a clear path to making money on a project, the project will happen.  As simple as that.

And what happens after a city incentivizes enough development is that the downtown gets enough amenities (bars, restaurants, stores, etc), which raises demand, which raises rents enough to the point where incentives aren't needed anymore. This is what has happened in Charlotte, Cincinnati, Nashville, etc.

Luckily, #2 from the top paragraph is changing - our current mayor and city council DO realize we need to make the numbers work for developers, and the DIA is doing a great job of getting deals done.  And as long as everyone keeps doing that, deals (like the Barnett, Jones Furniture, etc) will continue to get done.  And the more deals that get done, the more amenities downtown gets, the cooler downtown becomes, and the more people are willing to pay in rent.  The rent target for residential is ~$2/sqft (it used to be a little less, $1.80ish, but recent construction cost increases have moved the target).  If rents hit $2/sqft (a 750 sqft new/renovated property rents for $1500/mo) then you will start seeing cranes everywhere. All of those cities we "want to be like" - they have rents of at least $2/ft in their downtown core.

The Shipyards, the District, etc will all be great when (if?) they happen - but COJ shouldn't (and currently isn't) waiting around for big deals to get done.  COJ needs to move ahead with all sensible projects with developers that are willing to do a deal that will bring heads or amenities to downtown. And this is happening. There are currently more projects under construction or in the pipeline downtown than at any time since the crash.