The Downtown Investment Authority wants the National Park Service to consider trading Metropolitan Park for the city-owned Shipyards property.
The DIA’s inquiry comes as its CEO, Lori Boyer, said Iguana Investments Florida LLC, led by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, plans to submit a new development proposal for the parkland. The DIA also is seeking to integrate public park space with private development on the Downtown riverfront.
The DIA board gave Boyer permission during a Sept. 9 committee meeting to ask the federal agency if the Shipyards would satisfy the requirements of a 1981 grant agreement that prohibits the city from selling the 24.7-acre Metropolitan Park without a comparable replacement.
Khan’s proposal to develop the Shipyards property near TIAA Bank Field expired in August.
Iguana’s possible plans to focus on Metropolitan Park were raised Sept. 9 as the DIA committee heard from a nonprofit group advocating for an expansive public park network on the Downtown riverfront.
“I have been in conversations with Iguana regarding proposed development plans that they may be submitting in the very near future for the Metropolitan Park site. Even a piece of the adjacent Shipyards is included that,” Boyer said.
“The question is unless there is a suitable replacement site for the current restriction that encumbers the Metropolitan Park site, it’s really not available for disposition from our perspective,” she said.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration withdrew legislation Aug. 18 that would have refunded the $1.725 million federal grant instead of finding a new location for Metropolitan Park.
DIA board members did not put their full support behind swapping the Shipyards for the park, but Strategic Planning Committee Chair Oliver Barakat said the federal agency’s decision could impact any comprehensive riverfront planning.
Public space vs. private development
What the National Park Service decides could directly impact the city’s development strategy for the Northbank.
A consortium of seven nonprofits called Riverfront Parks Now is proposing a series of linked parks along the Downtown riverfront.
The plan was presented to the DIA by Scenic Jacksonville Executive Director Nancy Powell; Foley & Lardner partner and Scenic Jacksonville board member Michael Kirwan; and St. Johns Riverkeeper Executive Director Jimmy Orth.
The group showed examples of other major and midmarket U.S. cities like Boston, Chicago and Chattanooga, Tennessee, that have acquired riverfront property and converted into public park space.
Orth said other cities use riverfront park green space as an investment with both economic and environmental returns.
“As we’ve seen, the provide benefits of health and wellness and civic engagement and recreation, but also can be catalysts for economic development,” Orth said. “And, of course, now cities are looking to parks to help resolve problems with flooding and mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Powell presented a map showing contiguous city-owned land from Metropolitan Park to Brooklyn and the Downtown Southbank.
Barakat, a real estate executive at CBRE, and the other board members expressed interest in a “holistic” approach to riverfront park planning and showed interest in shifting toward a strategy integrating public park space with private development and creating more connectivity along the St. Johns River.
“This is not an every-year occurrence that an American city owns this amount of land on the river. And we do owe it to ourselves while we’re dealing with this slowdown in the local economy and the national economy to take a step back and look at these pieces of land holistically,” Barakat said.
The DIA is seeking consulting assistance to update its Community Redevelopment Agency’s comprehensive plans for the Northbank and Southbank. Boyer said it will include a master plan for parks.
She recommended the board consider the value of the Shipyards and other riverfront property on the private market and decide if giving up development rights is a direction the DIA wants to take.
Boyer said the Shipyards property could be valued at nearly $50 million, or $1.8 million to $2.8 million per acre, based on land value assessments from nearby property deals like The Ford on Bay.
Integra Realty Resources appraised the Shipyards at $26 million in 2015, according to the DIA.
“But at the same time, it reminds me how difficult it is in Downtown Jacksonville to pull off these big projects from The District, even The Barnett, which was a tiny project compared to some of the Shipyards-type projects we’ve talked about,” Barakat said.
“A huge office building like FIS is a once-every-10-year thing. We’re just not a big deal Downtown market. Not yet. To realize all the entitlements provided in the Shipyards lands could take years and years, if not decades,” he said. “So, we have to ask ourselves, what is the true opportunity costs if we forgo private development for more public space?”