Around a decade ago, billions of dollars worth of public, private, and cooperative developments were proposed throughout the city of Jacksonville.
These ambitious projects included a massive multiuse development along Bay St., a revitalization of downtown’s Ambassador Hotel, and even a high-rise equipped with a gondola service crossing the St. Johns River.
Other expensive projects, such as a new arena and baseball park, a new downtown library, and the first phase of the ill-fated Berkman Plaza condominiums had recently been completed as well.
Development was booming – but not at a sustainable rate.
Then the recession of the late 2000s hit, and the money dried up quickly. Projects started falling through left and right. Areas that looked set for a major boom, such as downtown, instead only saw a few new developments – which were largely isolated, since other projects expected to complement them were never realized.
But now, just a decade later, Bold City developers – and the city – are making the bold call to jump back into the days of high spending.
With the economy back on track, creditors are more willing to back big projects again. And it helps that Jax is experiencing a population boom right now, particularly among young people.
In just the past couple years, billions of dollars worth of public and private development has been proposed within Jacksonville. Ambitious projects such as proposed “healthy-town” concept The District and Shad Khan’s redevelopment of the Shipyards and Met Park are likely to be half-billion dollar investments by themselves.
Even mid-‘00s fever dreams like that gondola system proposed by developer Mike Balanky are suddenly finding new life.
And some of the promised developments have already been delivered upon – such as Amazon.com’s new Jacksonville fulfillment and distribution centers, which required over $300 million to build.
New development is important; it brings about growth in critical parts of the city such as downtown, and brings new jobs to the community. All this money being thrown around has its drawbacks, though.
Many of these projects involve a combination of public and private funding. For most proposed downtown developments, it’s almost a given that the city will be kicking in something – usually to help with preserving historic elements or upgrading infrastructure.
It makes projects like The District, which could end up requiring as much as $26 million in infrastructure investments from the city, a bit of a double-edged sword. If it works, everyone is happy. If it fails, taxpayers have then contributed millions to help some rich guys build empty buildings.
And for projects where funding responsibility lies squarely on the city’s shoulders, the risk-reward dynamic is even more pronounced. If the new regional transportation center makes Jax public transit a more enjoyable experience, you’ll hear few complaints. But if it doesn’t help, it becomes an object of ire for discerning taxpayers for years to come.
It’s a hard balance to strike, ultimately. The city has set the precedent of offering heavy incentives for development, and has become more aggressive in doing so under the leadership of Lenny Curry. This means there are inevitably going to be projects that don’t work out, and those projects may be frustrating to many.
But while some developments might not work out as planned, plenty of others do – and they bring along positive impacts that can be felt within the community for years to come.
So for now – and until the money dries up again – the spending continues. Maybe we’ll get that gondola after all.
By the Numbers: Big Projects in Jax
We put together a random collection of some developments in various stages of completion with particularly high price tags to offer some context on the money being spent on development in Jax.
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