Adaptive reuse

Among the several adaptive reuse plans currently moving forward, JWB Real Estate’s project would restore the historic Federal Reserve Bank and Baptist Convention Building along with the Seminole Club for new uses.

One thing that’s repeatedly been proven in the Downtown Northbank in recent years is that preservation, not demolition is what works here. Unlike many of our peer cities, Jacksonville does not have a glut of new construction, and without that empty lots tend to remain empty lots even on prime riverfront property. But Curry is right that “things have happened Downtown.” A lot of things, in fact. It’s just happening in buildings that already exist.

Northbank projects of all sizes, from bars and restaurants like the Volstead or Spliff’s to major projects like the VyStar headquarters have happened via adaptive reuse: the renovation of existing, often historic buildings. As we speak, there’s a full-on renaissance in the making in the Northbank as investors take advantage of the city’s historic incentives to breathe new life into older structures. A number of them have publicly credited the city’s help with making their projects possible.

There are currently at least 12 adaptive reuse projects planned or moving forward within half a mile of James Weldon Johnson Park. That’s huge. Several even incorporate some new construction into their plans. Notably, the long awaited Laura Street Trio proposes to include a new hotel building and a parking garage with ground floor retail along with the pending restoration of the three historic buildings and the now completed restoration of the nearby Barnett building. All together, the impact of these projects on Downtown’s future will be huge.

Final analysis: the devil’s in the details

The Laura Street Trio has the potential to be a truly transformative project right in the Northbank core.

So there you have it: while unnecessary demolitions have set Downtown back (and earned Curry his reputation as “Demo Lenny”), there are successes as well in terms of the many major adaptive reuse projects currently moving forward in the Northbank. Curry’s defenders may say this proves the efficacy of his approach, but the truth is more complex.

In terms of Downtown development, it’s fair to say that Curry has had successes where his administration worked with stakeholders and aided adaptive reuse projects, and he’s had failures where he unilaterally pushed for expensive demolitions of structurally sound buildings. Had he pursued the same proven strategies with the Landing and other razed buildings, Downtown would be in a stronger position – and no one would be talking about the “Tear Down Mayor.”

Editorial by J.D. McGregor. Contact J.D. at