LotJ: “No time like the present” for $2.5 billion development
Shad Khan’s massive $2.5 billion Downtown development would include an entertainment district, hotels, condos, apartments, office towers and a convention center.
It’s 17 city blocks, or about 1.4 miles, from the heart of downtown Jacksonville to the newly renamed TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jaguars.
Over the years, the swath of land in between has been paved many times over with well-intentioned plans for demolitions, remediations and revitalizations. And while individual successes dot the cityscape, most big moves that would have closed the gap between the city’s center and its sports complex have died for lack of a second, support or funding.
No site has been more resistant to redevelopment than The Shipyards, a 45-acre tract on the north bank of the St. Johns that holds all the promise of scenic riverfront property and all the pollution of 140 years of industrial abuse.
It seemed maybe the cycle of futility would end in 2015 when the Downtown Investment Authority chose Jaguars owner Shad Khan and his Iguana Investments Florida as master developer for the site. But DIA and Iguana never completed negotiations because the city didn’t have a fully funded plan to clean up extensive environmental contamination.
Again in 2016, DIA sought proposals for development of the land, and again in 2017, Khan and Iguana won approval as master developer, this time for the Shipyards and the adjacent 25-acre Metropolitan Park, creating a 70-acre span stretching all the way east to the stadium.
Then another year passed without a single shovel touching the ground.
Had Khan, the colorful billionaire known for making things happen, met his match in a tract of riverfront brownfield known for making revitalization dreams die?
In a word, no.
In two words, Lot J.
At their State of the Franchise event this past April, the Jaguars announced that they would team with The Cordish Companies of Baltimore to develop one of the stadium’s west parking lots, Lot J, as the first phase of what eventually will be a vastly expanded Shipyards District comprising 4.25 million square feet of space at a projected cost of $2.5 billion.
“As a city and as a chamber, we’ve been visiting cities for decades,” JAX Chamber Chairman John Peyton said. “You start to weave a common thread that there’s usually a catalytic event, there’s usually a catalytic project that really sparks the renewal.
“I think that what we’ve needed in Jacksonville is a signature project that shows momentum, where somebody really puts their flag in the ground and says, ‘We’re making an investment, and we’re gonna take risks, because we believe there’s great potential.’ I think Shad Khan is the guy who’s willing to be bullish on Downtown and take steps that, quite frankly, we haven’t seen before at this magnitude.”
Funding will be a mix of public and private investment. No specifics have been announced, but Jaguars President Mark Lamping said he hoped to see an economic development deal in place and construction underway by Spring 2019 on the Lot J phase, which he said represents a “sizeable portion” of the development’s overall price tag.
“Shad’s ideal scenario is that things move as fast as you can,” Lamping said. “The longer you wait, the longer it’s going to be before you can realize the benefits of the development. There’s no time like the present as far as Shad is concerned. But we’re progressing through the process, which is good.”
The process easily could have bogged down again. Development of the Shipyards and Met Park require demolition of the elevated lanes extending from the Hart Bridge, as well as significant environmental remediation.
But no sooner had Khan and his team submitted their most recent Shipyards plan than they began to evolve, their course shaped by further consultation with developers and also by their involvement in formation of the city’s bid to lure Amazon’s second North American headquarters.
“After we had submitted the concept of our master plan for the Shipyards development, we went back out and talked to some other designers and architects to get their view of the plan,” Lamping said. “Virtually every one of them came back with the advice that we be a bit more ambitious in terms of our development and felt that if the goal was to create a transformational neighborhood, then we really should begin looking at the property that is north of the St. Johns River, in addition to that property that fronts the river.
“Not long after that, the concept of Amazon came, and that really solidified our thinking that, if we’re going to create a vibrant neighborhood, it’s going to have to be bigger than just the Shipyards property. That led our thinking as to how to approach this project, particularly the phasing of it.”
In Phase 2, the Shipyards District will expand south to the banks of the St. Johns with what is projected to be two hotels and a convention center. Phase 3 then will push north into Lots M and N with what currently is conceived as three residential structures.
Renderings of the 8-acre Lot J, which is the first phase, feature an entertainment complex, two office towers and a hotel that could feature some residential floors. A parking garage with green space on top is pictured directly to the west over what currently is a retention pond.
Mixed-use development is a logical next step by the 67,000-seat stadium and the recently added 5,500-seat Daily’s Place amphitheater. Add in nearby Veterans Memorial Arena and The Baseball Grounds, and the sports complex is home to hundreds of events per year.
Those event-goers are consumers, who leave with dollars in their pockets because the area has lacked much of anything to consume.
“We’re trying to do two things,” Lamping said. “One is to enhance the experience of those who come just for the sporting events by giving them things to do before and after. We think we accomplish that. The second piece is getting more people creating an economic impact for the community, and it’s through that that this kind of district can be beneficial to all residents in Jacksonville.”
One addition promises to be particularly impactful. Renderings show the structure closest to the stadium as a pavilion with the “Live!” branding used by Cordish for its highly successful entertainment districts. Live! properties feature covered, open-air gathering spaces of 150,000 square feet or more with giant video screens and a carefully planned mix of national chains and local establishments.
The Jaguars-Cordish partnership makes a powerful statement. Since buying the franchise, Khan and his organization have become arguably the greatest driver of economic development in downtown Jacksonville. The Cordish Companies is a privately held company with 1,000 employees that was founded in 1910 and has reactivated downtrodden areas across the country by building and managing similar entertainment-fueled mixed-use districts, often near sports facilities.
Cordish’s projects in Kansas City, St. Louis and Baltimore impressed Lamping and Mayor Lenny Curry when they boarded Khan’s jet for a tour of Live! venues in July 2017. Conversely, Cordish is sufficiently impressed with Jacksonville to invest its brand and capital.
“On a national perspective, there are very few opportunities like this,” Cordish Companies Vice President Blake Cordish said the day of the announcement. “You have a great city that’s growing dynamically, so the foundation is there to have a great community.”
There’s repeated evidence that the template works.
Built in 2001, Cordish’s Power Plant Live! was a shot of adrenaline to the rediscovery of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which also was an industrial hazard after decades of coal-fired power production.
St. Louis’ Ballpark Village, which carried a $100 million price tag and concentrated on entertainment and retail adjacent to Busch Stadium, breathed additional life into what has become a district unto itself. The $260 million second phase currently is under construction and includes a hotel and downtown’s first new office building in 30 years.
And a decade ago, Live! was at the heart of the $850 million, 12-square-block Power & Light District in Kansas City, Missouri. Now, city officials credit the Cordish development for igniting a $5 billion development boom that has seen the downtown population increase from 8,000 to 30,000.
Power & Light “created a brand new base of suburbanites who had never been to downtown in 30 years,” Bill Dietrich, CEO of the Downtown Council of Kansas City, told the Dallas Morning News.
Jacksonville has the advantage of already bringing people within walking distance of Downtown.
As they hammer out funding and move earth on a four-square-block chunk of former parking lot to give those event-goers a reason to stay for a drink, a meal, a night or, maybe, to live or work, the city’s public and private leaders will be making significant steps toward a vibrant urban core.
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