City reviewing permit for Riverfront Plaza Cafe shell

The $3.5 million project is one piece of the city’s plan to transform the former Jacksonville Landing into a 7.5-acre park fronting the St. Johns River on the Downtown Northbank.

This rendering shows an aerial view of the Riverfront Plaza playground and cafe building at the former Jacksonville Landing.
This rendering shows an aerial view of the Riverfront Plaza playground and cafe building at the former Jacksonville Landing.
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Although the city delayed construction on Riverfront Plaza Downtown by a month, permitting for the park amenities is moving forward. 

The city is reviewing a permit application for the shell of the Riverfront Plaza Cafe at the site of the former Jacksonville Landing at an estimated cost of $3.5 million. The permit application is for the cafe shell and does not include the playground.

The 5,171-square-foot building is planned on 7.45 acres at 2 Independent Drive W.

Perkins & Will Inc., selected by the city in July 2021 as part of a request for proposals and competition to design the public space, is listed as the cafe architect. The city owns the property.

An incentives deal for New York City-based developer American Lions LLC’s estimated $166.6 million, 44–story tower planned to front the park on a 1-acre pad has been in contract review since September 2022.

Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer has helped lead the park planning along with city Parks, Recreation and Community Service and Public Works departments and local nonprofit groups. 

She said June 6 that the cafe building will have leasable space with a coffee shop-restaurant and park office. The cafe will be on the north side of the park near the intersection of Laura Street and Independent Drive. 

The latest park design by Perkins & Will places Riverfront Plaza’s playground on the rooftop of the cafe building. Boyer called it “an integral part” of the park’s first phase of construction. 

A rendering of Riverfront Plaza.

The city announced June 5 that they had postponed construction that was expected to start that day until July 5. 

“The Mayor (Lenny Curry) and Mayor-Elect’s (Donna Deegan) office feel that it is best to postpone the start of construction to July 5th due to the holiday week and other festivities happening around this time to eliminate any traffic and/or parking disruptions,” the city’s public affairs office said in an email. 

Boyer said the first piece of the park to start construction will be an extension of the park space east of the Performing Arts Center. 

Crews will close a drive at Hogan and Water streets to extend the existing Riverfront Plaza site.

That work will be done by contractor J.B. Coxwell, she  said.

The first phase of the park does not include the construction of what became a widely discussed 151-foot-tall stainless steel statue that some interpreted to spell “Jax” by Orlando-based artist Jefrë.

According to Boyer, the city requested the nonprofit Jessie Ball duPont Fund to work with Jefrë on public outreach to ensure the sculpture design that will be the park’s centerpiece is “emblematic” and “representative of Jacksonville.” 

Jefrë attended the Jax River Jams concert series in April to speak with local residents for inspiration toward a tweaked design, she said. 

A rendering of Riverfront Plaza at the former Jacksonville Landing.

“We’ve been working with Jessie Ball duPont Fund and art experts to help refine the piece and help defray some of the cost to raise private funding,” Boyer said. 

Boyer said the art piece, its podium and civic stairs at the center of the park will be included in the second phase.

“We’re still a long way away from the installation of that piece,” she said.

Boyer said the Florida Department of Transportation is finalizing designs for a proposed pedestrian connection to the park from the Main Street bridge.

City Council approved $27.25 million in fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23 at part of its five-year Capital Improvement Plan to pay for the design and construction of the park. 

That did not include funding for the art centerpiece, which Perkins & Will estimated in 2021 could cost up to $18 million.

“I’ve very focused on the activation of the riverfront (and) very focused on riverfront parks. I want to make sure we get that fully funded and really get it moving,” Deegan told news reporters at a June 8 NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association Northeast Florida Chapter event.

“Because I do think the activation of the riverfront is going to be absolutely key to Downtown development and, frankly, the infrastructure around all that.” 

American Lions tower

Boyer said DIA Director of Downtown Real Estate and Development Steve Kelley has been working with the city Office of General Counsel for months to draft an agreement with American Lions for Council approval.

The DIA board approved a $35.88 million incentives package with an additional $27.576 million construction loan in September 2022 but it needs Council approval.

It would provide public financing for the 300-unit tower with a parking garage and retail base with a 7,500-square-foot,100-seat restaurant and a retail/workshop/studio arcade that will be structurally integrated into the park. 

The incentives would provide American Lions a Recapture Enhanced Value Grant capped at $28.557 million in the form of a 20-year, 75% property tax refund.

The city would convey the parcel appraised at $3.48 million to the developer and offer a $2.5 million completion grant paid after the tower is substantially complete.

Boyer said the DIA wants to ensure the deal’s $27.576 million construction loan to be repaid over 20 years with one 10-year extension option would be supported by the incoming Deegan administration. 

The DIA would cover interest payments on the loan for two years during construction, valued at $1.344 million, as part of the deal terms. 

If the incentives package is restructured, it would have to return to the DIA board before being sent to Council. 



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