The Urban Land Institute (ULI), a 30,000-member global leadership organization for real estate professionals, has issued the written report of a multi-disciplinary group that identified redevelopment opportunities for the Southbank District in Downtown Jacksonville. Hopping Green & Sams (HGS) attorney David Powell provided leadership for the eight-member Technical Assistance Panel and the preparation of its 50-page report.
The ULI panel was commissioned by Jacksonville’s Downtown Improvement Authority (DIA) to propose the optimal redevelopment scenario for a 15-acre keystone parcel in the Southbank District, fronting on the St. Johns River and bounded by the Acosta Bridge on the west and the Main Street Bridge on the east. It also considered how to promote the Southbank’s economic growth, sound development practices, and livability.
HGS attorney and ULI member David Powell chaired the panel. Members included Lisa Dilts, principal of Compspring in Orlando; Steven E. Lefton, PLA, AICP, principal of Kimley-Horn in Reston, VA; Stephen Lovett, ASLA, LEED-AP, principal of Ervin Lovett Miller of Jacksonville; Tom Murphy, ULI’s senior resident fellow and a former mayor of Pittsburgh; Brooke Myers, president of Emerge Real Estate Ventures in Orlando; Chris Sinclair, AICP, president of Renaissance Planning Group in Orlando; and Michael E. Tabb, managing principal of Red Rock Global, LLC, in Atlanta. All members served without compensation. The panel was organized by HGS attorney and ULI member Jennifer Kilinski and ULI North Florida District Council Manager Carolyn Clark of Jacksonville.
After a two-day charrette in March, the panel concluded that the study area provides an opportunity to create an iconic, riverfront public space as a destination with stunning views across the St. Johns to Downtown Jacksonville. It also has one of only four access points to the Riverwalk, a major downtown amenity. Replacing an existing parking lot in the study area with a mixed-use development would bring new energy to the study area, the panel recommended.
One of the most sensitive recommendations for the study area was to replace the 50-year-old Friendship Fountain with a new, interactive water feature like the one in Atlanta’s Centennial Park. The fountain is a well-known spot in Jacksonville but is a passive feature hindered by out-of-date equipment which cannot be replaced, meaning it operates at only one-third of its original capacity.
“Every site has a useful life and evolution and has to adapt to circumstances,” Lovett said.
For the larger Southbank District, the panel noted that a surge of new development is expected that will triple its residential population. Major new projects include The District on the east end of Southbank, with 1,170 residential units and almost 500,000 square feet of non-residential. On the west end, the 500,000 square foot Baptist Health MD Anderson Cancer Center undergoing development review now.
However, the panel concluded that the Southbank “suffers from a lack of identity” and takes the form of a suburban office park with disconnected projects and no cohesive urban fabric. The panel recommended that the City and DIA lead an effort to create a community-based Southbank Vision that would “re-imagine it as a separate place” with its own identity and neighborhood brand.
The panel made these recommendations as next steps:
- Convene all stakeholders in a visioning process to decide on a detailed vision for the Southbank District, including redevelopment of the 15-acre riverfront study area. The panel considered four redevelopment scenarios and recommended reclaiming the entire waterfront for greenspace with a mixed-use project and cultural uses also on the site.
- Enter into immediate negotiations with two tenants who hold 99-year leases from the City of Jacksonville, which owns the 15-acre study area. Those tenants, the Museum of Science and History and River City Brewing Company, should be invited to participate in a redevelopment plan for the study area.
- Update the 10-year-old parking study for Downtown Jacksonville and transfer control of all on-street and off-street public parking in Southbank to DIA. DIA should implement a parking strategy that includes market-based pricing as well as measures to promote use of peripheral parking areas.
- DIA should manage its limited financial resources carefully to make sure it has enough money to implement a Southbank Vision. It should negotiate equitable agreements to get private developers to provide the infrastructure their projects need and not over-commit DIA funds to support private developments. The full report can be found here.
For additional information, contact David Powell.