Steve Atkins wants to turn Jacksonville’s riverfront into a lively “front lawn” for the city – and, more importantly, he wants to do it the right way.
Addressing a crowd of media members and residents at the Florida Theatre, Atkins unveiled a cohesive master plan developed by his company, SouthEast Development Group, in conjunction with a team of designers and engineers led by global architecture firm Gensler.
Riverfront Jacksonville, as the proposal has been dubbed, would involve the development of interconnected downtown riverfront park space, along with ten new structures including a hotel, several multifamily residential complexes, and office, commercial, and entertainment space, across four different river-adjacent properties along the Northbank.
“Every great city has a great downtown,” Atkins said at the beginning of his 30-minute presentation. He further related that a city’s downtown should ideally be a fitting representation of its identity.
“Nothing says Jacksonville more than the St. Johns River,” Atkins noted.
The master plan focuses on connecting four currently undeveloped properties in downtown Jax: the former Jacksonville Landing site, the former Landing parking lot, the former county courthouse and city hall annex site, and the site of the existing Hyatt Regency parking structure.
For the Landing property, Atkins and his team envision 15 acres of public park land that would feature public art, an amphitheatre, retail and event plazas, and golf greens. Behind the park land, three new structures would be added where the Landing once sat: a split-level, mixed-use structure, a 14-story, 100-unit condominium tower with a ground-floor wellness center, and a 208-room hotel with an accompanying food hall named 30 North. New circulator structures would be added on each side of the Main Street Bridge to connect the park to the bridge for pedestrian activity.
At the Landing parking lot, the master plan calls for two commercial office buildings constructed with health-centric technology such as outer glass walls that fold open to create indoor/outdoor space. Atkins indicated that this portion of the plan could be reconfigured to include more residential space if the demand for office space isn’t significant enough.
The property currently occupied by the Hyatt Regency garage would be reimagined as a residential complex with a mix of apartments and condominiums.
And at the former courthouse and city hall annex property, Atkins proposes an Exhibition, Entertainment & Technology Center to complement the Hyatt Regency and solve the city’s convention center dilemma. The building would include ground-floor retail and restaurant space, as well as a rooftop golf course. The east end of the property would feature a 27-story, 410-unit residential tower, also featuring ground-floor retail. A two-story boathouse restaurant would also be added at the adjacent marina.
Altogether, the Riverfront Jacksonville master plan proposes at least 755 residential units, 208 hotel rooms, 330,000 square feet of office space, and 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
The master plan forgoes any above-ground parking structures, instead proposing three different subterranean parking structures designed with the ability to retain – and later pump out – large volumes of water. Resilience, Atkins explained, is a key aspect of the master plan; the new structures, combined with the added park space, would absorb the brunt of any future storm surge scenarios and protect surrounding buildings.
With the exception of the Hyatt parking garage property, all of the sites within the proposal are already owned by the city, eliminating one potential development hurdle. Atkins said his team would have to discuss acquiring the parking garage land from Hyatt when the time came to develop that part of the plan.
By creating a cohesive master plan for the riverfront properties, Atkins hopes to avoid the piecemeal solutions of the past – and to seize the opportunity to redefine the Northbank provided by these vacant properties. Atkins and SouthEast Group are best known locally for restoring and revitalizing the historic downtown Barnett National Bank building. The company is currently focused on final approvals for its next project, the Laura Trio redevelopment, which Atkins said he hopes to deliver by 2023.
As currently proposed, the project calls for a $1.095 billion total investment, including $536 million in public funding and $559 million in private investments. The public portion would cover infrastructure, park development, marina improvements, extending the Riverwalk, and the Exhibition, Entertainment & Technology Center. The private portion, financed by Goldman Sachs and Piper Sandler, would pay for the other new structures proposed in the plan.
Atkins emphasized that the proposal was just introduced to the city today and has not yet been discussed with city officials in detail. And while the Riverfront Jacksonville master plan includes the former Landing site, Atkins noted that today’s proposal is not part of the ongoing Downtown Investment Authority request for proposals concerning the property but says he hopes to work in collaboration with whichever developer is chosen for that site.
The Riverfront Jacksonville master plan would be executed in phases, with the first phase being dedicated primarily to infrastructure, parks, and public spaces. Atkins said he’d love to get started on this phase within the next two years. Subsequent phases would bring the development of the Exhibition, Entertainment & Technology Center, followed by the other structures which would themselves be built in three separate phases over the course of four years.
Atkins indicated that his next step will be to enter discussions with the city in hopes of having the master plan integrated into its own plans moving forward.
For more information on the master plan proposal, visit jaxriverfront.com.