The recent news of The Jacksonville Landing’s impending demolition has drawn, at best, mixed reactions from local residents. Many are upset about the idea of tearing down one of the city’s most prominent landmarks rather than making an earnest effort at redeveloping the existing property – something its previous ownership never quite got around to doing.
The news, and the debate it has raised, comes just a few weeks after the former city hall annex building along Bay Street was imploded – and as that site and the former county courthouse property are still actively being cleared. Those demolitions drew significantly less controversy – likely because of their somewhat uninviting Brutalist architecture – but were done without a clear plan for what will happen next at the key riverfront property.
Last year, the (privately-owned) old Greyhound bus station was brought down. Talks are ongoing to eventually remove the former Times-Union Building in Brooklyn. The mayor’s office has indicated a desire to bulldoze the downtown pre-trial detention center along Bay Street as well, should the opportunity present itself.
It would seem that we’re on an urban core demolition spree.
This has happened before – actually, it wasn’t even that long ago. Back in the ‘90s, then-Mayor Ed Austin’s River City Renaissance plan brought about the demolition of several downtown structures, including a huge chunk of historic LaVilla.
Current mayor Lenny Curry and his office seem to be running a subtler version of the same playbook. The idea is to clear the way for future development, which was Austin’s goal while tearing through LaVilla.
But what happens if that “future development” never happens? In the case of LaVilla, it meant several new empty lots that are only now starting to find buyers more than two decades later.
So far, the old Greyhound station is now an asphalt-paved lot. The courthouse and annex building property will be empty once cleared pending Downtown Investment Authority’s research-and-bid process – which will likely take several months at the very least.
And plans for the future of the Landing property are far from clear. The mayor’s office had previously suggested a large public park with two significantly smaller commercial buildings, but this plan has been criticized as inadequate.
It’s possible that there is sound rationale behind these demolitions, and that there are plans for all of these properties that the public just isn’t privy to yet.
But if that’s the case, shouldn’t we be privy to those plans? After all, these demolitions can be costly; the entire process of settling the Landing’s lawsuits and demolishing it will cost the city at least $18 million. Tearing down and relocating the pre-trial detention center would likely be quite costly as well. And since these bills are largely footed by the taxpayers, it would make sense for local residents to have a bigger say in what happens to these properties.
It’s too late now for the city hall annex and county courthouse buildings. But for the Landing and other buildings that are proposed to come down, is it possible that there’s a better solution?