District developer sees future blending of Southbank and San Marco

District developer sees future blending of Southbank and San Marco
The District – Life Well Lived developers Michael Munz and Peter Rummell

Rapid change is a-coming and in five years it is entirely possible people will stop differentiating the “Southbank” from San Marco and will consider the entire area from the Strand to San Marco Square to be one community – San Marco, said Michael Munz, president of public relations at Jacksonville’s Dalton Agency.

Munz, who has lived in the San Marco area since he was six years old, joins with San Marco resident Peter Rummell in developing The District – Life Well Lived, a future Southbank community slated to be built at the edge of the St. Johns River, on 30 acres of JEA property adjacent to the Duval County Public School administration building.

“In five years I see us meeting at The District for a drink. There will be restaurants and infill along Kings Avenue, Hendricks Avenue and San Marco Boulevard that will connect San Marco Square with the river. (Baptist) MD Anderson (Cancer Center) will be in full swing and the whole San Marco District will be one of the most desirable parts of Jacksonville to live in,” Munz said, adding the development will “bleed over” into St. Nicholas, Miramar and South Shores. “All these areas will be very desirable,” he said.

The District is currently going through the regulatory process and received conceptual approval for its plans from the Downtown Development Review Board Aug. 25. If things go as swimmingly as Munz expects,  the developers should break ground early next year with 12 to 14 months spent preparing “horizontal” parts of the project – the foundation and below-ground infrastructure, including an extension to the Southbank Riverwalk so construction on the “vertical” parts of the community can begin by spring 2018. 

Although Rummell and former partner Michael Balanky amiably parted ways in May, with Rummell purchasing Balanky’s interest in Elements Development of Jacksonville LLC, nothing significant about the project will be different, Munz said. Rummell’s vision to create a “cutting-edge living environment with all the elements, facilities, amenities and resources to promote the optimal health of the people who live and visit there,” has not changed, he said.

Partnerships with several health and wellness organizations to support this vision will be announced in October and November 2016, he said.

Also in the works are “conversations” with Duval County Public School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to acquire the DCPS administration building, which lies adjacent to The District property on the Southbank riverfront.

Munz said he and Rummell are aware of the DCPS Board’s desire to remain centrally located within the urban core, and they have been considering locations that would be easily accessible from all corners of the city. Talks on the subject will “heat back up” after the August 30 election, he said, noting it is important to have the new school board members involved in the discussion. “The board needs to support whatever change takes place,” Munz said.

“I remain open-minded about the opportunity to make an official recommendation to the school board to move off the river to another central location,” said Dr. Vitti in an email. “At this point, I have not been presented with a concrete and financially-advantageous opportunity to an alternative site but remain optimistic that one will surface.”   

Acquiring the school board property, or not, really makes no difference to the success or final outcome of The District, Munz said. From the get-go, the developers had two master plans drawn up – one incorporating the school board land and one without – so the project will work either way, Munz said. “We would prefer to incorporate the land within The District, but if it doesn’t happen it will not negatively impact on the project,” he said.

Finding a long-term solution for parking in San Marco is essential to the area’s growth, Munz said. “You almost need a parking czar for San Marco,” he said. “It is something we as a neighborhood need to be dealing with,” he said. Land under the Overland Bridge may be available for surface parking and perhaps a parking garage might be built by assembling land in and around the railroad tracks near Atlantic Boulevard, he said.

Of course, The District will have its own parking solution built into the plan, he said, adding that metered street parking and garage parking for a fee will be available to visitors from the public who choose to patronize the retail shops and restaurants.

Mayor John Peyton should get credit for initiating the first step to build connectivity between San Marco and the Southbank riverfront by insisting the above-ground power lines be buried under the streets many years ago, Munz said, also recalling San Marco looked very different when he moved to the neighborhood at age six.

“There was a Gulf gas station in the middle of the Square,” he said, adding that over the past 30 years many changes, such as the construction of rotaries, Balis Park and communal landscaping throughout the neighborhood, have transformed San Marco into a very “vibrant and beautiful place.”

“The next five years should just be part of the continuum,” he said, noting all improvements in San Marco should come as a partnership between the public and private sectors, he said. “You have an active group of people in San Marco on the private side to spark these improvements and what John Peyton did in his term had a huge impact on San Marco.”

Once The District begins construction, commercial infill, which has already begun to spread down Hendricks and Kings Avenues, will only add to San Marco’s “walkability.” When that happens “I think people will stop saying it’s the Southbank and it will become San Marco all the way to the river,” he said.


By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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