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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Aug. 23, 201805:20 AM EST

Arts and cultural district proposed Downtown

Plan would transform area near courthouse into a public space for art, lectures, food and micro theaters.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor
Metropolis CEO and President Rafael Caldera

A vacant Downtown lot near the Duval County Courthouse could soon bloom into an arts and cultural district.

Jacksonville-based Metropolis Community Development Corp. wants to temporarily lease a 1.52-acre city-owned site at 337 W. Adams St. to create La Rue des Arts, a multicultural arts center, incubator and public space. 

Metropolis CEO and President Rafael Caldera said the company would retrofit about 10,000 square feet of reusable modular buildings on the site to launch the concept.

“We’re trying to redesign the space for art, for micro theaters, for more open public space,” Caldera said. “I believe that’s what Downtown needs the most right now.”

Caldera said the space could also include cafes and temporary restaurants.

 “The idea comes from examples I’ve seen around the world,” Caldera said. “This concept is being done all over Europe and in Dade County.”

The 337 W. Adams St. site now,

Caldera pointed to the Wynwood Business Improvement District area in Miami, an eclectic arts and business area sprawled across a 50-block area. It runs between Interstate 95 and East Coast Avenue, between Northwest 20th Street to I-195. 

The area includes the outdoor Wynwood Walls museum, which features large-scale murals from prominent street artists. Other parts of the district include breweries, art galleries, boutique shopping and other nightlife. 

“It wouldn’t be to that scale, but that’s the feeling we want to bring to Downtown,” he said. “Right now we lack this kind of public space.” 

Caldera is a member of the Downtown Development Review Board, which oversees construction and exterior design standards for projects in the urban core and surrounding neighborhoods. 

He said during his five years on the board, he hasn’t seen a project like this introduced. 

“We can get as creative as we want,” he said. “The idea is to get traffic in that area, from the courthouse and the Ed Ball Building. It’s something to do after work or during lunch.”

Caldera estimates construction would cost about $120,000. 

He’s meeting with the city to lease the property for 24 months while the Downtown Investment Authority ponders a permanent strategy for the area. The lease would include a six-month grace period to account for construction. 

“The most important part about this is that it gives the city a short-term solution for the property,” he said. 

Caldera said he’s received backing from several arts programs at Florida universities, the Cultural Council and Downtown Vision Inc.

JEA identified the property, among other Downtown parcels, as a potential site to build a headquarters. The utility is expected to select a site by early 2019, but development could take years.

“That’s why we’re looking to make this property useful right now,” Caldera said. 

He said he’s working with several art institutions and local schools to help with design, programming and funding for the two-phase project. 

Caldera said the first phase involves remodeling the modular buildings and completing site work for open public space. 

Construction would take about 120 days for the first phase. 

The second phase includes adding shipping containers that would be converted to create micro theaters, pop-up retail, cafes and other uses. 

“We see the shipping containers used for small presentations, 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. 

“Imagine being able to hear a visiting professor from outside of Jacksonville giving a lecture or a talk about a topic you’re interested in, and you can do so during your lunch hour,” he said. 

Caldera said if it is successful, he plans to bring a more permanent plan for the city to consider in another part of Downtown. 

“This is really the beta test,” he said. “We want to know if Jacksonville is ready for something like this or maybe this is a concept that needs time.” 

Caldera said he’s received backing from several arts programs at Florida universities, the Cultural Council and Downtown Vision Inc. 

The DIA would need to approve a lease of city-owned property and the DDRB may need to sign off on the design. 

DIA CEO Aundra Wallace said he was aware of the project but didn’t know enough to comment. 

Caldera said he’ll have more information in the coming weeks. 

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