Morris says partnership with city is “linchpin” for moving forward with plans for Riverside Avenue property.
Ownership of the Times-Union building at 1 Riverside Ave. still is several steps and city decisions from razing the riverfront structure.
When it does take down the buildings, the Morris family of Augusta, Georgia, envisions a mixed-use project.
The most recent conceptual site plan shows hotel, retail, office and multifamily uses.
The Morrises are considering 300,000 square feet of office space, a 200-room hotel and 400-500 multifamily units.
Those plans hinge on moves to uncover McCoys Creek, which runs through the property. The Florida Times-Union operated at the site from 1967 until the staff of the daily newspaper moved in April 2019 to Wells Fargo Center Downtown.
“The engineering for any contemplated demolition of the buildings is fairly complex and we are hopeful the city will continue to work with us as we examine options for daylighting McCoys Creek,” said Allen Grinalds, director of real estate for Morris Communications, in an email May 4.
“Our partnership with COJ is the linchpin for us moving forward to provide a great redevelopment of the site that will serve the interests of all stakeholders,” he said.
Grinalds said Morris continues to “move forward in discussions with the city for the redevelopment of the subject property.”
He acknowledged that COVID-19 “has obviously been a distraction for everyone, but the fundamentals have not changed with respect to how we view the property.”
Grinalds was responding to remarks made by Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer in an April 27 videoconference meeting of the Meninak Club of Jacksonville.
A club member asked Boyer about the vacated Times-Union buIlding and the “daylighting” – uncovering – of McCoys Creek, which flows toward the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center.
“There are definitely plans to open the creek once they proceed with the redevelopment. And I think that in the early March schedule, we were envisioning that the demolition would occur within the next few months, that the owners of the property were moving forward with that,” Boyer responded.
“They have plans for what they would like to see on the site from a redevelopment standpoint,” she said.
Boyer said McCoys Creek probably will have some recreational boating access.
“I just don’t know that you will have enough width to get to a docking space up by the convention center. You’ll have some physical access to that location but I think at this point the surface of the creek is either going to be 60 feet wide or 42 feet wide and with the slope of the bank, the concern is that it’s going to be pretty limited on the number of vessels that could be in there at the same time,” she said.
“But we will have some, that’s for sure.”
The Morris family has been deciding what to do with the 18.8-acre site, which now has a five-story, 55,500-square-foot office building and an adjacent 223,000-square-foot production facility that included the newsroom, advertising offices and the printing press functions. There also is a parking lot and deck and some small structures.
Grinalds said in early 2019 that the Morrises know they have a key piece of property, which the family bought in 1982 with the newspaper.
“They don’t want to leave a vacant industrial site on the river,” he said.
The family sold the newspaper in October 2017 and retained the property, which is west of the Acosta Bridge along the Northbank Riverwalk.
The Morris property is within the DIA boundaries, raising the option of incentives to assist in the redevelopment.
Grinalds and land-use lawyer Steve Diebenow have been talking with the city about infrastructure at the property and the city’s part in uncovering the waterway. Diebenow is a partner with Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow.
The creek is part of the Emerald Trail string of waterways and green space that Downtown advocates want to develop as an amenity to encircle Downtown.