DEEP DIVE: Three plans for a new Convention Center in Downtown Jacksonville

Jacksonville, FL — A new Convention Center and Hotel is being considered for Downtown Jacksonville, and we’re now getting a better idea what that could look like.

WOKV previously told you Jacksonville's Downtown Investment Authority had solicited plans for the project at the site of the old County Courthouse and City Hall Annex site on the Northbank of Downtown. Three proposals were received, and we have now obtained copies of the bids.

These proposals are being ranked by a DIA Evaluation Committee, and those rankings will go in front of the DIA Board later this month. Along with those rankings, two completing plans that were not solicited will be presented as well.

Jacobs Project Management Company 

Jacobs says they’ve already supported many projects in Jacksonville, and they believe their understanding of the City, its infrastructure, and its landscape can help in this process. They’re teaming up with Conventional Wisdom, KBJ Architects, Fentress Architects, Construction and Engineering Services, McDonald Financial Corporation, The Weitz Company, Signature Land, and Westmont.

Their vision honors Jacksonville as the City of bridges, and they want this project to serve as a different type of bridge- one that moves the City in to the future.

“Our project will connect the history of the City to the needs of the future with a thriving, revenue generating venture: an iconic riverfront masterpiece to set the cornerstone for the revitalization of the City center and captivate the city population with a renewed civic energy,” the proposal says.

The design of the hotel tower is supposed to emulate a tall ship and would include covered valet and VIP parking, river views, an amenities deck, and “crows nest” on the upper level which could be used for a signature dining venue.

The Convention Center is reminiscent of the water, according to the proposal. The Exhibit Hall would be elevated, to maximize the views. There would be a separate site entrance for vehicle loading access, apart from visitor traffic.

There would be 1,530 parking spaces in a garage, and 181 spaces within the Convention Center footprint.

GALLERY: Jacobs Project Management Company's proposal

Market Street would be upgraded and designated for pedestrians, as the western edge of a public plaza. That plaza would include a water feature, seating, and a standalone restaurant. It would be “framed” by the hotel, shops, and other structures to create a more intimate feel. Additionally, low-scale LED site lighting would be used, to allow themes for special events through colored accent lighting.

This proposal aims to engage both Bay Street and the riverfront. Bay Street would feature ground-level retail. Along the Riverwalk and Riverfront, there would be programming and activation, through festivals and other events. There is also a space for a destination waterside dining experience, along the southwest corner of the site. Connecting with the St. Johns River, the proposal aims to activate the water to the west of the Main Street Bridge with both amenities and activities. They want to have access points for various water sports and a marina, to overall expand the public use of the River. To do this, the proposal says some of the bulkhead would need to be replaced, although they would maintain at least some of the inlet the City is building, following the collapse at Liberty Street and Coastline Drive.

To connect with the Sports Complex and other surrounding areas, the proposal highlights future plans for a transportation corridor to move through the area, as well as the water taxi.

This proposal further mentions the proximity the new hotel would have to the Hyatt and Omni, but it sees that as creating a “centered mass” of hotel space that would then support expanded retail, employment, and related areas. In fact, the proposal says the owners of the Hyatt would look to build a connection between that hotel and the Convention Center, and would market segments of their own hotel for Convention Center attendees.

The project would be substantially complete by mid-2023. The bid talks about the need to move quickly, saying the construction industry is busy, so labor and material costs are rising, with material costs also being affected by new tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other materials.

It’s estimated this project would cost around $705 million. Jacobs says they have already been working to line up funding, and don’t expect any problems.

The developers propose working with the City to develop the optimum approach financially, considering factors like cashflow, tax treatment, market positioning, and more. There would also be a point in the project where all of the design and planning is done, and the City would have to agree to move forward to actual construction. At that point, if the City moves forward, the proposal says Jacobs would return any compensation they received in that first phase. The concession service payments in the second phase would be deferred until the facility is ready to use, up to three years. Those payments are currently estimated at $4 million to $4.5 million monthly. Beyond that, there is now a specific dollar figure attached to the expected City contribution.

Operating profits would be shared with the City, per the proposal.

This bid would have Conventional Wisdom oversee the facility as an “Asset Manager”, with a professional manager- potentially SMG, which the City already uses- managing day-to-day operations. Operation and maintenance costs would be covered in the contract with Jacobs, and the City would be responsible for the costs relating to convention, meeting, and trade show business, including marketing and capital repairs. The City would also be responsible for operating profit and loss.

The end goal is for the City to take over ownership, but Jacobs is proposing a long-term lease that covers the time needed for the full project cost to be either amortized or conveyed. This allows the City to maintain control of the land, while getting on the financial footing needed for ownership, according to the proposal. The lease would be at low- or no-cost to Jacobs.

Looking ahead, this proposal also highlights future development potential, saying it is “quite feasible” to consider a multi-family residential tower above the parking garage. It also says the Convention Center rooftop would be “solar-ready” and could also serve for rainwater harvesting.

Preston Hallow Capital, LLC 

This proposal is from the “Jacksonville Convention Center Partners”, consisting of Preston Hallow Capital, Matthews Southwest Hospitality, Interstate Hotel and Resorts, Nunzio Marc DeSantis Architects, and Provident Resources Group.

“Our entire team has all the relevant hospitality experience, a proven track record both nationally and locally, and a deep commitment to Jacksonville to deliver a project that we can all be very proud of for many years to come,” says the JCCP proposal.

Their proposal is a 400-key hotel, a convention center with around 200,000 square feet of exhibit hall, and approximately 1,800 parking spaces combined.

GALLERY: Preston Hallow Capital's proposal

The hotel tower’s design is inspired by boating, according to JCCP. It would rise nine levels, and include three restaurants and two rooftop experiences, a fitness center, a full-service spa, a business and shipping center, and meeting places supported by state-of-the-art technology, according to the proposal. There would be a rooftop pool, which would be programmed year-round as well. There would also be a 200,000 square foot exhibit hall with ten loading docks, with the space able to be sectioned in to smaller rooms. The next floor up would feature smaller meeting and conference areas, as well as a 40,000 square foot Grand Ballroom and 22,000 square foot Junior Ballroom.

One of the food concepts is the “Yacht Club”, offering seafood and similar options along a boardwalk. There would also be retail shops, coffee houses, and more. The parking garage would be six stories, across the street from the exhibit hall on South Market Street and Bay Street.

“The Jacksonville Convention Center and Headquarters Hotel will be a beacon of hope and beauty that will help establish Jacksonville as a relevant and powerful city of today and a city with a vision to become a competitor with all the other great cities across the southeast and USA in the future,” the proposal says.

The opening is envisioned for February 2022.

To fit in to the overall goals of Downtown development, JCCP says their proposal aims to attract people to the core, while allowing easy access to other areas of entertainment, like the Sports Complex and proposed development of the Jacksonville Shipyards. This would be achieved in part by expanding the pedestrian trail with lots of trees for shading, from the Landing through the Convention Center and to the Shipyards and Sports Complex.

The side of the development facing the St. Johns River would include dining options and landscaping. There would also be public river access, connectivity through future transportation development plans underway, and access to the water taxi.

JCCP believes this venture will cost about $445 million, and they have 100% of financing in place internally. They are requesting $229 million in public incentives, either through cash or tax breaks. They would require the site be delivered development-ready, meaning any environmental issues have been addressed.

They say title of the project and all of the accumulated cash surplus reserves can revert to the Downtown Investment Authority’s ownership after outstanding bonds are fully repaid, which is expected to be about 40 years from the project opening. While the eventual goal is the City re-establishing ownership, the proposal would have the City lease the land to the group in the interim, for between 60 and 90 years, with no rent for the ground.

Rimrock Devlin-DeBartolo Jacksonville, LLC 

RDD was formed specifically to act as master developer in this project, consisting of Rimrock Devlin and DeBartolo Development. They are joined by Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock/Architects, Inc., HKS, England-Thims & Miller, Inc., and GAI Consultants. Their proposal makes it clear they believe the Prime Osborn Convention Center is not going to help the City reach the next level.

“Our proposal for a new convention center and hotel will allow Jacksonville to remedy the lack of a relevant convention center. A new convention center and hotel that is more centrally located, state of the art, and aesthetically designed is key to continuing Jacksonville’s growth as ‘The Bold New City of the South’,” the proposal says.

The Convention Center would be 500,000 square feet, including a 200,000 square foot multi-purpose exhibit hall with views and access to the River, a 40,000 square foot ballroom with a view of the River, dozens of meeting rooms, more indoor and outdoor programmable space, a kitchen, and more. It will also have direct connections to Bay Street, the Riverwalk, and the marina, as well as both the existing and proposed hotel.

The proposed hotel would be “world-class”, according to the proposal, with 350 guest rooms, a 17,500 square foot grand ballroom, a 6,500 square foot junior ballroom, additional meeting rooms, and a rooftop pool. The parking garage would have 1,300 spaces for the Convention Center and 400 for the hotel.

GALLERY: Rimrock Devlin-DeBartolo's proposal

They are proposing new streetscaping and pedestrian improvements along Bay Street, to define the area as a gateway to the Sports and Entertainment Complex and increase connectivity to that area. Bay Street would also have ground floor retail.

A public Riverwalk would provide pedestrian access to the River. That Riverwalk would have what the proposal calls several “experiential nodes” highlighting pubic art, recreation, and education.

“The convention center business is highly competitive, and attracting conventions, trade shows and other gatherings will require Jacksonville provide something new and fresh to the convention market. Using the St. Johns River as a backdrop, this project will create an experience few convention cities can provide,” the proposal says.

Connectivity will also come through transportation, as this bid also mentions a planned transportation corridor, as well as bike sharing and a likely water taxi stop. They also envision this as an asset that can help support many of the other attractions around the area, including dining and the Florida Theatre. There would also be a new extension of Independent Drive to provide access to the site and service areas from the Main Street Bridge.

The project timeline estimates completion in late 2021.

The overall cost for this project is expected to exceed $430 million. RDD says the project is “financially challenging”, because of construction over water, stormwater management, minimal construction staging area, and more. As such, a public subsidy would be expected, as tax rebates and credits, mitigated land costs, or other options. The exact public funding request is not clear, but the proposal says they are targeting public assistance for the hotel, Riverwalk, Bay Street improvements, public infrastructure, environmental cleanup, basin filling, and construction staging land.

There would also be “public/private ownership” for the Convention Center and Parking Structure. The proposal says the City would enter a lease to occupy and maintain the Convention Center. It does not specifically plan for the City taking over full ownership of the Convention Center, as the other proposals do.

Overall, they believe this is an opportunity to create an “iconic landmark” for Downtown and the River- and one that is active 24/7.

“Based on our experience with similar projects, we are confident that working together in partnership with the City, this development will not only be financially feasible for both the public and private sector but will also create value for Jacksonville both financially and emotionally,” the proposal says.

RDD says they would work with the City to develop a plan to manage the facility and choose a firm to carry out that plan. The City would have complete operational and management control of the Convention Center, with concessions and advertising providing possible additional revenue lines.

Other proposals 

RDD is actually behind two other unsolicited plans that have been put forward, which are intended to be in cooperation with each other- one for an alternate use for the old Courthouse/Annex site, and one for building the Convention Center and hotel at the Jacksonville Shipyards.

The plan to put up the Convention Center at the Shipyards was presented with Iguana Investments Florida, LLC- which is backed by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who is the master developer of the Shipyards site.

GALLERY: Shad Khan's plan for the Jacksonville Shipyards

The plan is being pitched as the first phase of that redevelopment effort, although the negotiations on the site overall have been ongoing for years, and have been allotted close to two more years to get the deal done.

GALLERY:Shipyards Convention Center proposal

At the old Courthouse/Annex site, RDD has proposed "Riverwalk Place", which would be a mixed-use lifestyle community, featuring a multi-restaurant venue, hotel rooms, apartments, parking, and more.

GALLERY: Renderings of "Riverwalk Place"

According to a joint statement from RDD and Iguana, RDD believes these proposals are better options than the Convention Center at the Old Courthouse/Annex site.

The DIA CEO Aundra Wallace tells WOKV he will present the rankings on the three solicited bids to the Board. At that time, they can determine if and how they will asses the unsolicited bids.

What has still not been specifically addressed is the future of Jacksonville's existing convention Center, the Prime Osborn. While that remains unclear, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is proposing to spend millions of dollars in capital improvements needed at the facility, saying that as long as it is the City's convention center, they will ensure it is in good working order. That proposal is pending approval by the Jacksonville City Council as part of their overall vote on the City's proposed $1.2 billion budget and Capital Improvement Program, later this month.

An in depth look at the three proposals for a Convention Center and Hotel at the old Courthouse/City Hall Annex site in Downtown Jacksonville, as well as the competing plans and what comes next:

Posted by Stephanie Brown, News 104.5 WOKV on Thursday, September 6, 2018
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