December 2, 2021
In The Public Interest
photo of riverfront park area
St. Johns River north bank

Downtown Riverfront Development: DIA Workshop

DIA schedules public workshop to share its downtown development plans

The Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) will hold a public workshop at noon on Tuesday, February 23 to share its plans for downtown riverfront development. The public may attend in person or via zoom.

The in-person meeting will be held in the downtown public library conference center. The zoom meeting ID is 985 2090 9500, and passcode is 237408.

DIA’s public notice explains that the workshop’s purpose will allow DIA to “present a holistic informational overview of current Downtown riverfront development plans, both public and private.” Those attending include members of City Council, and DIA and Downtown Development Review Board Members, all of whom will be allowed to ask questions following presentations. Members of the public may comment after these members have had an opportunity to discuss the plans.

WHOSE PLANS?

DIA, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Jaguars, and Museum of Science and History (MOSH) are scheduled to present.

Riverfront Parks Now (RPN), a coalition of 10 environmentally focused civic groups representing a broad public, is not presenting. Since demolition of The Landing, RPN has captured the public’s imagination with its proposal to develop an “iconic” downtown park along the St. John’s downtown Northbank.
https://www.riverfrontparksnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Riverfront-Parks-Now-Presentation-Website-Feb2021.pdf

RPN’s research shows that riverfront parks provide economic benefit, create natural resilient barriers that protect commercial properties from flooding, and allow the public important outdoor green gathering space. No doubt people living in urban concrete villages benefit from direct relationship with nature.
https://www.riverfrontparksnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Economic-Impact-of-Riverfront-Parks.pdf

OUTDATED PLANS?

According to public comments by CEO Lori Boyer during DIA’s February 17 board meeting, DIA’s downtown development plan was based on more than 40 public meetings held between 2012 and 2014 and originally adopted in 2015. The earliest of those meetings was held 5 years before Hurricane Irma flooded downtown, closing the Hyatt Regency for several months and causing the hotel to miss out on the Florida-Georgia weekend. The basement level of the Wells Fargo Tower (originally the Independent Life building) filled with mud, forcing the building’s closure for several weeks.

Downtown flooding from Hurricane Irma September 2017

DIA’s existing plan was also adopted well before The Landing was demolished, which by its absence has allowed the public an open view of the St. John’s River from the Northbank, expanding the public’s understanding of what expansive open green space along the riverfront might feel like. With the exception of The Landing site, the Shipyards, the Kids Kampus, and Metropolitan Park, the St. John’s River Northbank is completely “walled off” from public view. Access is limited to the Riverwalk, which functions much like a sidewalk.

RiverKeeper Jimmy Orth, during a recent interview on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, suggested that DIA’s current plan ignores the need to protect downtown from inevitable flooding caused by sea level rise, noting that the plan was adopted before Irma. One wonders about DIA’s capacity to adapt its thinking about commercial development along the St. John’s. As Orth explained, most cities are trying to move commercial property away from the water. Expansive green spaces along riverbanks, he said, serve as natural barriers to protect commercial properties from flooding.

You may listen to the Ross program, which also featured Nancy Powell, executive director of Scenic Jacksonville, via this link: https://news.wjct.org/post/riverfront-parks-now-bryant-academy-reunion-aid-music-venues-wgw


THE LANDING: DIA’s Request for Proposals to redevelop

Map of the Landing site
existing condition of former Landing site


Recently, DIA invited three firms to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) to redevelop The Landing site, which DIA refers to as Northbank Lawn/Riverfront Plaza. The slides below are included in the RFP, and imagine different configurations for the 6.8 acre open space.

Related downtown public park developments: Kids Kampus

During its meeting held February 17th, the DIA board approved a resolution granting Iquana Investments six months to conduct environmental testing on the Kids Kampus and a portion of the Shipyards.

At the meeting’s outset, DIA staff explained that the public submitted 51 email comments, all opposing commercial development of the Kids Kampus and Metropolitan Park. Despite its promise to the public that all emailed comments would be read aloud, DIA staff instead read the names of those who submitted emails without sharing the specific comments. Had these people appeared in person, each would have been granted the allotted time to make his or her comments.

DIA board member Oliver Barakat said he doesn’t remember DIA ever receiving that much public interest about any past issue, observing that the public obviously wishes to be involved in any development plans that include the riverfront.

Again, to participate you may attend in person or by zoom. The in-person meeting will be held in the downtown public library conference center. The zoom meeting ID is 985 2090 9500, and passcode is 237408.

Written by
Sherry Magill

Sherry Magill is a community leader and retired private foundation executive. She is a co-founder of Jaxlookout.

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Written by Sherry Magill

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