Tear-down of courthouse leaves 'wide-open' options for city
2018-12-12 | Florida Times-UnionDec. 13 --The walls of the old Duval County courthouse are coming down, but the fate of the riverfront land beneath the building remains up in the air after the Downtown Investment Authority board on Wednesday unanimously rejected proposals from developers for a new convention center at the downtown site.
Board members did not discuss what to do next with the city-owned land after demolition of the courthouse and the next-door city hall annex clears the property for redevelopment.
"I don't think there's any definite plan in place," board member Ron Moody said after the meeting. "I think it's wide open, and we'll let the market forces react and see if there's someone else who would come in to develop the property."
Brian Hughes , interim CEO of the investment authority, said the next move could be a meeting between DIA board Chairman Jim Bailey and Mayor Lenny Curry , followed by Bailey seeking insights from fellow board members at a future board meeting.
"It's not outside the realm of possibility that the January [board] meeting might have some contemplation of next steps," Hughes said.
While the DIA was weighing proposals for a convention center, Jacksonville -based development group Rimrock Devlin DeBartolo put forward a different concept in August called Riverwalk Place composed of a five-story apartment complex, nine-story hotel, 10,000 square feet of waterfront restaurant space and six-story parking garage.
The release of that unsolicited proposal came on the heels of Jaguars owner Shad Khan making his case for a new convention center as part of a huge development he envisions in the area near TIAA Bank Field. Rimrock Devlin DeBartolo is a partner with Khan in that proposal for a convention center.
Riverwalk Place didn't get considered by the DIA board because the agency's recent request for proposals focused on a convention center at the old courthouse site.
The downtown master plan, approved in 2014, calls the site prime property because it's on the riverfront and close to the blocks of restaurants and clubs centered around the Florida Theatre known as The Elbow district.
"The site is well-suited for a new iconic attraction or venue to invigorate downtown Jacksonville and increase the number of visitors," the master plan says.
Last year, a consultant hired by DIA to assess the feasibility of building a new convention center said that based on interviews with meeting planners, the old courthouse site would be the best location in downtown.
The DIA awarded top ranking in September to a proposal submitted by Dallas -based Jacobs for a convention center, hotel and parking garage. Bailey then met Curry about whether the city should move ahead. Curry sent the DIA a letter last month saying the city needs to bring more attractions to downtown so Jacksonville can succeed as a destination city for conventions. He noted the 2017 study said Jacksonville isn't ready yet for a new convention center but would be after projects known as The Shipyards and The District are built out.
DIA board members made the same point Wednesday in voting to reject all proposals for a convention center.
In the past, some downtown advocates have suggested a riverfront park for the site. Hughes said interest in downtown is so strong he doesn't think a park would be the outcome "given the development environment we're in."
"Anything's on the table until a decision is made, but it would surprise me if there's not a lot of development community interest in talking about other things that could happen there -- mixed-use and retail," he said.
David Bauerlein : (904) 359-4581
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