Saturday Editorial: Lot J development is exciting for Downtown
When Jacksonville was awarded the Jaguars pro football franchise in 1993, the city immediately entered the big leagues of professional sports.
Pro football is by far the most popular and lucrative sport in the country; Jacksonville became just one of 32 cities with a franchise.
The franchise has produced widespread visibility for Jacksonville and millions of dollars to support charities.
The big challenge, however, has been to create a sustainable Downtown district adjacent to the Jaguars’ home, TIAA Bank Field, that can be a worthy complement to the team’s massive footprint.
The closest we’ve come to that was when Jacksonville hosted the 2005 Super Bowl and an entertainment district was created out of thin air.
Vacant buildings near the stadium district were filled with music. Bay Street was hopping with crowds. The Main Street Bridge was closed to traffic, so pedestrians could wander back and forth to the riverwalks. The Northbank Riverwalk was opened just in time for the big event.
But like the Cinderella story, once the Super Bowl ended, the entertainment disappeared. Jacksonville didn’t produce a permanent entertainment district like Tampa’s Ybor City or San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.
Jacksonville knows how to hold great temporary events — thanks to years of experience with the Gator Bowl and Florida-Georgia game. Nothing truly permanent, however, has taken root.
So it is exciting that Mayor Lenny Curry has announced a deal with the Jaguars and its subsidiary Gecko Investments and The Cordish Companies.
The $450 million deal will spur a mixed-use development highlighted by an entertainment district as well as living units, a boutique hotel and an office building.
The city’s $233 million investment will focus on infrastructure improvements like parking, the shared cost of the entertainment district and a $65.5 million grant.
Approval by the City Council and the Downtown Investment Authority should include tough examinations of the city’s return on investment and the city’s revenue sources to be used.
In the past many improvements to the football stadium have basically been funded with user fees, namely bed taxes on hotel guests.
Here are just a few of the entertainment districts developed by the Cordish Companies:
Fourth Street Live! in Louisville is the most visited attraction in Kentucky, drawing over 4.5 million visitors a year. Located across from a convention center, it’s a premier dining and shopping destination.
The Waterside District in Norfolk is an overhaul of a festival marketplace into a food hall, entertainment, festivals and other community events.
Ballpark Village in St. Louis began with an entertainment district in partnership with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club. The second phase will include living units, an office building, a Loews hotel and additional retail, restaurant and entertainment. Jaguars president Mark Lamping came here from the Cardinals organization.
Kansas City Live! in the Power & Light District includes dining, entertainment and a covered outdoor plaza for concerts; it’s a central gathering place for residents.
The announcement of the Shipyards project illustrates that both Curry and the Jaguars are serious about following through on their promises.
“Whether it’s downtown or any neighborhood from the Beaches to the Westside, Jacksonville is on the rise and our best days are in front of us,” Curry said in a news release.
The Times-Union Editorial Board, through its advocacy and its work on J magazine — which is devoted to Downtown — will continue to stress the urgency of riding this wave of progress.
View article online here.