by Max Marbut
One of the reasons often given for the high office vacancy rate Downtown is the cost of parking for people who work in the urban core.
Most Downtown office workers pay a third-party provider daily or monthly for a place to leave their vehicle while at work, unlike those who work at offices in the suburbs.
There, employees generally don’t pay for parking because the cost to provide and maintain parking lots is calculated automatically into the employer’s per-square-foot lease rate.
At the Downtown Vision Inc. quarterly operations meeting Wednesday at the Main Library Conference Center, one private property owner announced a solution designed to attract more business Downtown and to help alleviate the 27 percent vacancy rate for Northbank office properties.
Pam Smith, representative for Elad National Realty, owner of AT&T Tower 301, said that through the end of the year, any lease for less than 15,000 square feet of space in the tower will include employee parking for the first two years of the lease.
“It’s an investment on our part, but it’s what we’re doing to bring more people Downtown,” said Smith.
Roughly half of the 1 million square feet of Class A space is available in the building, which is two blocks from the new Duval County Courthouse under construction.
DVI Executive Director Terry Lorince said she and her staff have been spending a lot of time “in touch with the new administration” and “we want to make sure Downtown is on top of the agenda.”
Lorince also reported that City Council approved the incentives to bring 1,200 EverBank employees Downtown.
“We need to get more people to work and live Downtown. It’s that simple,” she said.
“We’re still not out of the woods yet. We’ve led the horse to water, now let’s hope it drinks,” said Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Deputy Executive Director Paul Crawford of the proposal presented to EverBank.
Crawford said feedback from the public concerning the improvements at Friendship Park and the fountain on the Southbank has been positive.
“It proves we can do things better than other cities,” he said.
On the subject of homeless people Downtown, Lorince said the issue is not the number of Downtown shelters and social service agencies. Rather, the issue is the transients who aren’t enrolled in the services.
She also said she could support a policy in place in other cities to remove the permanent tables and seating from Downtown parks in order to discourage transients from congregating.
She said another solution to homeless people spending most or all of the day in areas like Hemming Plaza could be programming.
“We don’t need big events,” she said about using the areas for formal gatherings. “We need things like a book club.”
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief for Patrol Division 1, Evander Collier IV, said there has been an increase recently in vehicle burglaries on the Northbank.
He suggested that people take valuables with them when they exit their vehicles or lock items such as purses in the trunk after parking.
Lorince said DVI’s budget will be on the agenda at the Aug. 16 meeting of the City Council Finance Committee.
The meeting begins at 10 a.m. at City Hall. Lorince encouraged all Downtown stakeholders and advocates to attend the meeting and participate in the public comment period.