For nearly twenty years, the city has had its eyes set on redeveloping the long-blighted Shipyards property along Bay Street in downtown Jacksonville as a dense, mixed-use center of office, commercial, and residential activity.
Now, with Shad Khan’s deal to redevelop the land having expired, Downtown Investment Authority is exploring a new possibility for the 30-acre property: a world-class riverfront park.
At a recent strategic implementation committee meeting, DIA discussed a presentation centered around the potential of a network of riverfront parks in downtown Jax – put together by Riverfront Parks Now, a consortium of nonprofits including Scenic Jacksonville, Late Bloomers Garden Club, Garden Club of Jacksonville, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Greenscape of Jacksonville, Sierra Club of NE Florida, and Memorial Park Association.
The presentation focused on two key benefits to adding a major riverfront park: economic impact and resiliency.
On the economic front, the group offered examples of similar parks sparking tourism and nearby development in other cities. It cites Detroit’s Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, which now draws three million annual visitors, as well as Louisville Waterfront Park which draws over two million visitors each year and creates $40 million in annual economic impact. Also cited was Cincinnati’s Smale Riverfront Park, pictured above.
Hunter’s Point Waterfront Park’s water-absorbing simulated wetlands, meanwhile, served as one of the group’s examples in favor of resiliency.
At the same meeting, DIA initiated efforts to pursue the possibility of a federal land-swap that would free up Metropolitan Park – which is funded by the federal government – for redevelopment and replace its park land at the Shipyards.
Met Park is the property preferred for development by Khan, who is expected to propose a scaled-back version of his vision that at one point included both Met Park and the Shipyards. The federal park’s positioning across the street from Daily’s Place and the future Lot J development makes it a more logical fit for Khan’s team.
Such a swap would set up the Shipyards property to become an elaborate waterfront park like what’s proposed by Riverfront Parks Now.
A park at the Shipyards would make sense – especially if Khan and the city are intent on redeveloping the perfectly-adequate Met Park. It would finally offer a permanent use for the long-controversial property, one that could be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike and potentially even raise the value of surrounding developments – such as Lot J.
And attempting to develop the land as anything other than a park has proven costly, despite the city having nothing to show for it. Former mayor John Delaney’s administration gave TriLegacy Group over $36 million in 2001 to redevelop the property; the project never materialized, and the city was accused of failing to do its due diligence by a grand jury that was convened to review the deal.
With hundreds of millions wrapped up in the city’s Lot J agreement with Khan, it may make more sense to pursue a federal park – which would bring with it plenty of government grant money – rather than attempting another costly public-private commercial project.
As with all other previous Shipyard proposals, though, it’s better to wait and see than to get too optimistic.