Newly formed committee to evaluate inventory, buildings for future use

Newly formed committee to evaluate inventory, buildings for future use
The long empty Florida Baptist Convention Building and Federal Reserve Buildings are being renovated by JWB Real Estate

For many years, some buildings downtown have laid dormant and often dilapidated, yet some are considered to have historic value.  A new City Council Special Committee says it wants to find out if they should be saved, or if they’re worthy of a wrecking ball.

The Special Committee on Downtown Development was charged with improving opportunities for current and future residents, business owners, employees, and visitors of downtown Jacksonville. It held its first meeting Oct. 6.

The memo that established the special committees states that as a result of Lot J discussions, it became clear the City Council needs to be more directly involved in downtown development.  Lot J was the first redevelopment plan by the Jacksonville Jaguars that was rejected by the Council last year, in part because the members and the Downtown Investment Authority weren’t granted enough involvement in the process.

The new Four Seasons and Medical Sports Complex plans, both with direct Council and DIA involvement have been approved.

Committee Chair Reggie Gaffney said even with the Jaguars situation resolved, there is still a lot they can accomplish regarding downtown development, including coming up with a plan regarding empty downtown buildings.

DIA Chief Executive Officer Lori Boyer said there are approximately $4.7 billion worth of projects in some stage of development in the downtown area.

Boyer said thanks to those projects and others they have already exceeded their 2025 goals for assessed property values downtown.

Gaffney said even with the success of the DIA, the committee can work with the Authority to bring more improvements to downtown.

“When the Council President [Sam Newby] approached me about setting up this committee he talked about wanting to see these projects move the dilapidated buildings that have just been sitting there for years, he said. [Newby] wants us to come up with a plan, or a timetable to decide if either they are going to be fixed up or torn down.”

The committee will also be meeting with some of the major developers of potential downtown projects to see if there are ways they can work with the DIA to streamline the process of developing some of the older buildings.

An example of what’s being hoped for is the current redevelopment of the long empty Florida Baptist Convention Building and Federal Reserve Building at Church and Hogan Streets. The buildings across from City Hall are being renovated into 24 residential units along with retail, restaurant, and event space thanks to a redevelopment agreement with JWB Real Estate.

Gaffney also suggested considering a J bill that would allow some entertainment locations, most likely those on and near Bay Street, to remain open after hours. He said many owners downtown have expressed interest in being allowed to stay open as late as 4 am.

He also said the special committee will work with other organizations like Downtown Vision to help remove any barriers that might be hindering growth.

The committee also wants to see some progress on what to do with city-owned properties downtown and the possibility of selling them to private developers.

The committee agreed to meet monthly on Wednesday mornings.

By Kevin J. Meerschaert
Resident Community News

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