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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 11, 201112:00 PM EST

PARC eyes entertainment park at the Shipyards


by Karen Brune Mathis

Managing Editor

Jacksonville-based PARC Management LLC, which owns and operates theme parks around the country, has been discussing a Shipyards project as part of the Northbank redevelopment efforts.

Randy Drew, PARC chair and CEO, confirmed Thursday that he has spoken with a Jacksonville Civic Council task force about pursuing an entertainment park of rides, activities, retail and dining features at the vacant Northbank riverfront property.

“We will continue to have conversations and define a concept and determine the viability and economics,” he said.

“We were excited about the opportunity,” said Drew, who said he was asked to meet with the council’s Northbank Redevelopment Task Force as it studied how to revitalize Downtown.

“At this point, it is preliminary,” he said.

PARC Management LLC is an entertainment management company which owns and operates theme parks, water parks and NASCAR SpeedParks throughout the United States and Canada.

The 40-acre Shipyards property is vacant land stretching from The Plaza at Berkman and County Courthouse property to Metropolitan Park and the sports complex.

Several developers unsuccessfully attempted residential, office and retail projects on the site since it closed as a working shipyard.

The City owns the property.

On Tuesday, the council’s task force released a 38-page report calling for an independent Downtown Improvement Authority to carry out Downtown redevelopment.

The task force, encouraged and supported by Mayor John Peyton, included land-use recommendations.

Those recommendations included construction of a convention center at the site of the courthouse and annex, whose functions will move to the new courthouse under construction.

They also included a land-use suggestion for an interactive destination entertainment park at the Shipyards property. Features in such a park could include “a London Eye type wheel, a coaster, adventure golf, a zip line course and others.”

Task force Chair Preston Haskell, in an interview published in today’s Daily Record, said the task force has spoken with a national firm that has developed parks in other cities and is “enthusiastic about doing this in Jacksonville.”

He said the next step is “to receive a more definitive proposal from them.”

Drew said he was invited to meet with the 11-member task force to talk about redevelopment of the Northbank.

He said the group looked at how to connect an area from the Times-Union Center to Metropolitan Park to create “a great flow between events.”

That riverfront area would connect the performing arts center, the Jacksonville Landing, the Hyatt, the new convention center site, The Plaza at Berkman, the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park.

Drew said the discussion concerned providing more activity for visitors to the Hyatt and the new attached convention center, creating an “entertainment mix.”

The task force and Drew talked about retail, restaurants, entertainment, rides and attractions, including a water park.

“We simply proposed a concept as to how you tie it together,” said Drew.

“We described a concept and we pointed them to concepts in other cities” in which PARC operates, he said.

He said the next step is to return to the Civic Council and task force to present a more detailed proposal.

Drew said that would include a feasibility study to refine the concept. He had no cost estimate.

“We build and operate parks. That’s what we do,” said Drew.

“We would propose a concept and it would be up to the City on what happens next,” he said.

Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Executive Director Ron Barton said PARC has not spoken with the mayor’s office about the concept.

“This group and the conversations about this concept have been held at the Civic Council level and are conceptualized within the Civic Council report,” he said.

PARC also provides development and operations management of entertainment and attraction venues to third-party owners, joint venture partners and government entities.

Drew said it would be premature to describe PARC “as anything other than members of the community” with an interest in the community’s efforts to redevelop the Northbank.

Talk about a possible entertainment park at the Shipyards property surfaced earlier this year. In an interview published in April in the Daily Record, St. Johns Town Center developer Ben Carter said he was talking with Peyton about the possibility of developing an entertainment center at the Shipyards.

Carter is a member of the Northbank Redevelopment Task Force and was instrumental in bringing Drew into the discussions.

In the April interview, Carter said he envisioned a wave pool, carousel, ferris wheel, roller coaster, restaurants, arts and seafood markets and other family friendly attractions on the East Bay Street Shipyards property.

At the time, Peyton spokesperson Misty Skipper said Carter had shared with Peyton his visions of spurring Downtown development. However, she said that nothing could be planned until the City took ownership of the property.

The Shipyards property was wrapped up in bankruptcy proceedings and the City has since taken ownership of it.

Carter estimated that the development would cost $20 million and said he did not want to own the property.

Carter said Downtown development depends on demographics, such as attracting young professionals and families.

He referred to the Wave Waterpark near San Diego and the Celebrations restaurant and club center in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as examples of what might work.

“They are little mini amusement parks with retail and restaurants. It’s really pretty cool,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be more than $20 million, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.”

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