Jacksonville Mayor wants new Convention Center put on hold

Jacksonville, FL — Jacksonville’s Mayor wants plans for a new convention center in Jacksonville to be put on hold, for now.

The city's Downtown Investment Authority has spent much of this year considering a convention center. They solicited proposals early in the year for a new facility at the old County Courthouse and City Hall Annex site, and three bids were submitted midyear. In September, the DIA voted to move forward with negotiations on one of those proposals- with developer Jacobs Project Management Group- which they ranked the highest.

IN DEPTH: Three proposals for Convention Center at old Courthouse/City Hall Annex

Still hanging over that decision, though, was a proposal from Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan to put up a convention center at the Shipyards instead, which he is the master developer for. Companion to that competing proposal, a developer- Rimrock Devlin DeBartolo Jacksonville, LLC- put forward plans for a development called "Riverwalk Place" for the old Courthouse/Annex site. It has been unclear how those unsolicited plans would be considered against the Jacobs bid which the DIA Board supported.

GALLERY:Shipyards Convention Center proposal
GALLERY: Riverwalk Place proposal

Khan has been negotiating with the City for years about redeveloping the Shipyards, and those negotiations could continue through mid-2020. Khan put forward the convention center proposal as a potential first phase of the Shipyards redevelopment.

GALLERY:Shad Khan's plan for the Jacksonville Shipyards

Now, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has sent a letter to DIA Board Chairman Jim Bailey questioning if it is the right time to move forward with any of those convention center plans.

Curry commended a feasibility study that was the foundation for soliciting the bids in the first place, saying it highlighted important questions to consider relating to cost, size, location, and timing of a development. Curry says the convention center proposals that were received by the DIA were “thorough” and “impressive”, but moving through the process showed “these developments are daunting”.

“The timelines for development and the substantial investment of public dollars would represent a dramatic shift in our capacity to participate in other pending public/private partnerships,” says Curry’s letter.

Curry says the feasibility study showed the majority of planners wouldn’t be interested in the area or this development without “destination development”.

“That, combined with the financial data from the RFP, tells us in the simplest terms that if we divert such considerable resources away from other development for a Convention Center, we will still be lacking the additional lifestyle and entertainment that ultimately would ensure its success,” Curry says in the letter.

Curry says he wants to continue focusing on “near term” opportunities, and therefore thinks it’s best to revisit the Convention Center concept in the future.

There is a lot in motion in that area right now, including plans to redevelop Berkman Plaza II to include a resort-style hotel and amusement center. Alongside that development is slated to be the USS Adams Museum.

In the greater Sports Complex, Khan is hoping for a massive redevelopment, that is intended to start with overhauling Lot J. More details on that plan are expected out around the new year. The City is also planning to demolish then Hart Bridge ramps that run through the Sports Complex, in order to stop detouring traffic from that area.

Meanwhile, the Prime Osborn Convention Center on the other edge of Downtown needs substantial investment, and the City has budgeted millions to address some of those needs.

The Convention Center proposal from Jacobs Project Management Company was designed to honor Jacksonville as the City of bridges. They envisioned an “iconic riverfront masterpiece” which would spur revitalization across the area.

GALLERY: Jacobs Project Management Group Convention Center plan

Their plan includes a hotel tower, signature dining, an elevated Convention Center Exhibit Hall, and more. It would all be centered around a large public plaza with a water feature, shops, and LED lighting that can be themed for special events.

The total cost of the project is expected to be around $705 million, with substantial completion originally estimated around mid-2023.

While the DIA could still opt to move forward with a proposal, that would inevitably need City Council and Mayoral approval, meaning it would likely stall, with Curry now saying he thinks the City should wait.

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