Property development can be a rather tough business.
There are so many things that factor into the success of a development plan. The city has to approve it, the funding has to be there, and sometimes you must deal with backlash from nearby residents.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of projects in Jacksonville that were proposed but ultimately fell through due to one of these factors coming into play.
Below, we’ve detailed a few such projects from the First Coast area. A couple of them are still possibilities – the others have long passed the point of being viable. As you read through them, try to imagine a Jacksonville in which each project was realized.
Bay Street Station
In the mid-2000s, a massive multi-use project was proposed for a large parcel of empty land along W. Bay St. near the Jefferson St. Station, and adjacent to the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
The Bay Street Station project called for 115,200 square feet of retail space, a 15-story full-service hotel, a health club, and a multi-screen theater. It was anticipated to cost around $250 million to complete.
Developed by a team including developers from Avenues Walk and Gateway Town Center, the gigantic complex was intended as a transit oriented development. Around the time it was proposed, construction was expected to begin on the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center. The JTA worked with the developers to make the property transit-friendly; plans even called for the potential addition of streetcar rails.
Construction was set to begin in early 2009. Unfortunately, the country’s economy was in the midst of trying to recover from a recession around this time. The JRTC never started development, and to this day remains in the planning stages with the city hoping to have the project completed by 2020. The Bay Street Station project went into development hell. As of 2016, there are no imminent plans for construction.
The project would have provided a much-needed central link between downtown, Brooklyn, and LaVilla. Unfortunately it looks like nothing will happen at this site for a while.
Another planned transit oriented development, Jackson Square at San Marco, was proposed by FirstStar Development for a huge lot of land on Philips Highway just south of I-95.
Designed by Basham & Lucas Design Group, plans called for around 900 multi-family units, 150,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and around 200,000 sq. ft. of office space.
The developers planned to market the complex to young professionals who wanted to live in a walking-friendly community. There were talks about the potential of a Skyway expansion to Philips Highway to connect the project with downtown and the rest of San Marco. Down the street, another transit oriented development at the Kings Ave. station was beginning construction as well.
The project gained city approval in October 2008, but not without a lot of complaints from nearby residents. They felt that the traffic created by the development would be overwhelming for the area, despite it being intended as more of a public transit focused community. Their complaints weren’t completely invalid, though – the development would be next to a stretch of Philips Highway that is essentially two lanes wide, and also deals with traffic coming on and off of I-95.
Safety concerns were also raised. The project was intended for maximum walkability, but the surrounding areas of Philips Highway are far from walkable. The area is quite seedy, and only seems to get worse – abandoned buildings and dilapidated motels dominate the nearby streets. This stretch of Philips from I-95 to Emerson St. is often not-so-lovingly referred to as Hooker Highway.
Ultimately, both the traffic complaints and the safety concerns are likely what have delayed this project. The developers remain committed to it – an outdated website for the project still exists, and signage is still prominently displayed on the fencing surrounding the land.
No imminent plans for construction exist, so in the meantime developer Steve Cissel opted to plant an extensive collection of flowers on part of the formerly empty lot. The Garden at Jackson Square has thus far been the only “development” at the site since the project was announced.
Freedom Commerce Centre Mall
Long before its recent remodel and renaming to Prominence Office Park, Freedom Commerce Centre was almost something much different.
Back in the late 1990s, there were two proposed retail mega-centers being developed separately, yet on parallel schedules as they each tried to outpace the other to secure the best tenants.
One of these projects was proposed by Goodman Co. of West Palm Beach for the land occupied by Freedom Commerce Centre off of Baymeadows Road. At the time, the office park was not completed and the developers owned a great deal of untapped land. There was just one problem – much of that land was wetlands, and the city and many residents didn’t want it to be destroyed for a mall.
As the planning process went on, it became clear that the other proposal was going to win out. Its land was vast and uncontroversial, and the surrounding area was full of potential. Baymeadows, on the other hand, was beginning to enter a bit of a slump. Additionally, the center would have caused the already traffic-ridden I-95 exit on Baymeadows Rd. to become a giant parking lot during rush hour.
Eventually, an agreement was reached where the developers would give the wetlands areas to the city in exchange for 357 acres of land in St. Johns County.
Oh, and that other proposal? Maybe you’ve heard of it – it’s called the St. Johns Town Center.
Deerwood Fashion Centre
Very little is known about Deerwood Fashion Centre, a project that was proposed in the late 1980s as a fashion-oriented mall at the intersection of Butler and Southside Blvds.
The one thing that is known about it is a source of frustration for Jacksonville residents. It was going to feature a Burdines as one of its three anchors; Burdines merged into Macy’s in 2005, meaning we would likely have a Macy’s in Jacksonville if the mall had been built.
Unfortunately, at some point in the planning process, the project’s developer decided to abandon the project in favor of a mall that was being constructed a few miles down the street: The Avenues. At this point, the Avenues had filled all of its anchor spots, so tacking on Burdines wasn’t plausible even if the company had wanted to follow the Fashion Centre’s developer.
It’s hard to say whether the project would have been successful. Along with The Avenues, it would have been competing with Grande Boulevard Mall. Grande Boulevard was also fashion-oriented, and aimed at a wealthy demographic. It was dead within just a few years of The Avenues opening; Deerwood Fashion Centre very well could have met the same fate.
Still though, it would be nice to have a Macy’s.
Out of all the projects chronicled here, the Shipyards project is the one with the best chance of actually happening.
The 48 acres of property at 950 E. Bay St. originally served as a ship manufacturing and repair center. It entered decline in the 1980s, and has been unoccupied since around the turn of the century.
In the early 2000s, a plan emerged to fix up the land, led by Landmar Group, LLC. They proposed a 38-story residential tower, similar to the concept of The Strand across the river. In fact, it actually would have been taller than The Strand.
The cost for the project was projected at around $450 million. Of course, as was a common theme in development last decade, the project hit a brick wall when the recession hit. Everything was put on hold pending a change in market conditions.
The developers moved on, and the project was never realized.
By a stroke of luck, however, a powerful figure has taken a recent interest in the Shipyards. Shad Khan, owner of the Jaguars and a sick-ass moustache, formed Iguana Investments to pursue the redevelopment of the land into a massive entertainment and lifestyle center.
Khan’s proposal to the city last year, featuring a design by Kansas City-based Populous, called for a mixed-use development that would involve detailed studies of what would work best in the area. Among the ideas proposed were a mix of residential, office, and retail space, a hotel, restaurants, a marina, and a Jaguars practice field.
For Khan, the motivation is simple: his proposed Shipyards development would create a link between downtown and the sports district, and would become a center of activity for years to come. It would provide more incentive for fans to show up at Jags games as well, as they could walk to the Shipyards before or after the game to keep the fun going.
The property is owned by the city, so ultimately the city council must sign off on any development. Last year, the Downtown Investment Authority gave the project a green light. The next big hurdle involves cleaning up the environmental issues the land faces.
Khan indicated at the Jaguars’ owners meeting this past spring that he may be losing patience – while he still wants to make the project happen, he pointed out that there may be other pieces of land suitable for the project.
It’s clear that Khan is going to make the project happen eventually. Whether or not it will be on the Shipyards property is is up to the city.