Sitting along the outskirts of LaVilla and Brooklyn, the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center has been around for nearly a century – albeit not always in its current form.
The building was originally constructed in 1919 as the Union Terminal. It replaced the former railroad station located on the same property; part of that old station, built in the late 1890s, can still be seen behind the newer building. The building featured signage reading “Jacksonville Terminal”.
At the time that it opened, the new Union Terminal was the largest railroad station in the South. Its Roman architecture was designed by Kenneth Murchison, who also designed Penn Station in Maryland.
The station was a bustling hub of activity in its heyday. The LaVilla area, then an active suburban neighborhood, was a heavy area of traffic for the Jacksonville railroad industry.
The concourse featured shops, food stands, and a full-service restaurant. It also featured a separate waiting area for black residents – a disgusting reality of the time period.
The station thrived for many years, but gradually the railroad industry went into decline. Passenger trains gave way to automobiles and buses, and while commercial trains remained a profitable industry, they didn’t need the Union Terminal to do their business.
At the same time, the surrounding neighborhood of LaVilla was entering a decline. With railroad jobs declining, residents moved to other parts of the city to find work. The gradual end of segregation also led residents to branch out from LaVilla, which was for many years a thriving African-American suburb.
The station ceased operation in 1974, having served the community for 55 years.
In the mid 1980s, after a decade of inactivity at the site of the station, work began to convert the old station into a new convention center for the city. It was the result of a partnership led by Prime F. Osborn III of CSX, for whom the convention center would be named.
The Prime F. Osborn Convention Center opened in late 1986, and has served as the city’s primary convention center ever since.
You can still see telltale signs of the building’s former usage – the most obvious being the “Jacksonville Terminal” lettering that still remains along the front of the building. Other features include a railroad car next to the original station building commemorating the building’s history, and the old ticket booths that are now (obviously) permanently closed.
Unfortunately, the building has all but outlived its usefulness as a convention center. The city has been looking to replace it with a new convention center for years, but there are still no solid plans for doing so.
Meanwhile, the old terminal building was supposed to be redeveloped as part of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center project. However, the current plans for the center involve a separate complex located adjacent to the terminal building.
This means that the ultimate fate of the Jacksonville Terminal building remains undecided. It continues to serve as the city’s primary convention center, and will do so until a replacement is built.
Once a replacement arrives, the old station will have to find another new purpose to live on into the next century.