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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jun. 17, 201412:00 PM EST

Despite turbulent waters, there is good news in Downtown

by: James F. Bailey Jr.

Last Thursday was one of those days I enjoy the most about my job publishing this newspaper every day.

It comes when we are able to focus on good news, those positive stories that have the possibility of making a difference in Jacksonville.

Even better, was this day came in the middle of a week’s worth of water-taxi controversy.

Although we don’t make the news, we report it to you in a way that informs and educates our readers on issues that affect them as residents and taxpayers of Jacksonville.

A good reporter, like Managing Editor Karen Mathis who wrote the stories, does extensive research to fully understand the issue and writes it so readers understand why it matters.

Often it is news about hope for the future that is generated by big ideas or key actions from people or organizations looking at the larger picture.

Last Thursday, we reported on three separate events, each with the potential of changing Jacksonville in a good way.

The first was the discussion by Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping who expects team owner Shad Khan to make a decision by year-end whether he will develop the riverfront Shipyards site across from EverBankĀ Field.

The second was news from the JEA that it wants to improve access to the riverfront site on the Southbank that once housed the utility’s Southside Generating station.

By making it easier to get onto and off of the 30 acres, the property becomes even more attractive to developers, one more step in squeezing every ounce out of the property’s potential and value.

Developers are in the process of submitting proposals for the site.

The third report was real estate sources saying Downtown’s tallest building, the 42-story Bank of America Tower, is under contract and the sale could be completed by next month.

That’s important because it means as Downtown gains momentum, this iconic and economically important structure will have financial stability and contribute to the urban core’s progress.

As for the Shipyards, everyone knows we’ve suffered long enough over the years from the starts and stops by well-intentioned developers who tried but couldn’t succeed for various reasons, including a failed economy.

But the evidence is clear that if Khan engages in something, he commits to succeed, come hell or high water.

According to Lamping, if Khan takes the property off the city’s hands, the Jaguars organization will serve as master developer for apartments, entertainment, retail and a marina. It also will include a park-like multipurpose practice facility for others, like teams visiting for the annual TaxSlayer Bowl.

Khan first talked to the Daily Record about developing the property a year ago. From what Lamping is now saying, this sounds like a lot more than just idle chatter. Khan said back then there already had been discussions with the city about buying the 40-acre property.

“We want it to be something that meets several goals: Makes a trip to the sports complex more attractive, supports more people living Downtown and more people working Downtown,” Lamping said last week.

He had lots to say about the project; enough to make you think there are some pretty detailed concepts sitting on somebody’s desk at Jaguars headquarters.

“This has been pretty deliberate and not as fast as we usually do stuff, but if we are going to do it, it has to be a success and it has to be a project that once we start, it gets completed,” Lamping said.

He said there is no room for error. “This has to be done right the first time.”

The thinking includes creating events and activities to attract “people to go there,” Lamping said.

All of this will create another solid partner to make Downtown an exciting and active place to live, work and visit.

If Khan does end up developing the Shipyards, it will enhance the future potential for the riverfront property just west of it where the vacant county courthouse and soon-to-be vacant City Hall Annex still sit.

Access for the JEA property

There are some big dreams that will take deep pockets for the JEA’s Southbank property, a prime piece of real estate on the St. Johns River.

The JEA has wanted to sell the property and now, a stronger economy and better real estate market, plus the continuing improvement in Downtown make the site more attractive for a sale.

Ironically, folks at JEA say that Khan’s announced interest a year ago in developing the Shipyards property helped spark renewed interest in the JEA site on the other side of the river.

“The recent talk of the Shipyards property adds value to the JEA property. How many cities do you know that have Downtown, riverfront property for sale?” board member Mike Hightower said at the time.

The JEA floated an intriguing proposed land swap last week with the Duval County Public Schools, Jacksonville Transportation Authority and city to extend Prudential Drive through the school board’s parking lot to the JEA property and then continue to merge with Broadcast Place and under Interstate 95 to Kings Avenue at the JTA parking garage.

Word has spread that there appears to be some strong interest by developers in the property, and this improvement is only likely to intensify that interest.

The JEA has been soliciting proposals from developers with a July 1 deadline.

Many may remember when Herb Peyton of Gate Petroleum bought the Riverplace Tower, formerly known as Gulf Life Tower. He knew his success would be enhanced by access.

He began work on enhancing Prudential Drive and its connection to Hendricks Avenue from the south.

That project took almost 13 years and was a good example of the table-setting needed to increase the chances of success.

In recent years, the presence and clout of Deutsche Bank has grown in Jacksonville. It has been rumored for months that the bank is among the groups interested in the JEA site to consolidate its seven suburban office buildings and a workforce that could approach 1,800 by 2016.

It’s believed the JEA’s land swap proposal that also involves the Kings Avenue parking garage could be attractive to Deutsche Bank and others interested in building a major employment center.

Tuesday afternoon, the JEA board is expected to approve the land swap proposal, opening the opportunity for an important partnership among the authority, city, JTA and school board.

Let’s hope everybody involved seizes the day.

Downtown tower sale soon?

Finally, the anticipated sale of the Bank of America Tower might not sound as exciting as potential development of the Shipyards property and the JEA Southbank site, but its importance to Downtown should not be minimized.

The 700,000-square-foot building, built in 1990, has been for sale since February.

It is one of three Downtown skyscrapers on the market. The other two are the Wells Fargo Center (formerly the Independent Life Building and the Modis Building) and EverBank Center (formerly the AT&T Building).

All three could change hands this summer and here’s why this is important.

As Downtown continues to gain its footing and grow stronger, there is a very robust effort to attract new investment and create jobs. Three solid new owners of these iconic skyline buildings will help give confidence in the market to investors.

There are many aspects of my job I enjoy.

Besides having a front-row seat on newsmaking events and working with great fellow employees, there are opportunities for many good news stories for Jacksonville on the horizon.

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