Shipyards Convention Center could be first phase of long-running redevelopment effort

Jacksonville, FL — As Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority considers proposals for a new Convention Center and hotel at the Old Courthouse/City Hall Annex site, we’ve learned Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants the project in the Shipyards instead.

The DIA solicited proposals for a Convention Center, hotel, and parking garage earlier this year. WOKV confirmed Wednesday that three companies had submitted proposals, although details of those plans have not yet been made public.

Iguana Investments- a group backed by Khan- has now delivered their own plan to the DIA, to include the Convention Center and hotel in their overall redevelopment of the Riverfront and Shipyards site near TIAA Bank Field.

Khan has been negotiating with the City for years on a master plan redevelopment of the Shipyards, with the effort stalling out at one point and restarting with a larger stretch of land that now also encompasses the Met Park area. Recently, the DIA granted a lengthy extension in those negotiations.

GALLERY: Shad Khan's Shipyards/Riverfront redevelopment plan

Simultaneously, Khan recently put forward a proposal for a massive overhaul of the Sports Complex, starting with Lot J. Khan wants to upgrade the marinas, add mixed-use entertainment space, a parking garage, park, and much more, as part of the long term plan, which he estimates to be a $2.5 billion proposal. Construction on the Lot J portion of that plan will start before any of these other projects, according to Jags President Mark Lamping, because that's what the Jags have the most control over at this point.

Lamping says they now believe “Phase One” of the Shipyards plan should be a Convention Center and hotel. Their proposal is $425-450 million for the first phase, and they will expect some level of City partnership.

"The City participation should be just enough to make sure the project is economically viable, and it should be no more than a contribution that the City can generally return to the taxpayers,” he says.

GALLERY: Iguana Investments' proposed Convention Center/Hotel 

The proposal includes a 200,000 square foot multi-purpose exhibit hall, 40,000 square foot ballroom, 45 breakout rooms, and a 350-room hotel that connects to the convention space and has additionally ballroom and meeting space, a rooftop pool, ground floor retail, and restaurant opportunities. There would also be a public Riverwalk that ties in.

“The Shipyards is the optimal and obvious site for a new Jacksonville convention center. First, you have the prime riverfront access and the sense of being a true destination that only the Shipyards can offer. Then, you have the synergies with the existing sports venues plus the anticipated mixed-use development planned for Lot J. We’re doing big things in Jacksonville and this plan with DeBartolo and Rimrock is our boldest plan to date,” says Khan.

Complicating this venture somewhat is that the development partners are behind one of the proposals for the Convention Center and hotel at the Old Courthouse/City Hall Annex site as well. Iguana is partnering in the Shipyards proposal with DeBartolo Development Company and Rimrock Devlin Development. Laping says Iguana has nothing to do with the other proposal put forward by those partners, in response to the DIA’s solicitation.

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Lamping made it clear that they believe that the Shipyards is the right site for a Convention Center. WOKV asked if Iguana has any preconditions to their development requiring the City not pursue a Convention Center at the other site, and dealing with the future of the Prime Osborne Convention Center that currently sites on the edge of Downtown, in the Lavilla area. He says the City is going to have to make a decision.

“The economic realities are, no developer is going to want to be involved in a second Convention Center. There will be one Convention Center in Downtown Jacksonville,” he says.

But they think there can be a big return for a project like this.

“The full potential of Downtown Jacksonville is nowhere near fully realized. We believe that there is growth available, not only in terms of jobs, but in terms of people residing Downtown and- just as important- people visiting Downtown,” Lamping says.

Lamping says this project does require taking down the Hart Bridge ramps. The proposed City budget and Capital Improvements Program from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry includes $12.5 million in City funding for that project, and another $12.5 million from the State of Florida. This is not the entire funding that would be needed for the project, but the City says they plan to start the project regardless. Lamping says he has gotten the impression that project would not be completed until at least early 2021, and he says they would closely correlate this project with that one.

WOKV asked the Mayor’s Office whether Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has a preference where the Convention Center goes up and his thoughts on the new Iguana Investments proposal. We received a response from his Chief of Staff Brian Hughes saying they want what’s best for the City.

“Obviously the ongoing development of downtown includes an important discussion of entertainment and convention facilities. DIA is in receipt of proposals and now there is an additional proposal that considers an alternate location. We look forward to continuing the discussions and seeing what best serves the plans to continue making downtown an economic hub that pushes job creation and economic growth for the entire city,” says the Statement from Hughes.

It’s not immediately clear when the DIA will examine this proposal and how it will consider it compared to the three Old City Hall Annex/Courthouse proposals they just received.

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