The Carling Hotel is one of several successful adaptive reuse projects in downtown that was supported by the original Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund.
On Tuesday, October 8, At-Large City Council member Matt Carlucci and six co-sponsors introduced new legislation that could provide a boost to Jacksonville’s plans for downtown revitalization and historic preservation. Council Bill 2019-0747 would appropriate $1.55 million from the city’s general fund as a first step toward replenishing the Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund, a now largely depleted fund that provides financial assistance for projects that restore and reuse historic downtown buildings. The bill is co-sponsored by Carlucci’s fellow council representatives Randy DeFoor, Michael Boylan, Ju’Coby Pittman, Tommy Hazouri, Joyce Morgan, and Brenda Priestly Jackson.
Carlucci spearheaded the original creation of the Historic Preservation and Revitalization Fund when he served as City Council President in 2002. The goal was to create a permanent tool for supporting projects that would restore historic downtown structures. It was tapped for the successful rehabilitation of 11 East Forsyth and The Carling in the early 2000s, and has since supported restoration projects of all sizes, including the Cowford Chophouse and the transformation of the old Lerner Building into student housing for FSCJ. Projects now in the works include the Laura Street Trio and Barnett and the former Ambassador Hotel. “Great downtowns take care of their historical building stock,” said Carlucci. “These buildings add character to the city. Jacksonville has some architectural gems that nowhere else can claim.”
The Snyder Memorial Methodist Church is one of many historic downtown properties that remain vacant today.
Projects funded by the trust have had a significant impact on the vibrancy of Downtown, but they have also depleted its resources. Today, the fund has less than $820,000 dollars, although the council and Downtown Investment Authority have millions of dollars of projects lined up. Carlucci estimates that about $6 million is needed just for projects that the city has currently committed to, including the work already underway at the Barnett and Laura Street Trio. The City Council auditor suggested that the $1.55 million in the initial bill will cover the most pressing needs, but Carlucci stressed that it’s just a first step in the right direction. “It’s basically seed money to get us closer to where we need to be,” he said.
Carlucci noted that while the trust has been drawn down, the city has been proactive in finding other funding for projects that arise. But he says the trust remains important as an alternative. For one thing, it’s more inclusive, as it’s open to any property owner with a good idea, regardless of their connections. Additionally, it ensures that certain preservation standards are met. “If the money just comes out of the general fund, a marble facade could be taken down and replaced with stucco,” said Carlucci. Finally, it sends the signal to potential developers that the city is serious about assisting them. “Putting money in this historical trust fund sends the message that Jacksonville is serious and open for business when it comes to historical preservation - we want to move forward, we want to develop our downtown,” he said.
Broad Street, once the premier African-American business district of the city during segregation, is home to several jazz and blues era mixed-use buildings that would benefit from the Historic Preservation and Revitalization Fund.
Downtown advocates have pushed for the trust to be restored for years. In 2017, Chris Hand, Chief of Staff under former mayor Alvin Brown, wrote in a Times-Union editorial that investments supported by the trust “will pay dividends for years to come… but they have also emptied the fund of resources, which will make reactivation of many structures challenging until replenishment occurs.” More recently, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer told the Florida Times-Union that the preservation trust “could use an infusion of cash, since it is entirely committed now.” With more and more big developments coming down the pipeline, Boyer encouraged restoring the trust to ensure the city could continue to support worthy projects.
Carlucci said he was moved to act after hearing Boyer’s remarks, as well as conversations he had with Charlotte city leaders during a personal trip to that city several years ago. The head of the Charlotte Downtown Development Authority told Carlucci that Jacksonville had three things Charlotte wished it had. The first is obvious: the St. Johns River. Second, Jacksonville has more downtown retail space than Charlotte, a necessary asset in creating street-level vibrancy. The third thing surprised Carlucci: the DDA head wished Charlotte had the stock of historical buildings that Downtown Jacksonville has. “He said they wished they had not torn down so many of their historical buildings in their quest to revitalize our Downtown.”
100 North Laura Street was originally constructed in 1962 as additional headquarters office space for Barnett National Bank. In recent years, it is one of many existing buildings that have been renovated, preserving and enhancing downtown’s sense of place in the process.
Preserving older buildings is important to maintaining a city’s character, sense of place, and built density. But preservation is proving especially important for Jacksonville’s Downtown core, which, unlike Charlotte’s, has not seen a proliferation of new construction for nearly 20 years What has come has largely been in the outskirts of Downtown, primarily in Brooklyn and LaVilla, rather than the historic city center. Other than two parking garages erected in 2007 and 2014, no new private development has gone vertical in the core of Downtown since 2001. Instead, new additions to Downtown, from small businesses like Wolf & Cub and the Volstead to major developments like Vystar’s new headquarters and the Laura Street Trio, have occurred exclusively in existing buildings.
Carlucci and his co-sponsors see the replenishing of the preservation trust as a proven way to not only restore Jacksonville’s historic buildings and architectural heritage, but to support exactly the kinds of developments that have been successful in the downtown core. Let City Council know what you think here.
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.