DIA board advances new agreement to dock USS Orleck at Pier No. 1

The Jacksonville Naval Ship Association is making improvements to move the floating museum by a March 31 deadline.

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With a deadline looming, the Downtown Investment Authority board advanced an updated 10-year licensing agreement for the nonprofit operator of the USS Orleck to move the floating Naval museum to Pier No. 1 at the future Shipyards West Park.

The DIA board voted 6-0 on Jan. 18 to sign off on the agreement, which CEO Lori Boyer says could be sent in legislation to the City Council by Feb. 8.  

The city is giving the Jacksonville Naval Ship Association until March 31 to relocate the Orleck from in front of the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront where the ship has been docked since March 26, 2022.

A crane is working on Pier No. 1 to prepare it for the USS Orleck.
A crane is working on Pier No. 1 to prepare it for the USS Orleck.

According to Boyer, the DIA board and Council need to approve the new agreement because the association has not satisfied terms of its existing agreement with the city and she has exhausted her authority to grant extensions.

The DIA and Council’s existing 10-year agreement for the Orleck was approved in August 2021. It was to expire in October 2022, but Boyer extended that deadline six months. 

When the ship arrived Downtown, Pier No. 1 was not ready to support the Orleck. The site is adjacent to the future Shipyards West Park, which is in the design phase at the western edge of the Shipyards near The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina. 

Deal terms

Council added $50,000 to the city’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget to help pay for temporary electricity and utilities connections at the pier. In December, Council approved a temporary construction easement for contractor Hal Jones to ready the pier for the Orleck.

Beyond temporary utility connections, the term sheet attached to the DIA board resolution says the city will provide the Orleck site:

 • Permanent water, sewer and electric service to the Riverwalk at Pier No. 1 will be included in a planned Catherine Street extension as access to Shipyards West Park.

• On-street parking along one side of Catherine Street and to be completed “as expeditiously as possible” with a goal of March 31, 2024. 

Pier No. 1 is near The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina on the western edge of the Shipyards.
Pier No. 1 is near The Plaza Condominium at Berkman Plaza and Marina on the western edge of the Shipyards.

• Landscaping, trees and a sidewalk connection to Bay Street and streetlights as part of the Catherine Street extension. 

• A permanent restroom facility and ticket area as Phase 1 of the park construction within Shipyards West Park near the Catherine Street extension.

The term sheet says the city could provide 50 parking spaces in the final park design “if feasible and consistent with the other park design objectives.”

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Agency Landscape + Planning LLC  is designing the 10.2-acre Shipyard West Park and is scheduled to release a preliminary plan to the public Feb. 8.

After the vote Jan. 18, Association Executive Director Jim Webb said he expects to meet the city’s March 31 deadline to have the ship towed to Pier No. 1. 

Hal Jones arrived at the site Jan. 17 with a crane to begin installing berthing/mooring structures, called dolphins, for the Orleck.

“It’s a 90-day project that we have to squish into 75 (days),” Webb said. 

Shipyards West will sit at the west end of the Shipyards redevelopment. This map was part of a duPont Fund connectivity study.
Shipyards West will sit at the west end of the Shipyards redevelopment. This map was part of a duPont Fund connectivity study.

Community compromise 

Before its final vote Jan. 18, the DIA board directed its staff to add flexibility to the language in the Orleck deal after concerns from several civic groups about sacrificing green space at the future park for a possible parking structure.  Those concerns were raised at a Jan. 12 committee meeting. 

The naval ship association will lease a temporary structure at Pier No. 1 for ticketing and guest restrooms until the park is built.

Agency Landscape was awarded two contracts in July, one with the city and the other with the DIA, totaling $1.833 million to design the Shipyards West Park. 

The contract for the 10.2-acre park is with the city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. 

That portion of the park is subject to restrictions from a 36-year-old Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant that once was on the former Kids Kampus further east on the Shipyards property. 

The city and state reached a deal to move the grant restriction to Shipyards West to free the Kids Campus site for development of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposed Four Seasons hotel and residences.

Agency’s second contract is with DIA for 2.45 acres that is not under the grant restrictions and will be for development of small-scale vendors and retail as an amenity for park guests, according to Boyer.

Nonprofit groups, including Riverfront Parks Now and the Northeast Florida Sierra Club, did not want the Orleck deal to lock the city into building permanent structures at the future park before the design work is complete.

“Agency LP should be empowered to begin designing the Shipyards Park space with creativity and freedom to produce exciting, world class concepts for public review,” Riverfront Parks Now wrote in a Jan. 10 letter to Boyer and the DIA board. 

“If allowed to do so, their portfolio shows the results will be a spectacular riverfront park that not only hosts the public but attracts the public.”

DIA board member Oliver Barakat appeared to agree with the civic groups Jan. 18 that any commitment for a permanent museum building and parking should come after the park’s master plan is complete. 

He said the redrafted language would give DIA flexibility to “not inadvertently put the cart before the horse” by putting design restrictions on the park design firm. 

“Once we have a picture in front of us that Agency has developed, it will be easier for us to make these more tactical decisions and determine whether they’re appropriate,” Barakat said.