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Still looking for a convention center

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By CHRISTOPHER CALNAN

The Times-Union

The drumbeating for a new convention center in Jacksonville didn't stop when the city's top tourism advocate, Kitty Ratcliffe, left town for New Orleans in October.

Ratcliffe, former president of the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, led the fight for a new convention center. And her pet issue continues to ring on with the help of the CVB's board.

The CVB says the city needs a new and larger convention center because Jacksonville has outgrown the Prime Osborn Convention Center, a converted railroad terminal. Potential alternatives would be costly, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but giving Jacksonville another revenue source would be worth the investment, CVB officials say.

Meanwhile, Mayor John Peyton has been uninterested in discussing the issue, citing more pressing matters. And the city's Tourist Development Council, which is chaired by the City Council's president, is equally quiet about the topic.

Undaunted, the CVB continues banging the convention drum, however hollow some consider the sound.

Last month, the bureau's board reviewed the results of a privately funded convention center location study that examined eight or nine potential sites. The study won't be released until the CVB makes its final recommendation after the additional months it will take to study all of the options.

"If you know if something is right, you continue to advocate for it," CVB Chairwoman Margo Dundon said. "Times change and it's the hope that the case we make is so convincing that priorities shift and new ideas are embraced."

Differing perspectives

The Prime Osborn, which opened as a convention center in 1986, has 78,500 square feet of exhibit space. That's not enough, CVB officials say.

They want a center with at least 200,000 square feet of exhibit space to compete with cities like Charlotte, N.C. or Birmingham, Ala., for convention business.

Nationally, plenty of localities look to conventions as a way to revitalize flagging downtowns. But the convention business has been on a downward spiral since 1997 or 1998, said Heywood Sanders, professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Sanders said he spent nine months on a report released in January by The Brookings Institution. Sanders' report, called "Space Available: The Realities of Convention Centers as Economic Development Strategy", found that attendance at the 200 largest tradeshows are now at 1993 levels.

However, cities are going ahead with plans to build or expand convention centers. Since 1990, convention space increased by more than 50 percent. During the last decade, public spending on convention centers doubled to $2.4 billion annually, according to the report.

Attendance has dropped because tighter security has made air travel more difficult, and teleconferencing improvements have lessened the need for exhibitors, Sanders said.

Also, consolidation of business sectors and the decrease in the number of independently owned retail stores hurt the convention business. Modern-day stores like Wal-Mart, Staples or Home Depot are so influential their buyers don't attend tradeshows, Sanders said.

"They don't have to go to conventions to see new products," he said, "the products come to them."

Dundon said the Sanders report is flawed because it looks at such a short period of time, including the post-Sept. 11 downturn. She also said statistics provided by several industry groups contradict Sanders' findings.

For Example, Smith Travel Research is forecasting a 4 percent increase in demand for U.S. hotel rooms this year, largely because of more meetings and conventions.

"There's a tremendous rebound that's happening right now in the convention and meeting industry," Dundon said.

Former Mayor John Delaney said he's not concerned about the CVB leading the push for a new convention center. But he and Peyton agree there are "competing needs" to be balanced.

"We need to look at it and get a price tag on it," he said. "But I don't know if that's the next big financial investment the city should make. If you're putting $250 million into economic development, is a convention center the place to do it?"

Self serving?

Dundon readily admits that the city's elected officials have yet to determine what role the tourism industry should be playing in Jacksonville.

Mike Weinstein, former executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, agrees. And the CVB, which clearly has a self interest expanding convention business, has taken the lead, he said.

Without any plan or strategy by elected officials, the CVB's pursuit of and studying sites for a convention center is simply illogical, Weinstein said.

"To me, what level of tourism do we want to attract? That's the crucial question," he said. "I've always thought we were answering the second question before the first."

The nine-member TDC, a public body which includes three City Council members, three hotel owners and three hospitality industry representatives, should determine the proper level of tourism for Jacskonville. The CVB isn't objective enough to make such a determination, Weinstein said.

"What we need is a community-based decision," he said. "There's been a void there that's been filled by the CVB, but it's not going anywhere. We're asking the same questions we asked 10, 15 years ago."

Peyton, through his spokeswoman, Susie Wiles, declined to comment on the convention center matter.

TDC Chairwoman Elaine Brown said city officials are frustrated because the CVB has been unable to come up with a plan everyone agrees on.

"I don't think it would be out of the question for the CVB to make its case to the TDC to get its support and to start building that consensus," Brown said.

Businessman Charles "Bucky" Clarkson, a local developer who opposed construction of the Adam's Mark hotel because it conflicted with his own plans for a downtown hotel near the Prime Osborn, attributed the city's inaction on the convention center matter to poor leadership. City Council runs the TDC, and the mayor runs Council, Clarkson said.

"The mayor sets the agenda," he said. "Nobody cared about downtown until [former mayor] Jake Godbold did. Nobody cared about the smell in the city until [former mayor] Tommy Hazouri did. It's all about leadership."

Godbold said Delaney offered Ratcliffe $45 million of Better Jacksonville Plan money to expand the Prime Osborn. But Ratcliffe declined the offer in favor of a more ambitious -- and expensive -- facility along the St. Johns River, Godbold said.

Ratcliffe couldn't be reached for comment.

Delaney said figures discussed with Ratcliffe ranged from $10 million to $50 million. But in the end, Ratcliffe considered it a waste of money to invest more into the Prime Osborn, Delaney said.

Dundon said the Prime Osborn is large enough for just 5 percent of the conventions in the United States. A new 250,000 square foot facility would increase that figure to nearly 60 percent, putting Jacksonville in the running for much more convention business.

But Sanders said larger convention cities like Orlando are offsetting dropping attendance by going after more of the smaller conventions that would typically come to Jacksonville.

"Jacksonville is by no means out of the woods or free from the larger competitive pressures," he said. "When Orlando is looking for business, they look where they can."

It's pie-in-the-sky dreaming to expect Jacksonville to become a major convention city, Godbold said. Instead, the city should go after middle-size convention business with an expanded Prime Osborn and adjacent hotel.

"I think we're wasting time debating if we should build a new convention center. It's not going to happen," he said. "They can talk about it and be cute with figures. It doesn't work."

christopher.calnanjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4404

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stor...nvention1.shtml

--------------------------------------------------

CONVENTION CENTER

By the numbers

Here are the total number of conventions, meetings and other events that took place in Jacksonville and the number of hotel room nights booked by event attendees during the last five fiscal years.

2003-2004 Events: 284 Room nights: 119,210

2002-2003 Events: 303 Room nights: 120,324

2001-2002 Events: 289 Room nights: 107,902

2000-2001 Events: 280 Room nights: 124,330

1999-2000 Events: 282 Room nights: 131,923

Source: The Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau --------------------------------------------------

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Dundon said the Prime Osborn is large enough for just 5 percent of the conventions in the United States. A new 250,000 square foot facility would increase that figure to nearly 60 percent, putting Jacksonville in the running for much more convention business.

I can't confirm the figures myself but if they are accurate, why has this been given the cold shoulder so much? That is simply staggering. Of course it doesn't mean automatic business but to able to attract that many more potential conventions and conferences is absolutely worth it.

What was one of the perks of hostiong the SB? Big wigs were in town. Do we get big wigs checking out Jax with a puny convention center? No, we don't. Is is possible that with more big wigs in town for conventions that it could spur more development? By the same theory of the SB, yes it can.

I find is simply assinine that we are competing with Wichita Falls for conventions.

Conventions may be our weakness but given the circumstances of our facilities, that is hardly a weakness that is given to us by the convention industry to because we have pigeon holed ourselves as the "tiny place."

This city is stepping up in every possible facet except this. Why?

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The question is "Is Jacksonville a Convention City?" and the answer is we'll never know unless we expand in a reasonable way. All we have to do is expand the existing facility (for the lowest cost and where there is plenty of room) and attract some hotels and we will be in for a lot more business. Even if it is a declining business slightly, we can still get more b/c we are losing out to inferior venues.

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The question is "Is Jacksonville a Convention City?" and the answer is we'll never know unless we expand in a reasonable way.  All we have to do is expand the existing facility (for the lowest cost and where there is plenty of room) and attract some hotels and we will be in for a lot more business.  Even if it is a declining business slightly, we can still get more b/c we are losing out to inferior venues.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The leadership has to be willing to become a convention city and not lag behind cities you should be competing with. The current center is limited in its ability to be expanded at a size that puts in the ballpark of competing for 60% of the conventions. That is why people who are serious about getting a new center aren't even mentioning this as a serious possibility. Anything dealing with this issue is going to cost large sums of money. At some point people outside of the CVB are going to have to take this issue seriously and step up to the plate. Jacksonville is seriously limiting itself by not tackling this issue.

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The leadership has to be willing to become a convention city and not lag behind cities you should be competing with.  The current center is limited in its ability to be expanded at a size that puts in the ballpark of competing for 60% of the conventions.  That is why people who are serious about getting a new center aren't even mentioning this as a serious possibility.  Anything dealing with this issue is going to cost large sums of money.  At some point people outside of the CVB are going to have to take this issue seriously and step up to the plate.  Jacksonville is seriously limiting itself by not tackling this issue.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Very well said afh. I wish they had put serious money in the Better Jax Plan to address the Convention Center. I agree with Kitty Ratcliffe that expanding the Prime Osborn is just throwing good money after bad. The three biggest factors in any real estate decision are location, location, location. The Convention business has gotten very competitive. Therefore it is even more important to have the VERY best location and center possible. That means putting it on the river.

If a suitable use for the Prime Osborn can be found, then Jake Godbold might could be persuaded to drop his opposition to moving the convention center.

The best locations are 1) the current courthouse site 2) the West-end of the Shipyards property 3) where the Radisson is now or 4) where the Florida Times -Union Offices are now.

One idea I have is the make a long parcel out of the T-U parking lot, the Riverside Ave. "grounds" of the Haskell building, and the adjoining vacant lots. It would be on the Riverwalk and the river and be a short walk to the Landing. Also, it would jump-start Brooklyn redevelopment. The Skyway would only have to extend a block or so from it's maintenance facility to serve the center.

The current location is just a turkey, and it would take as many millions to make it work as it would to get a new location.

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I guess when Delaney offered Ratcliffe $45 million to expand the Prime Osborne, and she turned it down to shoot for a better, riverfront center. Delaney probably only had $45 in the plan available, and he probably didn't want to give any more up.

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An example of a convention that Jax could get if it only had a suitable venue. Jax has a lot more to offer a convention group that Charlotte IMO. Jax already smells like coffee. Charlotte's center was built about 8 or so years ago I believe. I seem to remember they opened the center with a huge NAACP convention.

National coffee convention coming to Charlotte

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - America's coffee professionals are coming to a region better known for sweet iced tea than jolting java.

Charlotte has landed the 2006 meeting of the Specialty Coffee Association of America - a convention expected to attract some 7,000 to 8,000 growers, roasters, importers and retailers to the city.

"The aromas will be fabulous," said Tim Newman, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

The meeting is to run April 7-10, 2006, and comes several years after representatives of the coffee association first visited Charlotte in 2000.

"The board at that time was overwhelmed by the hospitality," spokesman Mike Ferguson said. "Everybody loved the city. Things closed up a little early for us, but we understood that was changing."

Now, Charlotte is home to three professional cooking schools, including a campus of Johnson & Wales University.

Although most events at the convention will be of interest only to coffee professionals, one that might prove popular with the public is the U.S. Barista Championship, in which contestants must concoct 12 coffee drinks - such as espressos and cappuccinos - for a panel of judges.

Ferguson said the SCAA will try to open the barista competition to the public if a suitable space can be found.

The SCAA meets this year in Seattle - home to Starbucks and a well-brewed coffee culture.

Information from: The Charlotte Observer

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Did everybody forget what the guy in the first article said, that attendance to conventions is on the decline. so far the biggest convention city that i personally know of is Las Vegas, and last time i looked we didn't have casinos or buffets. but the major attraction that Las Vegas offers conventions is hotel rooms as far as the eye can see. as for the better jacksonville plan... can we first build a courthouse that we supposed to have by now??? oh and by the way, the roads project happens to be over by 42 million. i agree that the prime osborn has lost its shine as a convention center, and there happen to be plans to take it back to a train station/ intermodal center which seems the best use for the building. part of the reason that we had 5 cruise ships docked in Jacksonville for the super bowl was a lack of hotel rooms. it all comes down to the same issue, we can build all these fabulous buildings, but if there is no infrastructure>>> hotels, restaurants open past 9pm, nightlife... why would anyone have there convention here. let's revitalize downtown before going off and spending another 150 to 200 million on a convention center that could end up being empty 80% of the time. how about some city incentives for a downtown grocery store? how about a some leniancy on the liquor laws to be able to have more nightclubs downtown? how about putting a stranglehold on the power of First Baptist Downtown? these are issues that politicans wouldn't touch with a 10mile pole for fear that they might upset someone>> but you know, life isn't always pretty... and sometimes you have to tick someone off to get things done. anyways, i will probably get tagged for being to aggressive, but i have to say what i think too....

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I understand where you're coming from, but I don't see why some money can't be put into Prime Osborn to update, expand it and attract an on-site hotel to keep the big events that we already have. I still think, the site of Clarkson's old Marriott plans, can fit that need, as well as help connect the existing center to the core of downtown.

Its a shame a city the size of Jacksonville, coming off hosting a super bowl, has a convention center in the same league as much smaller insignificant places like Lakeland, FL and Lafayette, La.

IMO, its either time, to spend a little money in the existing center or just get out of the convention business and shut it down.

I think some of the other things, such as a decent downtown grocery store, will come when there's a decent population to support them. I think we're a year or two away, before a grocery seriously considers operating downtown. Maybe Winn-Dixie could spend a little money cleaning up their store on Union Street.

The restaurants and bars are already popping up around downtown. Unfortunately, they're all spread out, but the expansion of the Landing and the growth on Adams Street, should take car of that.

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The grocery store is the age old question... the chicken or the egg. How can you expect people to come live and stay downtown when they have to leave downtown to get essentials of everday life? Heck, there isn't even a walgreens or cvs downtown, why I have no clue. I had someone stop me at the landing just the other day asking me if there was a drug store nearby he could go to to get some headache medicine. He was an out of towner. I had no clue... I told him his best bet was the gift shop in the Omni. He tried the store in the ladning but didn't have anything.

There's Scotty's on Adams if you don't mind the possibility of pre-WWII food and the spectacle of the woman in the fishtank. The closest thing other than the Winn Dixie (that I wouldn't enter unless I was packin heat) is the Publix in Riverside, not exactly a pedestrian distance.

The city needs to stop the bleeding on their current projects and plans before running out and pissing away more of my money.

Revitalizing the existing Prime Osbourn may be one alternative. That may not solve the lack of conventions though.

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I have no clue why there's no Walgreens or CVS operating in downtown either. The Parkview Hotel project, I worked on over a year ago was supposed to have a Walgreens at street level, but that whole thing went south when it was discovered the land was contaminated. With over 60k people, working in downtown, there's definately be a market for one. Since the closet one is over 3 miles away, in Riverside, I'd say its long overdue.

I also haven't seen an example of a grocery store coming in anywhere, without a sufficient residential population base to support it, incentives or not. So that tells me not to expect a store on the Northbank anytime soon, with Winn-Dixie already operating there. However, we know Publix has been interested in opening a store in San Marco or the Southbank. Because of its access to the skyway, a store at the Kings Avenue garage project would solve the grocery issue.

Something is definately coming, but its going to take a little patience. Could the city speed the up the process by offering incentives? Sure, but don't expect to see any soon, since the city already has a long line of projects waiting for city money (courthouse, landing, laura trio, bay street, the barnett, ambassador hotel, etc.) By the time this slow moving administration gets these projects through the pipeline, Publix will probably already have a store nearby.

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Well, unfortunately, Jacksonville doesn't have any good commercial services to meet the needs of its residents. But people still moved in. Those people are what we call Downtown Pioneers, who live in downtown before it's liveable. So, we'll get some more pioneers, and then the retail will follow, and then it will be a strong market for urban residential development. Or at least that's my theory...

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Did everybody forget what the guy in the first article said, that attendance to conventions is on the decline. so far the biggest convention city that i personally know of is Las Vegas, and last time i looked we didn't have casinos or buffets.  but the major attraction that Las Vegas offers conventions is hotel rooms as far as the eye can see.  as for the better jacksonville plan...  can we first build a courthouse that we supposed to have by now???  oh and by the way, the roads project happens to be over by 42 million.  i agree that the prime osborn has lost its shine as a convention center, and there happen to be plans to take it back to a train station/ intermodal center which seems the best use for the building.  part of the reason that we had 5 cruise ships docked in Jacksonville for the super bowl was a lack of hotel rooms.  it all comes down to the same issue, we can build all these fabulous buildings, but if there is no infrastructure>>>  hotels, restaurants open past 9pm, nightlife...  why would anyone have there convention here.  let's revitalize downtown before going off and spending another 150 to 200 million on a convention center that could end up being empty 80% of the time.  how about some city incentives for a downtown grocery store?  how about a some leniancy on the liquor laws to be able to have more nightclubs downtown?  how about putting a stranglehold on the power of First Baptist Downtown?  these are issues that politicans wouldn't touch with a 10mile pole for fear that they might upset someone>>  but you know, life isn't always pretty... and sometimes you have to tick someone off to get things done.  anyways, i will probably get tagged for being to aggressive, but i have to say what i think too....

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Glad to see you posting again Cuban, and you too Merlin.

The chicken and egg cliche is on target in regards to a grocery store. IMO, it also applies for the Convention Center. Restaurants and bars are not going to open in LaVilla in anticipation of one day, the center will be expanded. The residential base downtown is expanding, but is still in its infancy. So is the after-work and weekend drive-in bar/restaurant crowds from the 'burbs.

A bunch of Conventioneers represent a significant, largely-captive audience for downtown. An audience that changes every week. People eating on company credit cards. People that don't know how to get to the suburbs, and prefer to stay around their hotel/convention center for the most part. It represents a substantial foundation, to add to the small but growing base of downtown residents and visitors from the suburbs.

In other words, the downtown we all want will happen a lot faster with a convention center that is successful. Not only that, but the downtown will be sustained. Even when the Landing is expanded, and fully leased, and a fun place again, how often is a local from say Mandarin going to go there or to an adjacent downtown eatery(once the novelty wears off)? Once a month, maybe twice? A conventioneer is going to go probably once a day, maybe twice for each day they are in town.

As for conventions being in decline. What does that mean exactly? Conventions use to be uncommon, and held only in places like Vegas. In the 80's and '90s they exploded and now are in just about any city you can name, except Jacksonville. Just because the industry has peeked and settled down from the highs of the booming '90's doesn't mean it has, or will evaporate. The declines of the last few years are probably due to the weak economy and the 9/11 drop-off in travel. Travel is back to pre-9/11 levels now, and the economy is picking up.

I have been to Vegas, and frankly if given the choice, I'd rather spend my time in Jax.

I have already stated my own preferences for a convention center either on the current courthouse site, or to have the T-U switch their Adminstration/printing facilities with the Prime Osborn Center.

A cluster of retail and restaurants centered acround the Prime Osborn would likely prove to be competition to the Landing/Laura/Bay street corridor that is emerging, rather than to compliment it, IMO. Downtown retail/restaurants/entertainment is small and fragile already, lets build on it first before trying to create a second one in the downtown vicinity. A well-placed convention center would build up the Landing/Laura/Adams/Bay corridor rather than compete with it.

As for changing the liquor laws and giving some incentives to put a grocery store downtown, I couldn't agree more.

I expect that within 3 years, the San Marco Publix will be open and one in Springfield will be about to start construction. That will help, but one on the Northbank proper would be best.

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Here is a thought.

My wife just got from a business trip in Nashville TN. She made a point to mention how much more there Downtown was vibrant over ours and she could care less about what a downtown is like. How is it that a town where the city itself is smaller than us population wise, and a Metropolitan area that is about the ame size have so much better of a downtown environment. I mean, its Nashville!!. Anyway, Just frustrates me...

Cheers

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A bunch of Conventioneers represent a significant, largely-captive audience for downtown.  An audience that changes every week.  People eating on company credit cards. People that don't know how to get to the suburbs, and prefer to stay around their hotel/convention center for the most part.  It represents a substantial foundation, to add to the small but growing base of downtown residents and visitors from the suburbs. 

In other words, the downtown we all want will happen a lot faster with a convention center that is successful.  Not only that, but the downtown will be sustained.  Even when the Landing is expanded, and fully leased, and a fun place again, how often is a local from say Mandarin going to go there or to an adjacent downtown eatery(once the novelty wears off)?  Once a month, maybe twice? A conventioneer is going to go probably once a day, maybe twice for each day they are in town. 

As for conventions being in decline.  What does that mean exactly?  Conventions use to be uncommon, and held only in places like Vegas.  In the 80's and '90s they exploded and now are in just about any city you can name, except Jacksonville.  Just because the industry has peeked and settled down from the highs of the booming '90's doesn't mean it has, or will evaporate.  The declines of the last few years are probably due to the weak economy and the 9/11 drop-off in travel.  Travel is back to pre-9/11 levels now, and the economy is picking up. 

I have been to Vegas, and frankly if given the choice, I'd rather spend my time in Jax. 

I have already stated my own preferences for a convention center either on the current courthouse site, or to have the T-U switch their Adminstration/printing facilities with the Prime Osborn Center.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

i agree that a captive audience is always a windfall, no need to look any farther than the Super Bowl days. But i just don't see the need to spend x-amount of money on a new convention center with upgrading the world around the place. but let's get the courthouse done, which will make the locals live better to a certain extent, and then worry about the conventions. you stated that how any locals (mandarin) will come downtown when new places open up... being someone who has just finished building a home in Mandarin and now wishes he had joined in the downtown condo frenzy... i have to disagree. we need to be encouraging people to move downtown, to believe in an urban Jacksonville. as for putting a CC on the courthouse site...or even the times union site is a push>>> from the discussion it seems that we are talking a megastructure.. and something like that would seem to work better near the stadium??? i am sure that Jacksonville could be a great convention town>>> but that also comes from word of mouth, do we know what past conventioneers have said about J-ville>???

again this is one of those issues that is highly political, since after the Shipyards debacle and the BJP being over budget>> i just don't see pouring more money into something without first having what we were promised.

CC

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Here is a thought.

My wife just got from a business trip in Nashville TN. She made a point to mention how much more there Downtown was vibrant over ours and she could care less about what a downtown is like. How is it that a town where the city itself is smaller than us population wise, and a Metropolitan area that is about the ame size have so much better of a downtown environment. I mean, its Nashville!!. Anyway, Just frustrates me...

Cheers

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Nashville, like Orlando, is a big time tourist city. Its the Capitol of Country Music. Thus, it has a decent nightlife component to its downtown. Residential living wise, its on the same level as downtown Jax.

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i agree that a captive audience is always a windfall, no need to look any farther than the Super Bowl days.  But i just don't see the need to spend x-amount of money on a new convention center with upgrading the world around the place.  but let's get the courthouse done, which will make the locals live better to a certain extent, and then worry about the conventions.  you stated that how any locals (mandarin) will come downtown when new places open up...  being someone who has just finished building a home in Mandarin and now wishes he had joined in the downtown condo frenzy...  i have to disagree.  we need to be encouraging people to move downtown, to believe in an urban Jacksonville.  as for putting a CC on the courthouse site...or even the times union site is a push>>>  from the discussion it seems that we are talking a megastructure..  and something like that would seem to work better near the stadium???  i am sure that Jacksonville could be a great convention town>>>  but that also comes from word of mouth, do we know what past conventioneers have said about J-ville>???

again this is one of those issues that is highly political, since after the Shipyards debacle and the BJP being over budget>>  i just don't see pouring more money into something without first having what we were promised. 

CC

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I never said that we shouldn't encourage people to move downtown. That should be the FIRST and FOREMOST component of creating a vibrant downtown, IMO. I am merely advocating adding the convention element to boost that vibrancy further and FASTER. The Mandarin example was simply to point out that locals are not going to spend money downtown EVERY day, but convention visitors will.

As for putting the center by the stadium, I think that is the same as keeping it in it's current location. It's too far from the centers of activity and the downtown hotels. The mistake of picking a bad location has already been made once. We simply MUST do it right next time. There is no room for error, the $$ is too great. A prime riverfront site (or very close to the river)is a must IMO. There are simply too many other cities that a convention planner can choose from.

Cuban, you are absolutely right that the courthouse and the other BJP stuff needs to be completed. Although, I think some of the interchanges just need to be axed. I agree the timing is bad politically, no question there. However, these conventions are planned years in advance, and they don't book based on renderings. The longer we wait, the longer it will take to get the benefit. The construction costs will only rise over time. If it's going to happen, we might as well start now, it will only cost more later, and the choice of available sites will only grow smaller.

Besides, this is the last major public facility that Jax is lacking.

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No top contenders yet

68886_400.jpg

Possible sites include The Shipyards, Alltel, Fairgrounds and Prime Osborn

By CHRISTOPHER CALNAN, The Times-Union

Riverfront properties dominate the list of eight new convention center locations being considered by the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, according to a CVB presentation obtained Tuesday.

The riverfront locations in the running include The Shipyards property, land adjacent to CSX Corp. headquarters and a parking lot outside Alltel Stadium. On the Southbank, the study included the former JEA generating plant site and the Radisson hotel property.

The Prime Osborn Convention Center, the Jacksonville Fairgrounds and property east of the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront hotel (the former Adam's Mark) were also listed as potential sites.

The presentation states that four of the sites have fewer development restrictions than the others.

Former CVB Chairman Jack Diamond, a Jacksonville architect, said the sites are: The Shipyards, Alltel, the Jacksonville Fairgrounds and the Prime Osborn.

Diamond, who made the presentation in a private CVB board meeting in January, said no sites have emerged as top contenders.

"These are not the four that are left, they're the four that have potential," he said.

Diamond said the presentation was based on CVB research and not related to a report done by the Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum design firm, which was enlisted last year by an unidentified Jacksonville group to study the matter.

Jack Diamond: The Jacksonville architect said no sites have emerged as the top considerations for convention center locations.

"It has nothing to do with the HOK study," he said. "We don't own [the HOK study], it is not our intellectual property."

CVB Chairwoman Margo Dundon was out of the country Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

However, she has said the CVB expects to use the HOK report to determine the costs and problems of developing each of the sites while considering the best location for a convention facility. The study won't be released until the CVB makes its final recommendation, Dundon said in January.

The CVB recommendation on a convention center site will be sent on for review by the tourist development council and community groups, CVB president John Reyes said.

Money from the city's hotel bed tax would be used to pay for a new convention center, according to the presentation obtained by the Times-Union. "No city money," nor "no new taxes," would be used, it says.

Last year, the city collected more than $12 million in hotel bed taxes, said Janice Billy, principle auditor for the City Council.

Although the CVB is expected to receive more than $3 million from a portion of the city's hotel bed tax this fiscal year, it is a private, non-profit corporation. It operates under annual contracts with the Duval County Tourist Development Council.

Mayor John Peyton has said construction of a new convention center, which could cost up to $400 million, isn't being considered by his administration.

From:Jacksonville.com

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Site 2 would be a great location, if it can work. But with the Federal Building in the way, it seems very difficult if not impossible. Site 2 woud be the one site that could benefit not only the northbank core but LaVilla And Brooklyn too. It's too bad it's not more feasible.

Assuming #2 is out of the question, then #3 is best. #6 could work with a major hotel included. But with the Land mar deal nearing completion, it certainly complicants matters.

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Site #2 definately seems like the one with the most potential. It would kill off several surface parking lots and would be a good use for land sitting next to railroad tracks and all the bridges. Its also connected to the riverwalk and its not too far from I-95.

I don't like the Site #3, because anything there would have to wait for the new courthouse to be constructed. A convention center at that location wouldn't open for at least another 10 years.

Site #6 is unrealistic. LandMar isn't planning to give up half of the Shipyards property for a convention center. So its already eliminated. Sites 7, 8, 5 & 4 are just as far from the heart of downtown as the Prime Osborn, so I don't see the benefit of spending millions to build a new center on the fringes of downtown, without Skyway expansion.

This leaves only sites #1 & #2 as the only decent sites, imo. Site #2 can be workable, if the building is built, south of Water and a complex of parking garages is built on the lots, near the Federal Building.

From looking at the aerial, the current site (#1), works pretty good if the thin strip of land between Prime Osborn, the skyway, Broad & Water Streets is used. It couldn't be too complicated to build a pedestrian walkway, at the corner of Broad and Water, under the bridges to hook up with the pocket park/riverwalk, under the Acosta Bridge.

Site #1, also has the benefit of construction being able to start ASAP and the costs being much cheaper, although Site #2 would be great infill and has more potential.

Something needs to be done about the convention center issue now, not 10 or 15 years down the road. At this time, based on the available sites, the current political situation and the time issue, expanding the Prime Osborn, looks like a pretty good realistic option to me.

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Anything on the Southbank should be eliminated. The Downtown core will benefit the most.

The number one choice would have to be expanding the current site. There are still talks about a potential transportation hub down the line which would benefit greatly and ease transportation and lodging issues for the convention center. Imagine having Jax's main transportation hub adjoined by a world class convention center, entertainment, and lodging. Plus this site allows private development of the riverfront enhancing the skyline!

My second choice would be site #2 next to the CSX Building. As lakelander said, it is primed for this type of development being next to the railroad tracks, close to I-95, and also has the appeal of the river.

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How about this option.... yes, here I go again...

The land/parking lot behind the DuPont Center buildings on Prudential?

There is a Skyway stop and a huge largely unused garage next to it. It's visible and accessible from I-95. It would be across the street from the San Marco Riverwalk. It would be close to the River and the Sbank riverwalk, but would'nt actually be on the river. After a decade or two, the DuPont buildings could be leveled for the expansion that would be due about then. That way the useful life of those buildings could be realized. The 9 story hotel that would be part of S.M Riverwalk could be enlarged (ie taller) to serve the center. Also, more hotel(s) could go up on the JEA site (or to replace the School Board bldg). It would put the conventioneers directly on the Kings Ave & Hendricks corridor. It would also help to link the North of I-95 and South of I-95 sections of those two streets.

I'd would rather see the center go to a suitable Northbank site, but I think my idea is the best Southbank option.

Thoughts?

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