Jacksonville Landing heading for a makeover

Jacksonville Landing heading for a makeover

Community provides input for a world-class waterfront

Members of the Jacksonville community participated in a planning workshop last month with the goal of identifying improvements that would enhance The Jacksonville Landing to make it the centerpiece of the city’s waterfront experience.

The workshop, “Making waves: realizing a world-class waterfront,” was held Dec. 9, at the Jacksonville Main Library. Mayor Alvin Brown kicked off the presentation with his thoughts on what an improved mixed-use Landing would mean for the city: “We want to make Downtown a signature destination for every opportunity. Can you see a 24-hour downtown Jacksonville?” Brown asked. “Critical to improving Downtown is The Landing. It has not met its full potential, and a new game plan for The Landing needs to focus on housing.”
JAX Chamber president Daniel Davis was equally as enthusiastic, saying “I am bullish about the future of Northeast Florida and Downtown. Let’s get the bulldozers going and make it happen.”
jax landing
Echoing those sentiments was Downtown Investment Authority’s Aundra Wallace: “The goal is not to reinvent the wheel nor do we want a lengthy planning process.” Wallace showed images of successful downtown destinations, such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Chicago’s Navy Pier, and Savannah’s River Street, among
others.

The workshop was presented by the Downtown Investment Authority, in partnership with Downtown Vision, Inc., the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Sleiman Enterprises and the Haskell Company. It was facilitated by Tom Hurst, AIA Jacksonville President.

In his presentation to community members and leaders, Alan Wilson, an architect and employee of Haskell, shared the group’s goals for The Landing which include “view” corridors and a riverfront connection; pedestrian-friendly; a rejuvenated event and entertainment center, a destination restaurant experience, and a public art infusion.
Proposed plans include opening a portal from Laura Street by demolishing the northern building and erecting two buildings on either side of an open area, to include restaurants and banquet facilities; parking lots on the east and west that can be operated independently for private conferences and banquets; an art promenade on the west and an exhibit space on the Riverwalk near the Main Street Bridge.

• Community feedback

While most of the community members in attendance thought the proposal was interesting and achievable, some focused on the problems that plague the city at every turn: traffic, parking (whether too much or not enough) and lack of affordable Downtown housing and necessities.

“The Landing was highly successful at first. We need to bring retail back and we need to have the right kind of housing for the young
professionals who have come back to Jacksonville. It needs to be affordable. We have too much parking here already,” said Tom Purdue, an
architect and urban planner.

District 2 Councilman Bill Bishop wants to get rid of the access ramps for the Main Street Bridge. “Access from the south is difficult. Return the Main Street Bridge to a two-way bridge and get rid of the ramps,” he said. “This will open up the eastern end of The Landing. We don’t need the bridge to accommodate high-volume traffic any longer.”

Brenda Dargan concurred with Bishop. “Let’s get rid of the Main Street ramps and revitalize the area down to the Old Courthouse and to the Hyatt,” she said. “Focus more on the pedestrian and consider closing a portion of Hogan to vehicular traffic.”

San Marco resident and businessman Doug Skiles, who has had great success with streetscaping and other urban improvements spoke up about the perceptions about parking. “Free street parking in front of retail is important,” he noted. He said that even if people circle once, to see free parking near their destination is encouraging, citing San Marco Square as a successful example. Skiles also suggested installing a stairway or an elevator from the Main Street Bridge down to The Landing.

More than a few at the workshop spoke up on behalf of workforce housing, saying that revitalization of Downtown will only come when younger people can afford to live there. One young professional said that she travels a lot and spends time in cities that don’t roll up the door mat or turn out the lights after 9 p.m. “I want places that stay open later, more variety in the restaurants,” said Carla Jones.

Kemal Gasper, a member of ImpactJax, is a community advocate wanting to see Downtown stay alive and thrive. “Let’s draw in the young professional and entrepreneurs. King Street did that and its thriving now,” he said. “Build retail that the young will love. We need to be aggressive and create a one of a kind experience.”

• Appeals for more public art

The art community was well represented and threw out ideas ranging from an artist co-op to public education spaces with rotating displays, exhibits and functions to interactive, engaging art, such as in Chicago.

New Cultural Council Executive Director Kim Bergeron summed up the sentiments. “Treat the entire structure as public art with each building an interactive work of art,” she said.
Other ideas included a broader Riverwalk to accommodate both passers-by and café patrons, shade on the Riverwalk, more waterfront access and accommodations for boaters, a variety of music that will draw younger crowds and appeal to other ethnicities and cultures, as well as some type of major attraction.

“Keep the momentum going after it opens by drawing visitors to a major attraction,” stated one participant. “Make it a reason to stop and visit; a museum. Just redesigning it is not a long-term solution.”

Developer Michael Balanky, Chase Properties, said the time was right to undertake the renovation. “We need to take advantage of the timing, this administration, local development, local ownership to create a critical mass of retail and workforce housing and maximize the density. Let’s create an iconic structure,” he concluded.
By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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