It’s somewhat of an open secret that there’s an underground tunnel connecting 121 Atlantic Place and the BB&T Bank building in downtown Jacksonville.
There was even a sandwich shop, Benny’s, operating in the tunnel up until a few years ago.
But not as many residents are aware that this underground stretch from 121 W. Forsyth St. to 200 W. Forsyth St. is only a small part of the tunnel system.
The tunnel extends past 121 Atlantic Place to 118 W. Adams St., and it’s believed that it then extends to 112 W. Adams St. The tunnel then comes to an end just below 100 Laura St.
In total, the span of the tunnel system is probably around a tenth of a mile.
So why is there a tunnel system underneath some of downtown’s oldest buildings?
Back in the day, banks had to physically transfer money from vaults to give to customers. The tunnels were used to allow workers to transport cash from underground vaults back to the bank building. Most of the downtown banks were concentrated in this one area, allowing for all of them to take advantage of the tunnels.
Obviously, the tunnels are no longer needed for their original purpose in the modern world. That’s why most of them have been walled off by building owners.
This tunnel system has been sitting unused for years, but may be a hidden opportunity for creative retail and nightlife opportunities.
In addition to the vacant space formerly occupied by Benny’s Sandwich Shop, the tunnels feature multiple bank vaults left over from its former use. These large spaces could be renovated to add retail, restaurant, or nightlife space.
An underground retail and nightlife corridor in downtown Jacksonville would be a great way to quickly add personality and a unique element to the area.
Other cities have utilized the “underground” concept to much success.
In downtown Atlanta, a similar (though larger) underground corridor was converted into a bustling shopping and nightlife complex called Underground Atlanta.
While Underground Atlanta has begun to struggle in recent years, it’s also a much larger project than what Jacksonville’s potential tunnel project would look like.
A much smaller-scale example of a successful underground development would be The Bar Bar in Savannah, GA. The bar is located underneath Julian St. in downtown Savannah and is one of the city’s most popular nightlife destinations.
Anything outside-the-box will inevitably draw criticism – especially in a relatively conservative city like Jacksonville.
There are also some legitimate concerns that could be brought up. For example, it would be harder to guarantee security in an underground area. This is especially relevant given the recent high-profile shootings in downtown Jax.
Additionally, the owners of the above-ground buildings would have to be on board with the project. That includes allowing the concrete walls that have been put up to be knocked down.
While a project like this won’t happen anytime soon, it’s still a cool thought and an interesting piece of downtown’s infrastructure that could become important in the future.