The Jacksonville Landing when it was the talk of the town.

The streets of downtown Jacksonville, at night and on weekends, are about as sleepy and quiet as they’ve ever been in the city’s history. An amazing but unfortunate sight considering we’re living in an era of unprecedented economic growth in revitalization in the central business districts of all sizes across the state and country. For the first time in three decades, in six months, the Northbank core has witnessed the loss of more than thirty small businesses (many local and minority-owned) associated with the City’s questionable push to acquire the Jacksonville Landing, evict its businesses and raze the structurally sound iconic property without the remote consideration of adaptive reuse of the property. Recently Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and new Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) CEO Lori Boyer provided updated details concerning a variety of Downtown projects, including what’s next for the Landing property.

A typical Sunday on Laura Street after the removal of the Jacksonville Landing’s remaining restaurants and retail shops. Unlike the majority of major cities across the country during this economic cycle, the streets of downtown Jacksonville remain quiet during non-special event weekends and nights. Through the concept of adaptive reuse, this morbid scene has an opportunity to transform into a vibrant one, sooner rather than later. That opportunity is lost for the next few years if a plan to fully raze and then conduct a study to determine highest and best use is implemented as planned.

Despite claiming that there would be public input on the site’s future before demolition in April 2019, the City has changed its mind and intends to raze the center without public input. According to city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton, the $1 million demolition job is expected to start in the fall and finish by the end of the year.

Curry favors demolishing the mall, which fell on hard times since its opening in 1987. He put forward a concept last year that showed the bulk of the property would be green space and two new buildings for a mix of uses would be built on the side of the property farthest from the St. Johns River.

Jacksonville Landing Investments still controls the Landing, but after the city gains possession of the site and before demolition occurs, the city will provide an opportunity for public discussion about comes next on the land, said city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton.

Source: April 17, 2019 Florida Times-Union interview

A high priority downtown redevelopment site with the current administration for a full four years, the former county courthouse and city hall annex site remains a place with no pedestrian activity, no solid plan for its future or implementation timeline for pedestrian scale activation. This snail’s pace approach to bringing life back to downtown’s streets should be avoided at all cost with the Jacksonville Landing site.

Following the elimination of all potential adaptive reuse scenarios, the city will then solicit bids to figure out what a new use may be and when it will actually materialize. A similar path to spend money on another study to tell us what we already know, regarding highest and best use, has been taken with the former courthouse and city hall properties, which continue to sit as dead zones of pedestrian activity four years after Curry took office. This pending timeline of inactivity with the centralized Jacksonville Landing property is one that the Jaxson has long warned should be avoided at all cost in a downtown where existing businesses already struggle to survive due to lack of foot traffic at nights and on weekends.

As proposed, the demolition job by D.H. Griffin Wrecking Company, Inc. would likely involve razing the two Landing buildings adjacent to the river first since BBVA Compass Bank does not have to vacate the main building until the end of October. This phased approach is one that still allows the DIA to take advantage of an existing structurally sound iconic building that could be quickly revamped to accommodate a variety of uses in a city with a limited budget, including restaurants, shops, entertainment and cultural oriented uses such as a centralized visitors center. Combined with nearby private sector investments underway by VyStar, Hyatt Place and the Laura Trio, the heart of the Northbank could be dramatically transformed into a lively activity center in a fraction of the time that it has taken to destroy the city hall annex and courthouse properties and consider a new use for them.

A rendering by local architects illustrating the adaptive reuse of a portion of the Landing’s main structure with the incorporation of public riverfront green space.

In previous articles, the Jaxson Magazine has highlighted the successful adaptive reuse of similar structures in Miami, Norfolk, Tampa and Orlando. In addition, we’ve highlighted the historical and national significance of the Landing, not only as an iconic structure on a national level, but as downtown’s cultural heart since its opening 32 years ago.

London’s Covent Garden Market

With this in mind and the idea of clustering, complementing uses within a compact setting to quickly stimulate vibrancy, London’s Covent Garden Market is another successful adaptive reuse example of a similar style structure that is also culturally significant to the city and its surroundings. Although the market’s origins date back to the 17th century, its current neo-classical building was erected as an open-air fruit-and-vegetable market on the south side of Covent Square in 1830 to revitalize an area that had become known as a red-light district.

By the mid 20th century, aging market buildings and increasing urban congestion in the surrounding area resulted in negative impacts to the market’s wholesale distribution operations. While demolition was considered, public outcry resulted in the buildings being protected. As a result, the market relocated to a larger suburban location for its wholesale distribution operations in 1974. Following the wholesale market’s departure, the complex of simple masonry construction was converted into a mixed-use retail center with restaurants and a pub in 1980. 24 years later, in need of renovation, a new action plan was created to improve the property while retaining its historic character.

Today, the Covent Garden Market remains as popular as it has ever been.

Next Page: A Look Inside Covent Garden Market