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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 12, 201905:20 AM EST

Changes on horizon: What's ahead for Downtown

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From the demolition of The Jacksonville Landing to the groundbreaking for The District on the Southbank, here’s an update where those projects and more stand.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

Downtown Jacksonville is poised to undergo changes in 2019, with old buildings coming down to make room for what could be skyline-altering development.

The idea of making Downtown Jacksonville a “destination” rather than primarily a daytime office community isn’t new. Mayor Lenny Curry said that is one of his top priorities heading into his second term.

Curry told supporters after his reelection in March they “wouldn’t recognize Downtown Jacksonville in four years.”

Some projects are moving ahead while others remain conceptual or in the approval phase.

Two riverfront buildings are being demolished and one of the city’s most recognizable structures, The Jacksonville Landing, likely will meet the same fate this year.

Northbank

East Bay Street

Work continues along East Bay Street as crews tear down the old Duval County Courthouse and clear out what’s left of the former City Hall Annex, which was imploded in January.

The $8 million project was expected to wrap up this month, but the contractor, Environmental Holdings Group LLC of Mooresville, North Carolina, asked the city for a three-month extension on razing the former courthouse.

“The courthouse demolition has been more difficult (due to its construction) to demolish mechanically than anticipated,” the document states.

The demolition of the old Duval County Courthouse on East Bay Street is taking longer that the contractor anticipated.

EHG requests an August completion date.

It’s not clear what’s next.

The Downtown Investment Authority agreed to allow staff to partner with a real estate consultant to issue a notice of disposition, which gives interested parties the ability to offer ideas.

The DIA is finalizing a scope of services for the consultant.

When a consultant is under contract, it will work with the DIA to craft the notice of disposition to outline the need for a mix of uses that incorporates the riverfront and is sensitive to existing retail, lodging and residential needs.

The DIA board eventually will review bids from developers, likely score them and either agree to enter negotiations with a firm or seek more ideas.

The Berkman II

East along Bay Street sits what’s left of the Berkman II, a failed condominium project.

Through 500 East Bay LLC, developer Bob Ohde and his group want to transform the concrete and steel skeleton into a hotel and entertainment complex.

Council members are reviewing legislation that would award up to $36 million in incentives for the estimated $122 million development.

Ohde’s team requested a two-week deferral during council’s approval process in March. Council subcommittees pick up the bill again next week and the full legislative body could vote to approve the agreement by May.

Lot J, Shipyards and elevated roads

Jacksonville residents have been waiting for an update about the property east of the Berkman II site – the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park.

Since 2013, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has shown interest in the roughly 80-90 acres comprising the riverfront property and Lot J, a parking lot next to TIAA Bank Field.

Khan’s plans could result in $2.5 billion in development, connecting the urban core to the sports and entertainment complex, but obstacles remain.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan may release more information about his plans for the Lot J and Shipyards projects near TIAA Bank Field during his “State of the Franchise” meeting later this spring.

Through Iguana Investments Florida LLC, Khan unsuccessfully tried to lure JEA to relocate its corporate headquarters to anchor the Lot J phase of development. The utility selected a site adjacent to the Duval County Courthouse.

The condition of the soil in the Lot J area needs to be addressed and deals are not finalized with state and federal agencies to lift restrictions on the properties.

Work has begun to remove a section of elevated highways connecting the Hart Bridge to Downtown in 2020. The highway bisects the stadium complex and the riverfront property.

While the mayor’s office maintains the realignment will benefit the Talleyrand port area, Khan and Jaguars President Mark Lamping have said the existing highway hinders connectivity and the potential scale of Khan’s project.

Khan and Lamping could make an announcement about the project’s status during the Jaguars annual “state of the franchise” event this spring.

The Jacksonville Landing’s future

Demolition crews are expected at The Jacksonville Landing this year.

The city owns the 32-year-old riverfront mall after it settled a yearslong lawsuit with Sleiman Enterprises Inc. subsidiary Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC.

The agreement, approved by council in March, used $15 million to buyout JLI’s long-term lease, placed $1.5 million into the city’s Capital Improvement Program budget for demolition and set aside another $1.5 million to help relocate existing tenants.

The site could be leveled by midsummer, even though no redevelopment plans are available.

The mayor’s office insists there’s interest and that any plan would be vetted to ensure the property is developed for “the highest and best use.”

Curry’s office would prefer to see the site split between public green space and a mixed-use development, similar to design renderings released in 2018.

Brian Hughes, Curry’s chief of staff, said recently he expects council members, the administration and the DIA to solicit, review and reach consensus on a plan by year-end.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Independent Drive, VyStar Credit Union continues to remodel the former SunTrust Tower, which it bought in July for its headquarters and will name VyStar Tower.

After that work is finished, construction of a Hyatt Place hotel will begin at Hogan Street and Independent Drive ahead of a late-2020 opening.

With the staff of The Florida Times-Union moved to the Wells Fargo Center, demolition could be next for the newspaper’s former home on Riverside Avenue.

The Florida Times-Union property

The Florida Times-Union staff relocated early this month from its 52-year riverfront home at 1 Riverside Ave. to the Wells Fargo Center Downtown.

The paper’s departure leaves two empty buildings controlled by the paper’s former owners, Morris Communications Co. LLC.

The Morris family likely will demolish the black-and-white office tower and the concrete production building that housed the newspaper staff and the printing presses.

Redevelopment plans could include a hotel, apartments and dining, and could result in the “daylighting” of McCoys Creek, which is covered by structures on the property.

The Southbank

Along the Downtown Southbank, the city awaits groundbreaking at The District, a mixed-use project led by developer Peter Rummell and public relations executive Michael Munz.

The city approved an $82 million incentives package for it in 2018.

Plans include a hotel, apartments, townhomes, condos, retail, office, a “greengrocer,” public park space and a marina.

It has not been disclosed what brands are partnering with The District other than the AC Hotels by Marriott, which developers announced last year.

Munz said previously the group is finalizing agreements and that horizontal work could begin this summer.

Other residential developments are moving ahead on the Southbank with three apartment complexes.

Those apartments likely will serve some of Baptist Medical Center’s employees as the hospital system continues to stretch its footprint along the Southbank with new buildings to treat cancer patients, children and families.

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