Author Topic: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future  (Read 29159 times)

marcuscnelson

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The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« on: July 09, 2023, 04:06:58 PM »
I found myself today thinking about something I'd seen from Nate Monroe on Twitter about the DIA choosing to "bunt" the Laura Trio decision to City Council. It then occurred to me that we've just passed the ten year anniversary of the DIA selecting its first CEO, Aundra Wallace.

I think it's safe to say looking back that the DIA hasn't quite produced the results we were hoping for out of downtown, especially in the economic upturn pre-COVID. So the question I have for you all is: with the benefit of hindsight, what should the DIA look like in the future, especially with the chance for change under Mayor Deegan?

Is Nate Monroe right, should the DIA's powers be expanded to be fully responsible for downtown, with City Council's only influence being the board selections and an overall budget? Or is the status quo good enough with some minor tweaks? Or perhaps the DIA should go the way of the DDA and a new system be implemented? What do you think?
So, to the young people fighting in this movement for change, here is my charge: march in the streets, protest, run for school committee or city council or the state legislature. And win. - Ed Markey

Ken_FSU

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2023, 04:37:01 PM »
The DIA should be led and staffed by people with a thick (virtual) Rolodex of national and international investors and developers, and a proven track record of revitalizing a major urban area in a comparable city. Definition of insanity is to install people from within who have historically been a bigger part of the problem than the solution. There’s room on the staff for someone like Lori Boyer to be working on code ordinances and legislation dealing with the preservation fund, but there’s no universe where the DIA should be led by someone with no track record of large scale success and who doesn’t even seem to understand what a master plan is. Time is too precious and dollars are too scarce.

jaxlongtimer

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2023, 09:47:42 PM »
I think the issues are not just how DIA performs, but also the ecosystem in which it operates in.

To begin with, there is a fundamental flaw in DIA only being concerned with the artificial boundaries of "Downtown" and not taking a more holistic view of how to engage the larger metro area in connecting with Downtown.  It basically acts as if Downtown is apart from the rest of NE Florida and I think that is a big mistake.  Sometimes, I think it should be specialized division of the Planning Department if we could find a way to keep it out from under the thumbs of the politicos in City Hall.

Examples of better integration would include better transit connectivity with the surrounding urban core and, addressing another issue,  stronger coordination with Public Works, FDOT, JTA and the NFTPO.  The Emerald Trail (which I don't even see DIA as being a leader on) is a step in the right direction but it is just a toe in the water to what should be done.

Making the boundaries of Downtown more seamless would likely also help to overcome the psychological impediments many area residents have about "going Downtown."

DIA should be better integrated with other facets of the City such as cultural institutions, Visit Jacksonville, the Jax Historical Society, the hotel and restaurant associations, parks, nonprofits, community organizers, neighborhood associations and others (beyond just the Jaguars and money hungry developers).  And, as stated above, it needs to better connect dots with other agencies at the local, state and Federal levels.

Most importantly, DIA needs to show the community a clear vision/plan for Downtown that reflects wide community inputs (not just what its staff and consultants think are best), be more disciplined about sticking to such a plan over a long period of time and not fawn over the developer rendering/project of the day.  If developers don't comply with the master plan, we need to say "sorry" and move on.  In support of this, there needs to be best-in-class downtown zoning regarding street engagement and aesthetics, green spaces, setbacks, height restrictions, architecture, scale, historic preservation, etc., not some random walk with developers.

We also need to say that we will incentivize developers by investing in community infrastructure that supports their project rather than "investing" directly into the project.  This would not only benefit the developers but the entire community and, hopefully, leverage such investments to support further development in the area (i,e, a multiplier effect) creating some real momentum.  The lone exception is incentives for historic structures and such incentives should be based on either multiple contractor bids shared with DIA or a 3rd party audit of the single bid contractor.

The DIA board needs to be more diverse, and maybe enlarged, and include people not just tied to development, construction or real estate, but also representative of business owners, residents, nonprofits, environmentalists, historians, accountants, financial analysts, etc. Members should be representative of being a Jax resident for from 5 years to decades.  Terms should be staggered so that people are going to be selected by more than one mayor/city council over time, insuring the board isn't reflecting one mayor/city council's "philosophy" over downtown.

The above may not be all that should be addressed but it would be a good start.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2023, 10:28:00 PM by jaxlongtimer »

Charles Hunter

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2023, 10:47:32 PM »
^Excellent!

marcuscnelson

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2023, 12:39:50 AM »
Great post, longtimer. If I may emphasize a few points:

Examples of better integration would include better transit connectivity with the surrounding urban core and, addressing another issue,  stronger coordination with Public Works, FDOT, JTA and the NFTPO.  The Emerald Trail (which I don't even see DIA as being a leader on) is a step in the right direction but it is just a toe in the water to what should be done.

I've been struck by how little mobility appears to be a consideration for the DIA. Especially in an urban setting, one of the first questions with anything is how one is to get around, and very simply downtown isn't going to succeed if the answer is going to be driving alone for the foreseeable future. We're all well aware about the issues with two-way streets so I won't stress that but the fact that there's been this arduous process during all of the DIA's existence about the future of transit downtown and yet they've demonstrated little to no interest in its impact on their work is quite concerning. Personally I think the scooter program is good but there has to be somewhere (safe!) to ride them and they haven't delivered on that. As you identified, the Emerald Trail is largely being handled by other agencies, but that shouldn't have to mean that they are completely hands-off.

Quote
DIA should be better integrated with other facets of the City such as cultural institutions, Visit Jacksonville, the Jax Historical Society, the hotel and restaurant associations, parks, nonprofits, community organizers, neighborhood associations and others (beyond just the Jaguars and money hungry developers).  And, as stated above, it needs to better connect dots with other agencies at the local, state and Federal levels.

Most importantly, DIA needs to show the community a clear vision/plan for Downtown that reflects wide community inputs (not just what its staff and consultants think are best), be more disciplined about sticking to such a plan over a long period of time and not fawn over the developer rendering/project of the day.  If developers don't comply with the master plan, we need to say "sorry" and move on.  In support of this, there needs to be best-in-class downtown zoning regarding street engagement and aesthetics, green spaces, setbacks, height restrictions, architecture, scale, historic preservation, etc., not some random walk with developers.

I've thought somewhat about this lately, and it does seem like a lot of the issues revolve around the DIA's strange inability to actually have a plan, despite their protests that things like the below graphic somehow represent one. My thought has been that it should actually be pretty easy to build something downtown, provided it fits the master plan. We know how precarious the business cycle can be, and the last thing we should be doing is dragging out projects long enough for them to fail.





Quote
We also need to say that we will incentivize developers by investing in community infrastructure that supports their project rather than "investing" directly into the project.  This would not only benefit the developers but the entire community and, hopefully, leverage such investments to support further development in the area (i,e, a multiplier effect) creating some real momentum.  The lone exception is incentives for historic structures and such incentives should be based on either multiple contractor bids shared with DIA or a 3rd party audit of the single bid contractor.

I can certainly imagine the challenge in committing to a change like this, especially when it will likely change the kinds of developers who choose to develop downtown.

A related thought that comes to mind is the manner in which we choose to support development citywide. I've been confused over and over again about how we struggle to find willing developers to build downtown or in its closest surrounding neighborhoods, where we can afford to build robust transit and quality parks, and yet we provide city incentives for apartments out by the airport, and permit brand new subdivisions with septic tanks. Like a lot of problems, including ones beyond Jacksonville, we seem to incentivize bad behaviors and then find ourselves shocked by bad outcomes.

Quote
The DIA board needs to be more diverse, and maybe enlarged, and include people not just tied to development, construction or real estate, but also representative of business owners, residents, nonprofits, environmentalists, historians, accountants, financial analysts, etc. Members should be representative of being a Jax resident for from 5 years to decades.  Terms should be staggered so that people are going to be selected by more than one mayor/city council over time, insuring the board isn't reflecting one mayor/city council's "philosophy" over downtown.

This was in a sense what I was wondering about when I created this thread. Whether the DIA should evolve into an organization that is truly, personally responsible for downtown's future to a degree that means city council is largely focused on other issues or take a different path. Obviously there's still plenty that could go wrong but I could see such a change being interesting nonetheless.
So, to the young people fighting in this movement for change, here is my charge: march in the streets, protest, run for school committee or city council or the state legislature. And win. - Ed Markey

Jax_Developer

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2023, 08:18:59 AM »
There was a call for offers for a full block parcel near the Jags stadium recently.. there was a ton of interest at first.. maybe they are UC. I don't know honestly. Whoever the buyer is, it will be speculative.. and that's what is happening around downtown now. Just realistically the return per square foot is not there for projects outside of Brooklyn and the Southbank as of 7/2023. I think the DIA has done all it can, within the confines of market realities.

As much as I am not a fan of infinite REV grants, they are effective in helping get the ball rolling.. They have expanded those grants to small projects. They also do have quite a bit of authority to essentially negotiate city lands within their boundaries. I don't think it is a lack of power as much as it's an inability to make projects pencil out. Vestcor has been the biggest downtown developer, and they have only been able to do it through low-income benefits & incentives.

The items that need to be addressed, which are controversial I know, are: the crime, a plan for the jail, the public river space, and the jags stadium. Any developer is looking at those items more so than a few extra dollars of incentives. Rents just have not kept up with construction costs and that's why these new "asks" are insanely larger than previously requested for projects still 'happening.'

The DIA is doing all they can do.. there needs to be a more legitimate conversation about what is preventing the CC from coming together. It's holding everything else down with it. Once rents are reliably higher than $2.00 psf then conversations about smaller or denser projects become actually feasible. Right now they are kind of here and there in historic retrofits.

thelakelander

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2023, 10:33:21 AM »
Quote
There was a call for offers for a full block parcel near the Jags stadium recently

Which block was this?
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jaxlongtimer

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2023, 12:06:56 PM »
Once rents are reliably higher than $2.00 psf then conversations about smaller or denser projects become actually feasible. Right now they are kind of here and there in historic retrofits.

The way to get rents up is to create demand.  The way to create demand is to make Downtown more desirable.  The way to make Downtown more desirable is to offer amenities, activities and an environment people want to be engaged with*.  DIA doesn't seem to focus on any of this, just making deals with developers with no holistic plan/vision for Downtown.  Hence, the start and stop failings we see regularly resulting in little to no progress over decades.

Compare Downtown's ecosystem of 60 or more years ago today.  Retail, night spots, restaurants, theaters, robust historic buildings, hotels, density... pretty much destroyed or gone.  Night and day comparison.  If we did more to incentivize via smart infrastructure, green spaces and aesthetic investments, along with disciplined planning and zoning, Downtown would be the most desirable part of the county and sub $2.00 rents would be hsitory.

DIA, or its replacement, should be empowered and focused more on the above than just making developers happy.  The latter will happen if the former takes place and that is the change that is needed.  The present approach is a demonstrated failure.  We need to stop repeating what clearly doesn't work (JTA are you listening?  ;D ).

*This brings up another thought, why is Downtown Vision not integrated with DIA.  Another case of left hand and right hand not working the best together?

thelakelander

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2023, 12:26:58 PM »
Once rents are reliably higher than $2.00 psf then conversations about smaller or denser projects become actually feasible. Right now they are kind of here and there in historic retrofits.

The way to get rents up is to create demand.  The way to create demand is to make Downtown more desirable.  The way to make Downtown more desirable is to offer amenities, activities and an environment people want to be engaged with*

Name one highway overpass in downtown Jacksonville that looks like this?



Name one park in downtown Jacksonville that looks like this?



Name one commercial street in downtown Jacksonville that looks like this?



Name one place in downtown Jacksonville where you can take the kids to something like this?



100% agree that the little things like investing in our public realm, streets, parks, infrastructure, etc. are a necessary first step in building the type of environment that everyone wants to see. What's show in these images, come a dime a dozen in nearly every major city's downtown now. If we can't do anything else, we can get our public spaces right and activated into conditions are conductive to drawing a large cross section of people on a regular basis.
"A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” - Muhammad Ali

Steve

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2023, 01:34:28 PM »
Someone has to pay to maintain all those things. Clearly Columbus is willing to pay.

It’s a shame that we aren’t willing to do that.

jaxlongtimer

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2023, 02:07:50 PM »
^ Friends of Parks groups and private operators of something like a merry-go-round can go far to relieve taxpayers for paying for these things.

Every significant park in Jacksonville should have a nonprofit Friends-of-the-Park organization and/or an Adopt-a-Park program to supplement City support and the City should be taking the lead to create and support these efforts.  In Jax... nothing!  (By the way, we should do the same for our public schools.)  People will invest personal resources in opportunities that mutually benefit their own interests and the City needs to exploit that tendency.

As to private operators, or fee for service operated by the City, consider the merry-go-round that was in St. Augustine or the one below in Byrant Park in New York City (p.s. this park also is surrounded by outdoor eateries, restaurants and hosts outdoor movies/concerts.  A perfect and easy-to-copy model for optimizing green spaces.)

Imagine how much rent residential or office tenants or hotel guests would pay to be in a building contiguous with a park like this.









« Last Edit: July 10, 2023, 02:12:55 PM by jaxlongtimer »

Ken_FSU

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2023, 02:29:51 PM »
^If you look past the fact that he probably expensed some meals and other things that he shouldn't have (who amongst us hasn't?), the original Friends of Hemming Park group led by Vince Cavin had a really great vision for the park. They had Community First lined up to build and sponsor a stage, Blacksheep lined up to open a shipping container restaurant, and some great plans to partner with the library, add more green space, and bring in attractions (like a carousel) to the park. Citizenry was just aghast at the idea of investing public money into Hemming though.

Jax_Developer

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2023, 02:34:04 PM »
Quote
There was a call for offers for a full block parcel near the Jags stadium recently

Which block was this?

Church St & Victoria St.

Once rents are reliably higher than $2.00 psf then conversations about smaller or denser projects become actually feasible. Right now they are kind of here and there in historic retrofits.

The way to get rents up is to create demand.  The way to create demand is to make Downtown more desirable.  The way to make Downtown more desirable is to offer amenities, activities and an environment people want to be engaged with*.  DIA doesn't seem to focus on any of this, just making deals with developers with no holistic plan/vision for Downtown.  Hence, the start and stop failings we see regularly resulting in little to no progress over decades.

Compare Downtown's ecosystem of 60 or more years ago today.  Retail, night spots, restaurants, theaters, robust historic buildings, hotels, density... pretty much destroyed or gone.  Night and day comparison.  If we did more to incentivize via smart infrastructure, green spaces and aesthetic investments, along with disciplined planning and zoning, Downtown would be the most desirable part of the county and sub $2.00 rents would be hsitory.

DIA, or its replacement, should be empowered and focused more on the above than just making developers happy.  The latter will happen if the former takes place and that is the change that is needed.  The present approach is a demonstrated failure.  We need to stop repeating what clearly doesn't work (JTA are you listening?  ;D ).

*This brings up another thought, why is Downtown Vision not integrated with DIA.  Another case of left hand and right hand not working the best together?

I'm not saying I know how to fix it, but I think the lack of demand does demonstrate some larger issues at play. I believe the city could invest in more infrastructure DT if there were private projects supporting the public dollars. I don't think the issue is a lack of public dollars for downtown, it is the perception of the return towards those changes that has people concerned. I do think that the pursuit to creating a profitable build environment is the most important goal.. several other objectives would fall in line with private investment in the CC. I think the large hanger items leave room for doubt for outside investors that do have decisions when it comes to what markets to invest in. The Jags future is the most uncertain for an NFL franchise to be fair on a national level.

Ken_FSU

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2023, 04:28:35 PM »
To the DIA's credit, at least they're already getting ahead of delays for Riverfront Plaza park on the very first day of construction.

Quote
https://www.news4jax.com/news/local/2023/07/10/long-awaited-construction-on-riverfront-plaza-begins-monday/

"Lori Boyer, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, said she expects that the project will be completed in a little more than a year.

“I think that the Public Works estimate on it is around 15 to 18 months,” Boyer said. “But that’s always subject to change, whether there’s weather delays or supply chain delays, you know, any of that kind of stuff. But at the moment, we’re looking forward to finally getting it out of the way.”

I think this lack of firmness, urgency, and ownership from the DIA is a huge part of why we're coming out of this economic boom with almost nothing to show for it downtown.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2023, 04:32:29 PM by Ken_FSU »

thelakelander

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Re: The Downtown Investment Authority's Future
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2023, 09:36:27 PM »
^ That's only phase 1.

Quote
The goal of the construction is to transform Riverfront Plaza into a park with a large green space and public amenities. Crews will eventually build walkways, gardens and a cafe with a playground.

When is the full project supposed to be completed and for how much?
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