The year 2014 may well be remembered as the year the cranes came back to the Downtown neighborhood.
Not the migratory bird kind of crane, the construction kind.
With substantial projects underway on the Northbank and Southbank, the sounds and sights of major construction projects could be heard and seen throughout the year.
The former Haydon Burns Library soon will begin its new life as the Jessie Ball duPont Center, an office building dedicated to nonprofits.
The Parador Partners parking garage adjacent to SunTrust Tower began coming out of the ground this year and is scheduled for completion in mid-2015.
The long-awaited replacement of the Southbank Riverwalk that began in earnest this year also will be completed next year.
Riverside Avenue was transformed with the construction of hundreds of new apartments, a new public plaza and a shopping center anchored by Fresh Market.
Before 2014, it had been a few years since cranes and constructions zones were part of the urban core landscape.
Vince McCormack, chairman of the JAX Chamber Downtown Development Committee, described 2014 as a “momentum builder.”
McCormack, who moved his business Downtown from Southside five years ago, said the year gave him a fresh outlook on the future of Jacksonville’s urban core.
“As a Downtown business owner and advocate, I’ve never felt more confident,” he said. “I believe we’re on the right track.”
For City Council member Don Redman, 2014 is remarkable for being the most active year during his two terms in office when it comes to Downtown construction projects.
“There is excitement Downtown,” he said. “Things are happening.”
The city turning over management of Hemming Park to a nonprofit was one of the major enhancements of the year,
“I believe it is starting to turn around. I hope we see some real transformation in Hemming Park,” said Redman
Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said he is pleased with progress made this year in Downtown, but he’s not surprised.
“It was right where I thought it would be,” he said.
Wallace said the authority’s approval of the new Downtown redevelopment plan, which is now being considered by council, was a huge step forward.
He agreed taking action to improve the activity at Downtown’s signature public space will be a key to progress.
“Making the investment in Hemming Park had to be done,” Wallace said.
Downtown also made gains in employment and commercial real estate activity in 2014, said Aaron Bowman, senior vice president of JAXUSA Partnership, the business development division of the JAX Chamber. He cited the planned migration of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. into space at EverBank Center as a coup.
Several Downtown Class-A office buildings changing hands and JEA identifying a developer for the former Southside Generating Station property along the Southbank also were mentioned by Bowman as milestones, along with the planned relocation of Intuition Ale Works near the stadium.
“There is a lot of activity. A lot of companies and people are looking at Downtown,” Bowman said. “Never have I seen the needle quiver like it is now.”
Looking ahead to 2015, the momentum that began this year could lead to even more construction projects.
Intuition Ale Works is moving its beer brewing operation to the former Noland Building along Bay Street near the Sports Complex. A group of investors bought the former Bostwick Building at East Bay and Ocean streets and plan to transform the historic former bank into a top-tier steak house.
Negotiations continue on the Laura Street Trio and Barnett projects, although Wallace has established a deadline of first quarter 2015 for a “go or no go” in terms of the city contributing to the budget.
Wallace said another Downtown opportunity likely to see movement next year is the Shipyards property. Next year would be when the city decides what to do with the old county courthouse and City Hall buildings along Bay Street.
“We will be having some discussions about surplus property,” he said.
Like many Downtown advocates, Wallace admits there is a desire to see projects happening now rather than later.
“Sometimes, I’m impatient. I want to see cranes up Downtown,” he said. “But this is a marathon, not a sprint.”