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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 20, 202108:28 PM EST

National Park Service rejected Shipyards swap for Metropolitan Park in December

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Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer plans to meet with the Jacksonville Jaguars and wants to personally engage state and federal officials on riverfront development options.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

A National Park Service decision complicates Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s plans to develop the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection notified city attorney John Sawyer on Dec. 2 that the National Park Service will not consider the Shipyards as replacement property for Metropolitan Park.

“I wanted to let you know that NPS has responded to the City’s proposal of the Shipyards as replacement property for the Metro Park conversion,” department Land and Recreation Grants Program Manager Rebecca Wood wrote to Sawyer, governmental operations department chief of the city Office of General Counsel.

“NPS has reiterated that the purpose of reviewing the additional properties identified by the City thus far was because the Shipyards will not be considered as replacement property for Metro Park,” Wood wrote. “Please let me know if the City has any additional properties to review.”

 The city is required to keep Metropolitan Park as parkland under a provision in a $1.725 million National Park Service grant agreement. It prohibits the city from selling  Metropolitan Park without a comparable replacement.

The city received the grant in 1981 through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

Khan proposes to build a Four Seasons hotel and mixed-use development on the Downtown riverfront property.

 Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration has been trying to relocate Metropolitan Park since at least 2017 and withdrew City Council legislation in August that would have refunded the grant instead of finding an alternate park site.

 The email chain obtained Jan. 20 in a public records request shows Sawyer engaged the Florida Department of Environmental Protection  officials before Sept. 15 regarding replacement parcels for Metropolitan Park. 

On Oct. 15, Sawyer provided Wood the parcel deed and aerial site map of the 11.8 acres of the Shipyards the city wanted to swap for the 24.7-acre Metropolitan Park. 

Sawyer also included a site assessment report in his email that shows a soil analysis at the site. It notes areas that could require groundwater remediation and have a lead concentration that exceeds federal regulatory levels.

Boyer steps in

Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said Jan. 20 that she received the email exchange from Sawyer last week.

She is scheduled to meet Jan. 21 with Khan’s development company, Iguana Investments Florida LLC, about the rejection and options for what the Jaguars owner wants to build at Metropolitan Park.

Boyer said doesn’t know if the National Park Service decision “completely closes the door” on the land swap. 

She said she has requested more documents from the general counsel’s office that show the full conversation between city attorneys and Florida environmental officials.

The DIA board told Boyer and city attorneys at a Sept. 9 committee meeting to pursue talks with the federal agency to see if the Shipyards would satisfy the grant requirements. 

Boyer said she wants to become more personally involved in the negotiations with the park service.

“It looks like at some prior time the Shipyards was rejected. I know (the National Park Service) rejects things if they believe they were previously considered for park space,” Boyer said. 

“But the story I hear is that they’re concerned about the environmental remediation. I don’t have any documents that say that.”

Boyer said documents the city provided the state environmental department and the National Park Service did not show how a public park would be developed at the Shipyards. 

She said she hopes that if the city sends more detailed park plans, the environmental remediation could become “a nonissue.” 

“My understanding of the National Park Service standards is they want to see not just an appraised piece of land, but they want to see how you’re going to use it and that it is of an equivalent value — not appraised value but real recreational value,” Boyer said.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan has proposed building a Four Seasons hotel at the site of Metropolitan Park.

Jaguars’ plans for Metropolitan Park site

Jaguars leadership did not respond to an email request for a comment Jan. 20 about the National Park Service decision.

Franchise President Mark Lamping said Jan. 12 that Khan wants to advance his $535 million plan to redevelop Metropolitan Park after Council rejected plans to redevelop Lot J, which is west of TIAA Bank Field across the street from the park.

Khan’s team is negotiating directly with the DIA to build the Four Seasons at Metropolitan Park along with a two-phase medical, residential and office development and public park space.

Khan and his development partner, Baltimore, Maryland-based The Cordish Companies, worked with Curry administration officials on the rejected $450 million Lot J proposal. 

A project phasing summary dated Aug. 8, 2020, provided to the DIA  from the Jaguars show Khan also plans to ask the city for $151.2 million in public incentives for his plans for Metropolitan Park and a portion of the Shipyards. 

That is $94.1 million less than the $245.3 million request for Lot J.

Other developments, like the Museum of Science & History’s proposed $80 million to $90 million facility at the Shipyards and a redeveloped Berkman Plaza II, are designed to tie into Khan’s plans for St. Johns River frontage.

Boyer said she wants to know if Khan and Iguana Investments could modify plans to keep Metropolitan Park intact by shifting the placement of project components.

“It is entirely feasible that you could have Metropolitan Park, a Four Seasons, a mixed-use development, MOSH and additional park space near Berkman (II),” Boyer said. “You could design the space that way.”

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