It’s been well over a year now since the former City Hall Annex building along Bay Street came crumbling down via controlled implosion, but the hole it left behind – both its vacant property and the loss of its history – can still be felt.
The fifteen-story building was constructed at 220 E. Bay Street from 1958 to 1960, next door to the newly-opened Duval County Courthouse. Its Mid-century Modern design was helmed by locally-based Reynolds, Smith & Hills, which designed several other downtown structures including the smaller courthouse building.
The building opened in 1960 as the new City Hall, built amidst a boom of civic projects within the urban core that also included the Coliseum and the Haydon Burns library building. Though other Mid-century Modern buildings popped up during this era, the City Hall building gained regard as being among the urban core’s most unique modern structures.
The building served as Jacksonville’s city hall from 1960 until the late ‘90s, when the city opted to renovate and redevelop the historic St. James Building into a new city hall building located more centrally within downtown Jax.
Following the relocation of city operations to the St. James Building, the old City Hall was utilized as an annex for city departments that could not be housed within the main building. But the building’s relative distance from the new center of government became an obstacle, prompting the city to redevelop a former YMCA and Haverty’s building located adjacent to the St. James Building into the Jake M. Godbold City Hall Annex.
When the new annex facility opened in the late 2000s, the old City Hall Annex building’s days became numbered. The city had no plans to reutilize the building, and its Downtown Investment Authority completed a study that marked its land as the perfect spot for a new downtown convention center to replace the aging Prime Osborn Convention Center in LaVilla.
The city closed the building permanently in 2017 and began budgeting for its demolition – along with the demolition of the adjacent county courthouse building, which was replaced years earlier as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan.
The building was imploded in January 2019. But plans for developing the new convention center – which was the main justification for demolition – were put on hold and later abandoned. Now the property sits waiting for redevelopment.
While it’s quite possible that any future development will provide major value downtown, an adaptive reuse project converting the building into living space, a hotel, or even offices could have provided similar value. And, in an era when local architecture has become cheap and almost robotic, it would’ve had the added value of preserving city history and offering a glimpse at a different era.