Florida Discovery is a concept originally envisioned approximately 40 years ago to be a major themed attraction for Jacksonville’s residents and tourists with an emphasis on creating a magnet to pull mainly automotive tourist traffic off of I-95 heading south and otherwise without stopping in Jacksonville. The original focus was to capture and present the richness of history, dynamics and intrigue of Florida as a whole with a special emphasis on the First Coast. It would have provided a very comfortable, relaxing attraction featuring a very large-scale, high-tech model of Florida as the keystone and a major hotel that allowed spectacular views of the model from at least half of the guest rooms. Original concept designs of the theme park and hotel were coordinated with a major theme park design company from Torrance, California, with years of experience working with The Walt Disney Company and Six Flags.
Unfortunately, the concept could not gain traction in Jacksonville due to an absence of desirable sites with enough space and proximity to I-95 to give access to a sufficient number of locals and travelers. It was just too soon for such an ambitious undertaking for Jacksonville at the time.
A couple of years ago when the Jacksonville Landing’s future was in doubt, or the facility was obviously in need of a major renovation, my vision of Florida Discovery came to mind – but only if there was sufficient room in the Landing facility for a large, dynamic, high-tech replica of the state of Florida. Additionally, many other issues with the current Landing facility would have to be eliminated or mitigated for our unique purposes. After a few visits to the Landing and studying the original mechanical drawings of the complex, the space for the large state replica became obvious as being in the center courtyard by relocating or eliminating stairways, walls, and other nonessential physical impediments currently in the courtyard area – and without limiting many other uses, such as presentations, political speeches, entertainment events, etc. The proposed scheme would accommodate at least 20% to 40% more standing or sitting-room attendance than is now possible and without the obstructing bandstand blocking the beautiful view of the river.
The next very critical issue with the current Landing facility was providing convenient and abundant parking. After studying the Landing’s u-shaped main building and two adjoining restaurant outbuildings along the river, it became obvious that there was considerably more retail and restaurant space than what would be needed to support a successful and profitable destination for locals and tourists. Accordingly, with some imagination and a lot of measuring, we discovered that about ½ of the current retail space, all of the current office space, some of the outdated restroom spaces and all of the warehouse space could be demolished and made available for approximately 250 onsite patron metered parking spaces – more than enough for the rotating attendance of the anticipated visiting patronage.
With the replica space becoming adequate, and virtually all parking issues resolved, then came the effort to identify and quantify the proper mix of “content” – retail, restaurants, museum space, entertainment venues and entertainment, offices, restrooms, etc. That effort has begun and now shows a sufficient level of ambiance, sufficient size and location, and commensurate traffic patterns to support a very safe and comfortable patron environment. For example, there are thousands of square feet of hallways and other walking spaces now that can be put to more productive uses in the new facility designs. Brand new restrooms and management offices will be located in what is now unutilized “air space”, yet all fitting under the iconic orange roof and strategically located.
The Florida Discovery concept, with the proposed use and design features, is a vision created by Jim White assisted his daughter, Deborah Ann (White) Fewell, lifelong residents of Jacksonville. Before retirement, Jim White’s background consisted in owning various local and international businesses in publishing (Jacksonville Magazine), retailing (White’s Bookstores in Jacksonville, Ocala, and at Disney World properties in Central Florida), wholesale distribution of all national magazines and major newspapers (Duval News Company) and a technology business providing the just-in-time distribution of long distance PIN numbers sold through over 30,000 retail stores in the US, Canada and Europe for prepaid cards from phone carriers such as AT&T, BellSouth, Verizon, Vodafone, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. and retailers including all 7-Eleven and Circle K stores in the US. The distribution system was invented and patented by Jim White and operated out of Atlanta Georgia. Florida Discovery, if proven to be the future best use of the Jacksonville Landing facility, will require a major developer and operator.
Next Page: A Look At Florida Discovery