Ask a few experts about the best use for the long-dormant JEA site on the Southbank and you’ll invariably hear support for mixed-use.
A combination of commercial and residential, possibly mixed with green space, could be ideal for 30 acres along the riverfront.
It would bring two key elements to Downtown — people who live there and people who work there.
Yet, while mixed-use would work, there’s an even greater rumored possibility for the property, one that has advocates pushing mixed-use aside: Deutsche Bank.
The banking giant’s possible location there — and the thousands of jobs it would bring to the urban core — could be a game changer for the site and a catalyst for Downtown, those same experts say.
JEA was to announce Tuesday the companies that have submitted proposals to develop the land. However, Monday afternoon, a notice was sent out saying the new deadline for bids was noon July 1. The bids would be opened at 2 p.m. that day.
It’s not the first time the property has been marketed. But the hope is this time something will come of the latest effort — and build on a Downtown scene that’s trying to cash in on current momentum.
’It has real potential’
When it comes to real estate, especially parcels owned by the city or public entities, a certain term often enters vernacular when it comes to a possible sale.
“We want the highest and best use for that particular property,” said Aundra Wallace, Downtown Investment Authority CEO. “Hopefully a deal can be structured for a mix of uses.”
Kenneth Creveling is president of Urbanomics Inc., which helped create a Downtown feasibility study for the Northbank.
“There is no single highest and best use,” he said. “There are a variety of concepts that will be workable and revenue- and job-producing. It’s a wonderful piece of property.”
As for that “highest and best use,” opinions vary.
“I would hope the JEA site is going be a vibrant mixed-use site,” said Bob Rhodes, referring to a mix of commercial and residential uses. “I’d like to see mid-rise residential, as well as a good dose of green space.”
Rhodes serves as chair of the Jacksonville Civic Council’s Downtown task force, but spoke as an individual on the matter.
The former chair of the old Downtown Development Authority said the area is important for Downtown’s redevelopment, but the market fell off in recent years due to the recession.
Mid-rise rental units — five- to seven story buildings instead of taller towers and not condominium — “laid out attractively” and blended with complementary retail such as a couple of restaurants, a small grocery store and the other smaller-scale options, he thinks would work.
Alex Coley is thinking bigger.
“It needs a catalytic something,” said Coley, a principal with NAI Hallmark Partners. “If there was a major attractions hundreds of thousands of people would come, it would galvanize the community … it needs a theme, a master plan.”
He compares such a feature to Unity Plaza, the events center portion of the 220 Riverside complex he has developed and is under construction in the Brooklyn area.
Rather than a signature retailer or restaurant, Coley thinks it should be an entertainment destination.
An idea he said he likes for the area, with the JEA site being a major part, is similar to one at Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, where people rent bicycles and ride in loops sightseeing and visiting retail. The JEA site could be a part of that loop, as could the Riverwalk, Museum of Science and History and others.
Like Rhodes, Coley said residential development will need to be a part of plans.
“I believe the future of Downtown depends on Downtown housing,” he said. “It’s an obvious location for it … The Southbank is a poster child for that and it (JEA site) has real potential for that.”
Oliver Barakat, CBRE senior vice president and Downtown Investment Authority chair, also sees “an excellent opportunity” for a mixed-use riverfront site that features retail, open public space and possibly smaller offices.
Barakat said acceptance of a single-use concept would need other “significant aspects.”
One of those single-use users could be in the mix — and the possibilities it might bring could be significant.
Enter the game-changer
While mixed-use is seen as a strong bet for success, there’s another possibility advocates agreed would hit jackpot should it happen.
That would be Deutsche Bank coming Downtown.
The global financial services company, according to sources, has considered the JEA site in its search for a consolidated Jacksonville office campus.
If the industry giant is in the mix and ultimately selected, thousands of jobs could head to the urban core.
“I’m certainly aware of it,” Barakat said. “Obviously, they fall into that category of corporate citizenry you want to see come Downtown and I am sure we would welcome them with open arms.”
Coley was enthusiastic about that possibility.
“It would be fabulous,” said Coley. “It would set a precedent that other organizations could come Downtown … and the value of that cannot be overstated.”
Such a campus would spur residential and overall development around the site, he said, and bring educated, highly compensated jobs to the core.
“A type of development like that would be very attractive for Downtown,” said Creveling. “Residential, commercial would all support it.”
The next step
JEA will continue to take bids on its request for proposal on the site until noon July 1. (The original date was Tuesday, but the utility extended the submission period.) A couple of hours after, it will open proposals and announce who is in the running to purchase and develop the 30 acre site or, broken down, two 15-acre sites.
The bids that feature details of the individual proposals — price, plans, time frames and more — won’t be available to the public for another 30 days or until an award is announced, whichever is sooner.
A JEA evaluation team will review the proposals and grade them, with factors such as the project’s economic benefits, price, a company’s finances, its background and more all weighted.
From there, the team will make recommendations and hand them off to the utility’s board for a vote.
But all eyes will be on the July 1 announcement.
“We are engaged,” Rhodes said, speaking of the Civic Council’s Downtown task force. “Very much engaged.”
Coley also will be keeping tabs on the latest developments.
“You bet,” he said. “It’s an important community asset.”
With certain companies in the mix, a whole new level of speculation on the redevelopment of the site can begin.