What’s The Latest? A Bird’s-Eye View of Downtown Jacksonville in 2018

Change is a vital currency that helps a city like Jacksonville maintain a vibrant cultural presence. Much ado has been made about the continued evolution of the city’s downtown area. Among the stewards of the area is Downtown Vision, Inc., who offered an update on a few of the high-profile developments and the impact the plans will have on the city.

VP of Marketing for DVI, Katherine Hardwick, has a bird’s-eye view of the work as it happens in real time. It’s an exciting time in Downtown Jacksonville, and Hardwick can see the evolution of the city’s skyline from her office window. It’s apropos for a person whose job it is to champion the progress of Downtown Jacksonville. “Every year it’s a little bit more, a little bit better and a little bit bigger. I feel like I get to say that every year, and it’s true,” she says. “Every year tops the last one.”

Projects range from modern, market-rate residential developments, riverfront enhancements, new bike-friendly amenities to the massive, multi-phase reconfiguration of the Shipyards. Each serves to improve the downtown experience in a different way.

Rendering of the proposed construction for the Laura Street Trio

Along Laura Street, a trifecta of historic buildings is finally receiving much-needed restoration. After many starts and stops, plans for the Laura Street Trio have the traction – and financing – required to move forward.

“I can see it from my office, and it’s really cool to see. A lot is happening, but it’s really exciting when you think about what the final product is going to be. When you think about things like how intense the Cowford Chophouse construction was and then you see something magnificent emerge from all of that, it’s really exciting,” says Hardwick.

Among the tenants slated to occupy the trio are a new secondary location for Vagabond Coffee, and satellite campuses for University of North Florida and the Coggin College of Business. “It’s cool that we’ll have more students in an urban downtown setting,” she says.

The Laura Street Trio is comprised of the Florida Life Building and the Bisbee Building, plus a third structure, the Old Florida National Bank or Marble Bank. Built after the Great Fire of 1901, which reduced much of the downtown landscape to smoldering ruins, the trio is considered architecturally significant despite years of deterioration.

The oldest of the three, the Old Florida National Bank, also known as the Marble Bank, sits on the corner of Forsyth and Laura Streets. It was originally built in Classical Revival style as the Mercantile Exchange Bank in 1902 after the fire destroyed nearly all of Downtown Jacksonville. The first renovation was done in 1905 by Florida Bank & Trust. A large banking room with a skylight, plaster detailing, and coffered ceiling was added in 1916 and dropped ceilings that covered the skylight and detail work were installed in 1950, though they were removed in 1976 by Jacksonville National Bank, who brought the building back to its original appearance. By the 1990s, the building has fallen into disrepair.

Bisbee Building

Designed by prominent Jacksonville architect Henry J. Klutho, the Bisbee Building was constructed between 1908 and 1909 adjacent to the Marble Bank on Forsyth Street. The building was the first reinforced concrete high-rise built in the Southern United States.

The only building in the trio that actually faces Laura Street is the Florida Life Building. It was also designed by Klutho between 1911 and 1912 next to the back wall of the Marble Bank. With 11 stories, it was Jacksonville’s tallest building when it was built. On April 18, 2012, the property was included on the list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places. Like the other buildings, the Florida Life building eventually fell into disrepair.

In 2002, the City of Jacksonville purchased all three buildings to transfer them to a developer who could restore them. Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn purchased the Laura Street Trio, as well as the nearby Barnett National Bank Building, but was unable to complete the restoration following the 2008 housing market crash. In 2010 Jacksonville investment group Atkins Group, together with the Tallahassee-based Capital City Partners, presented a new, $70-million plan to restore the Laura Street Trio and the Barnett National Bank Building, as well as construct a fifth building. In June 2011 Atkins Group requested $5 million in historic tax credits to move forward with Phase I of the project. The Trio is currently being renovated into a Courtyard Marriot Hotel.

Situated at the southwest corner of Adams and Laura streets, the Barnett National Bank Building was erected in 1926. It was designed by architecture firm Mowbray & Uffinger for Barnett Bank. By the 90’s, the condition deteriorated, but plans to restore it are included along with the Laura Street Trio.

Planned Parking Garage

A planned six-level parking garage with 685 parking spaces will provide parking for the Barnett Bank building and the Laura Street Trio once the restoration of the buildings is complete.

An entertainment complex adjacent to [Everbank] TIAA Bank Field’s South End Zone is the largest new development in scope and scale. In partnership with owner Shad Khan, the Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "jaguars", and the City of Jacksonville, the project is slated for mixed-use development that will encompass a five-star hotel, retail, entertainment, exhibition hall, marina and residences.

“It’s those destinations that really drive an experience,” says Hardwick. “The scope is huge. They are looking to start with build-out in Lot J [of Everbank Stadium] and expand out 70 acres. When all is said and done, it is reported to be in the $2 billion range. It’s absolutely massive.”

Renderings from the Cordish Company

Developer Cordish Company was selected based on their “amazing track record” in mixed-use developments in other cities. “It’s nice to see that they’re bringing in folks with a lot of successes. That’s the thing we always look for. What are people doing in other areas, and how can we bring that in and make it ours,” says Hardwick, noting that the city’s leadership has shifted its focus on public-private partnership from broad, wide strokes to the fine details that help shape and color a community.

There is more than just potential in a city that boasts sports events from football, baseball, soccer and hockey slated throughout the calendar year and a total of 28,000 entertainment seats including the Florida Theatre, Daily’s Place, Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts and the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Renderings from the Cordish Company

In a recent press conference, Mark Lamping was quoted as saying the project would require demolition of two elevated lanes that connect the Hart Bridge to Downtown Jacksonville. Cordish Company has been integral to developing major sports-themed neighborhoods to urban settings in cities such as Kansas City, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. “It’s one thing for the local football team to think it’s a good idea to invest in Downtown Jacksonville,” Lamping says. “It’s a totally different thing for an internationally-known, nationally-recognized developer to take a look at Jacksonville and also say, ‘You know what? We see the potential.’”

Residential developers are also taking notice of the market potential, and as the commercial and entertainment sectors continue to grow, the number of residential uses is also on the rise. Hardwick says the addition will be a driving force of the downtown experience. New bike lanes and a kayak launch will provide new options for mobility and connect the district to neighboring communities like San Marco.

“We have this unbelievable resource as the river region. Other folks from other cities come here and say ‘we wish we had this amenity. It’s gorgeous’,” she says. While other riverfront cities are able to utilize their aquatic resources by crossing over a small footbridge, the breadth of the St. Johns River is huge. By adding new docks at key points along the Southbank and access points, kayaks will be able to wrap around though the northern part of San Marco and all the way back. The new route is approximately seven miles. “It would be a huge draw for people,” says Hardwick. “You don’t usually get that mix in a lot of places.”

Along the Northbank, city officials are identifying the major bikeable areas. There isn’t currently a major bike-friendly thoroughfare through the Downtown core. They are looking at connecting Hogan Street to the Riverwalk to the divider between Downtown and Springfield to create a massive loop.

“We have a lot of residential coming in downtown, so there a lot more opportunities to live Downtown, which is huge,” says Hardwick. “That’s kind of the driver of the downtown experience. With all the amenities we have, there’s a lot of cool stories to tell.”

About Liza Mitchell