Pedestrian bridge may be cut from courthouse design
The proposed and controversial pedestrian bridge to link the Duval County Courthouse with the State Attorney’s Office in the former federal courthouse building may be eliminated from the design, it was learned Thursday.
City Public Works Department Engineer Manager Tom Goldsbury told the Downtown Development Review Board of the Office of Economic Development that the design already approved by the board is being modified.
He said that due to budget cuts, the approved design for an air-conditioned steel structure with fire sprinklers will be changed to a precast concrete open-air structure. Goldsbury said the City could save $750,000 by changing the bridge’s design and that the money “will be needed to finish the courthouse project.”
Goldsbury also said the modified bridge may have to be entirely eliminated from the project, but the City won’t know until the bids are opened for the federal courthouse renovation.
Bids on the project were scheduled to be opened Oct. 17, but the City extended the deadline until Oct. 31.
“If the bids come in and we can’t afford the pedestrian bridge, we do have an at-grade secured structure” as an alternative, said Goldsbury.
He described a walkway across Pearl Street in the middle of the block between the two buildings. Goldsbury said the south end of the block would have to remain open to provide access to the parking area in the courthouse. The area north of the walkway would probably be landscaped, he said.
Whatever the final outcome of the bid process, the design will have to again be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, which rejected the first design for the pedestrian bridge and later accepted the design approved by the DDRB.
City Assistant General Counsel Jason Teal said the City will have to present to DDRB the final design for either the bridge or the street-level walkway and the state also would have to approve the design.
Teal described the protocol as a “dual review process” with the state making the ultimate decision regardless of the local board’s decision.
“If the state says ‘no,’ they would trump DDRB,” Teal said.
The pedestrian bridge was on DDRB’s agenda as an item for information. Goldsbury said he made the presentation so the board would be updated on the project and the City is not ready to make a formal design presentation.
In other action, the board approved the design for a 600-space parking garage along Hogan and Bay streets adjacent to SunTrust Tower.
When the original design was rejected by DDRB, board members and architects from Haskell — the project designer — participated in a workshop to explore alternatives. The board granted conceptual approval of the design at its September meeting, with a long list of additional suggestions and conditions.
“The client came to us to design the most economical garage possible. That was not as well received as we hoped,” said John Norris, Haskell director of project development.
The presentation Thursday “highlights the vast array of changes the client has worked through,” he said.
Norris said that considering the changes made to the design based on the board’s conditions, “we’re trying to make it look like something it’s not.”
Haskell architect Christopher Holmes said the latest design incorporates “lighter colors to stand out more and distinct elements to break down what it is – a long building.”
Board member Chris Flagg said that, in his opinion, the garage should be held to a higher standard of design based on its location. The site is the last property available in the Northbank skyline for potential high-rise development.
“Do the design standards complement the prominence of the site? Does the design of the garage heal all the wounds of it being a garage?” he asked.
“I’m hoping people can pass by this and not even know it’s a garage. That’s my intent,” Flagg said.
Tim Miller, DDRB chairman, said he is more “comfortable” with the design presented Thursday than any of the previous designs, but “it is still a parking garage.”
Flagg said DDRB has a responsibility to protect Downtown’s architectural future.
“We’re here to try to maintain what integrity we have Downtown. This city accepts mediocrity and holds mediocrity to a high degree,” he said.
The board approved the design 6-2, with Flagg and Jim Bailey voting against the design. Roland Udenze, an architect with Haskell, recused himself from the vote.