Jacksonville needs more tourism business and Downtown needs more visitors. And Mark Farrell, founder of Killashee Investments, says a 1,000-foot-tall observation tower at the Shipyards property would address both issues.
That was the presentation Friday to the Downtown Council of the JAX Chamber by Farrell, former Vestcor Cos. president and CEO.
Jacksonville is missing out on business when about 20 million of the 45 million tourists who travel to Florida in their personal vehicles pass right through Jacksonville on their way to attractions in Central and South Florida, he said.
"Tourism has a $72 billion economic impact in Florida, but we choose not to participate," Farrell said. "I-95 is a gold mine and we've never tapped into it. There is so much money that is going by us."
Killashee, based in Ponte Vedra, provides real estate services for commercial, multifamily residential and historical restoration projects.
When he pitches projects, potential investors say they love Florida, but not Jacksonville. The city's image is that of being a Navy town and home to the Jaguars. Jacksonville needs to change its image and needs an attraction, Farrell said.
The idea for the Seaglass at the Shipyards observation tower was inspired by the effort to dock the vintage guided missile destroyer USS Charles F. Adams along the Northbank near EverBank Field.
"We started thinking with the Navy as a backdrop, what can we do?" said Farrell.
The inspiration for the tower came from an attraction on the West Coast – the Space Needle in Seattle. Farrell said the 605-foot tower annually attracts more than 1 million visitors who pay $20 to see Seattle from its highest vantage point.
"People love to go up," he said.
The proposed Jacksonville tower would cost more than $100 million to build, including a 7,000-square-foot observation deck and a restaurant. The 1,000-foot height was chosen because it would make the tower the tallest building in Florida and it's considerably taller than its internationally famous inspiration.
"We want to dwarf the Space Needle," Farrell said. "We thought about a bungee jump. It would be the fifth-highest in the world."
The tower would be the most visible element of a comprehensive development of the Shipyards. Plans also include a 100,000-square-foot aquarium and a convention center.
"We could create a public gathering space and a reason to go Downtown," Farrell said.
The tower and adjacent facilities would create interest in Jacksonville and Downtown that would exceed any level of residential or retail development.
"I don't want to come Downtown to see where people live and if I want to go shopping, I'll go to St. Johns Town Center," said Farrell.
Admitting the project has hurdles and there won't be a ground-breaking ceremony any time soon, Farrell said merely suggesting the project has had an impact.
"If nothing else, this has stirred our imagination to think bigger," he said.