4: State law requires an RFP - and RFPs require real planning

Though the mayor’s office is trying to freeze the public out of the decision the Jacksonville Landing’s future, one thing is certain: the public will see what’s coming before any new development happens there. That’s because Florida law requires the city to put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for any new construction on city-owned property, whether it’s renovating the current space or building something new. In an RFP, the city specifies what it wants out of a project - a 7 thousand square foot neighborhood library, an 11 thousand seat baseball stadium, a warehouse for the mayor’s spare workout equipment, etc., and companies submit bids to win the contract. The selection process is public.

In other words, anything the city builds at the Jacksonville Landing site (other than an empty field; see below) will need to go through an RFP. This would require the city to have a real sense of what it wants on the site to draft the RFP - vague assertions and angry tweets won’t cut it. An RFP can be issued before or after demolition, but either way, if the city is ever to build new construction on that site, it can’t keep it out of public view forever.

3: An RFP could allow preservation or new construction

An artist’s vision for selective demolition and adaptive reuse of the Landing

When used properly, the RFP process is a great tool for a city to find the best, most cost effective outcome. Of course, there are ways to misuse an RFP, for example by micromanaging the details or including unrealistic requirements. The RFP for the proposed convention center at the old Courthouse site included a convention building far larger than needed as well as the unnecessary requirement of a new hotel. Thanks to these impractical minimum requirements, the bids that came in underwhelmed. Ultimately, after spending considerable amounts of time and money on the project, city leaders closed the RFP and put the convention center on ice.

The lesson in the convention center is that good RFPs should focus on the outcome the city would like (such as an up-to-date convention center in the heart of downtown) rather than trying to force a particular vision on the site. That approach would work wonders in the Jacksonville Landing debate, where we have a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t about the Landing, and which features we’d like to see. Suggestions for the Landing consistently fall back on a few things: increased public space on the river, and an opening at Laura Street connecting the site through Downtown. It’s also widely understood that a space this size needs some retail component to draw people and activity, to prevent it from becoming another dead zone. That vision could be strengthened further by getting public consensus before plowing ahead.

As we showed with our feature on a local architect’s take on the Landing, with a little creativity and vision, all of those things can be done through preservation and selective demolition of the current Landing. So why limit our options? An open-ended RFP that focuses on what we’d like to see - public green space, an opening at Laura, a right-sized commercial component - but allows for either preservation or demolition would undoubtedly return even more innovative ideas. If the best project preserves part of the Landing, great; if it requires demolishing and replacing the building, also great. At least we’d know we’d done everything we can to get the best return on investment for the taxpayers who own the site.

To reiterate something many Jaxsons have been saying, what could possibly be wrong with letting the public have a say on what to do with their own building?