Last week, while the Late Bloomers Garden Club was lobbying the Jacksonville Waterways Commission for a comprehensive Downtown waterfront master plan, Aundra Wallace was packing his bags and making sure his passport was in order.
Wallace, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, was about to head to Liverpool, England.
He was the only U.S. presenter and one of only two from North America at the International Waterfront Forum, a gathering on Friday and Saturday of urban redevelopment officials and professionals from Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands and England.
“It was an opportunity to look at cities that have significant ports in close proximity to the urban core,” said Wallace.
What struck him about being among his global colleagues was how similar to Jacksonville many other cities are in terms of waterfront redevelopment.
At the beginning of the 20th century, most cities with substantial maritime shipping interests clustered the activity near their downtowns. As shipping evolved from bulk cargo to containers, dock facilities were moved closer to the ocean to accommodate larger vessels.
That left former urban port areas as prime opportunities for redevelopment.
In Liverpool’s case, it was a project that began 40 years ago.
The Liverpool Waters Project includes 9,000 residences, plus office buildings, hotels, restaurants and a cruise ship terminal built with help from an investment of 5.5 billion pounds — about $8 billion.
Wallace said one of the concepts confirmed at the forum is “you can’t just bring people Downtown. There has to be a reason for them to be there.”
He also learned Jacksonville is on a “good trajectory” for redeveloping the Downtown waterfront.
The authority is nearing its third anniversary and the first 18 months were devoted to developing a business-based redevelopment plan for Downtown and getting it approved by City Council.
Jacksonville, like other cities that have rejuvenated former thriving urban port areas, will depend on partnerships between government and the private sector that will lead to development.
“We know what they know in other cities. Capital is the key,” Wallace said.
He referenced “The Tate,” a former Liverpool waterfront warehouse that was converted into mixed-use retail, residential and commercial space that includes two museums after the British government made the financial commitment to get the project underway and sustain its momentum.
Wallace also learned the traditional long-range planning for urban redevelopment has been replaced by a shorter timeframe and it’s based primarily on the real estate cycle –– about 10 years.
“Thirty-year plans are out the window,” Wallace said. “Plans have to be able to weather economic turmoil and you have to be able to adjust the plan as you move forward. You can have the best plan, but the timing has to be right.”
The reaction to Jacksonville’s Downtown redevelopment program was well-received by the global audience.
Wallace said people were impressed by Jacksonville’s embracing a healthy lifestyle along the urban waterfront, including the new YMCA along Riverside Avenue and The District lifestyle community along the Southbank.
The next step will be to develop a waterfront-specific plan that’s compatible with the overall master plan for Downtown.
Over the next three months, the authority will evaluate other waterfront master plans implemented domestically and globally, Wallace said.
“Our waterfront plan has to fit with the business and real estate development plans we already have in place,” he said.
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