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Jax Has Desire To Capitalize On Public Spaces

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Jacksonville has desire to capitalize on public spaces

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http://www.jacksonville.com/images/031405/cityland.pdf

By RYAN GEDDES

The Times-Union

While the excitement of Super Bowl XXXIX was still lingering in mid-February, JEA announced it was preparing to put its 25-acre parcel of prime riverfront property back on the open market, for sale to the highest bidder.

Eager to recoup the millions of dollars it had spent decommissioning the site's former power plant in 2001, the utility prepared to issue a nationwide request for bids, a departure from its previous solicitations of detailed proposals from local developers.

But Mayor John Peyton stepped in, requesting a temporary halt to the process so the city could re-evaluate the land's potential to provide public space downtown, a need the city had begun to think seriously about after throngs of people crowded streets and public areas during the Super Bowl.

While the JEA parcel is a unique case, it illustrates a larger issue city leaders are facing: how to reposition the millions of square feet of publicly owned land in the city's urban core to take advantage of the booming real estate market and push a burgeoning downtown to the next level.

"We have a lot of undeveloped land downtown, and we have to be careful how we use it," said Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision Inc., a business improvement district.

Public agencies like the city, Duval County Public Schools and JEA control more than 4 million square feet of building space and more than 85 acres of open space in the downtown area, much of it clustered around the St. Johns River.

The city is already trying pull much of its workforce away from the river and nearer to the government center at Hemming Plaza. Public Works is studying how the city could use two recently purchased buildings on the plaza, the Ed Ball and Haverty's buildings, to move city agencies like itself, the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and the State Attorney's office out of the City Hall Annex and away from the water.

The proposed relocation is part of a wider push by the Mayor's Office to focus more of its attention on Jacksonville's urban core after tackling a politically prickly courthouse fiasco and kickstarting a new early literacy program.

"The next big thing is downtown," said Susie Wiles, Peyton's spokeswoman and chief of special initiatives.

Wiles said a lot of what will happen with downtown development in the near future depends on the outcome of the pending reorganization of the JEDC and its Downtown Development Authority. Peyton asked the commission to redefine and reform itself last year, and it has lost two top managers since -- DDA managing director Al Battle and JEDC executive director Kirk Wendland. The Mayor's Office is working with JEDC board chair Ceree Harden to hire a new executive director, and that person will likely hire other top people at the commission.

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JEDC's future director will inherit a handful of plans and guides for the revitalization of downtown Jacksonville, including the downtown master plan, the downtown zoning overlay and DVI's vision plan. But none of those plans, nor any of the independent consultants' reports commissioned by the city and DVI, lay out a comprehensive strategy for repositioning city-owned property for downtown's benefit.

Wiles said such a plan is forthcoming and that it will be part of a larger effort by the Mayor's Office to get all the public agencies involved in downtown development to work better together.

"Having some kind of protocol is the end goal. But until then, the mayor is quite comfortable intervening when necessary," said Wiles.

If the JEA site on the Southbank is an example of how cumbersome and piecemeal the process of transitioning government-owned downtown property to better uses can be, the marketing of the Haydon Burns Library could provide the opposite example, said Jeanne Miller, interim director of the JEDC.

"The idea is that the library RFP sets the standard for how [downtown property] RFPs are done in the future," said Miller.

The new $95 million main library branch on Hemming Plaza is scheduled to open in September, and JEDC plans to market the old library on the corner of Ocean and Adams streets to developers nationwide.

The RFP contains detailed selection criteria based on purchase price, developers' financial capability, construction schedule and economic impact. Points are assigned to each category. Each category and its corresponding point value could be changed or substituted in future RFPs for different properties, depending on what the city determines is of greatest importance at the time.

"Every site is going to be different, and purchase price is not the only factor," said Miller.

In a recent report on Jacksonville's downtown riverfront commissioned by DVI, Boston-based consultants Chan Krieger & Assoc. emphasized Jacksonville's vault of downtown property, urging "serious deliberation towards a very specific programmatic, massing and site planning vision for the Duval County Courthouse Parcel" and other spaces.

Wiles said the four blocks of downtown land set aside for the new courthouse will still be used for that purpose, but that the scale and shape of the plan will likely change, possibly allowing for more open space on the site than previously proposed.

City officials say the Super Bowl opened a lot of eyes to the need for public space downtown, especially along the river, and that the challenge now is to begin using the city's land bank in an economically and socially effective way.

Referencing the Kreiger report, DVI's Lorince said city-owned properties like the Haydon Burns Library, the JEA site and the City Hall Annex are key parts of downtown's potential now and years down the road.

"It could be average, or it could be spectacular," Lorince said. "That's why the city needs to leverage its public buildings and land for the benefit of downtown."

ryan.geddesjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4689

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stor..._18198758.shtml.

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I didn't realized that the city still owed the land that River City Brewing sits on. I thought they had transferred title. It's a prime spot that would be a great location for a large mixed use project. If MOSH were relocated, it would be an even bigger parcel for such a project.

I was also glad to see that the library RFP will distribute nationally.

This article and the graphic really spotlight the tremendous POTENTIAL Jacksonville has to really recreate it's downtown and riverfront. It's so important to get it RIGHT.

There needs to be a master plan for all public facilities and publicly held land in the downtown area. Included would be a plan for public park space, relocating the school board from the river, as well as moving the offices out of the City Hall annex.

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^I drew up plans for a residential building in the River City Brewing parking lot. It would have a public/private parking garage on top of ground floor retail. It would also have an extended riverwalk, and a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks to connect to Riverpointe.

I wish I could build all my drawings.....

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