<h1>The Northbank Core</h1>
The oldest section of the Northbank Riverwalk dates back to the 1950s and 60s when the riverfront was filled in to accommodate acres of surface parking between Pearl and Newnan Streets. At the time, the city’s wharves and maritime industry was viewed as blight. On the other hand, surface parking was considered to be an asset to a then congested and dense downtown environment. During the early 1990s, this section of the riverwalk was upgraded into the path that exists today.
The Northbank riverfront and Coastline Drive shortly after the 1960s completion of the City Hall Annex and Duval County Courthouse. (State Archives of Florida)
The Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts originally opened as the Civic Auditorium in 1962, replacing the decaying industrial docks of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. It was renovated and expanded as a part of Mayor Ed Austin’s River City Renaissance Plan during the 1990’s. The center includes a theatre, concert hall and recital hall and is the home of the FSCJ Artist Series, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra and showcase, Extravaganza.
A major asset to the Northbank riverfront, plans to better integrate the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts with its surroundings have never materialized. Despite the lack of follow-through, the possibility still exists to better utilize the green space surrounding the structure.
Where Hogan Street dead ends into the St. Johns River and Northbank Riverwalk should be one of the most vibrant spots in the Northbank. However, despite being surrounded by the Jacksonville Landing, Times-Union Performing Arts Center and One Enterprise Center, it’s a place that’s typically void of activity. In the past, there was been occassional talk of converting this public space into an interactive park but plans for implementation have failed to materialize.
The Jacksonville Landing is a 126,000-square-foot former Rouse festival marketplace that opened to great fanfare on June 25, 1987. Despite various failed attempts to raze the center, the two-level glass and steel complex remains a popular location for special events and riverfront dining.
Here, the width of the riverwalk is restricted by fenced outdoor seating and dining. This situation could be enhanced inexpensively with a different seating layout, storefront entrance design and fence removal.
The John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge, also known as the Main Street Bridge, may be downtown Jacksonville’s most iconic structure. Completed in July 1941 at the cost of $1.5 million, it was the second lift bridge built across the river. In 1968, an elevated expressway was built to connect the bridge to Interstate 95. 10 years later, a series of approach bridges and one-way ramps were added on the Northbank.
The 966-unit Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront is the city’s largest hotel. In 1998, Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts recieved $23 million from the city in order to build the $126 million hotel. At the time of its 2001 opening, the 18-story structure was billed to serve as downtown’s centerpiece for attracting major conventions.
Four major elements combine to make Adam's Mark Jacksonville a desirable destination for meeting planners. First, the hotel will be the largest in Northeast Florida with more rooms and meeting space-110,000 square feet-than any hotel in the area. Second, the size of the hotel makes Jacksonville an emerging second-tier city now more capable of hosting larger groups than ever before. Third, the hotel's downtown riverfront location makes it central to area attraction and entertainment options, including: Alltel Stadium, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars; restaurants, shopping and entertainment at Jacksonville Landing; the Times-Union Center for Performing Arts, home of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Broadway plays and other performances; and the lavishly restored Florida Theatre offering various entertainment options throughout the year. Finally, the hotel's 21,000 square feet of outdoor event space on six terraces, overlooks spectacular views of the St. John's River and the city skyline, offering one-of-a-kind venues for meetings and special events.
Despite containing 110,000-square-feet of meeting space, the hotel is located one mile east of the Prime Osborn Convention Center. For a number of years, convention center advocates have pushed for relocating the convention center to the former courthouse site, which is adjacent to the Hyatt.
Prior to 1950, the Northbank riverfront was dominated with wharves similar to what one will find on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Seeking to enhance the congested city’s gritty image, Mayor Haydon Burns’ “Jacksonville Story” relocating industry and razed its wharves in favor of filling in the river with surface parking lots.
By 1960, Coastline Drive was completed along the riverfront to serve the new ACL Headquarters and municipal parking lots. A few years later, Coastline Drive and additional surface parking was extended over the river to serve the new Duval County Courthouse. In early 2016, a structurally failing Coastline Drive was finally closed.
The City of Jacksonville is now moving forward with a project to demolish a large section of Coastline Drive, exposing a portion of the river that has not seen sunlight for decades. While the immediate focus has centered around finding a resolution for the failing structure, potential redevelopment opportunities exist and should be further explored and vetted as a result of creating additional waterfront.
Berkman Plaza is a 22-floor residential tower that opened in 2002. At the time of its completion, it was the first residential highrise built in decades. The project also includes 20 riverfront townhomes along the Northbank Riverwalk.
In December 2007, a twin tower under construction went dormant when the adjoining parking garage collapsed, killing a construction worker. Some believe the half completed tower should be demolished. The tower’s owner believes it can still be completed as a highrise apartment complex. However, to make the numbers work, public subsidies will be required.