Competent decision making should be a priority

Being competent means having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully. The purpose of the Historic Preservation Commission review is so that designated experts can make an informed recommendation to City Council. City Council members, particularly freshmen, are rarely experts in this field. Where is the harm in having a full report and recommendation from the Historic Preservation Commission prior to Council making a decision on whether a building should be allowed to be torn down?

When we rush to make decisions without the full set of facts or following the process outlined in our on Code of Ordinances, it comes across to the general public that the decision making body does not even want to know the facts before making a binding decision. In fact, it could be making a disastrous decision, setting back an area of downtown making a turnaround.

Downtown Jacksonville has already lost too much. If the past is an indicator of the future, then there is a very strong possibility that allowing a demolition without the necessary knowledge to back up that decision could leave another empty lot, a hole of pedestrian hostility, and a loss of heritage only one block from Hemming Park. As such, competent decision making regarding what happens with structures in the central business district is important now more than ever.

There is no need to rush this decision. First Baptist Church does not have the money lined up for its project and may not be able to afford it. The project is also nowhere close to being ready to go before the Downtown Development Review Board for conceptual design approval.

To let the Historic Preservation Commission do its job, as described in Jacksonville’s Code of Ordinances, would simply provide City Council with factual information for competent decision making. In terms of responsibility to constituents, competent evaluation and analysis in the decision making process is the best thing a sitting Council member can do for the community as a whole.

The Bostwick Building is an example of a historic structure where the former owner was denied approval to demolish. The building is now a popular downtown dining destination. (Google Streetview)

Cowford Chophouse occupies the restored Bostwick Building after the previous owner was denied approval to demolish the structure. (American Institute of Architects)

Demolition should be viewed as a last option

As of now, the First Baptist Church has not demonstrated that adaptive reuse of the Sunday school building is not a viable option for a religious welcome center. Because this option has not been fully vetted with professional resources, it is unknown what type of restoration tax credits, grants, and incentives may be available for the project, making it cheaper than the current redevelopment proposal on the table.

This letter provided to The Jaxson and Council members by a local architect would suggest, before approving a demolition, a transparent effort to explore the validity of adaptive reuse should first be attempted.

As the current president of the Jacksonville chapter of the American Institute of Architects, I am writing you to confirm the historical significance of the First Baptist Sunday School Building. Around the turn of the century architects throughout the country were developing their own unique styles for high rise buildings. There was a dialogue of sorts between architects as to what kinds of ornamentation to place at the top of the windows, how the decorations at the roof relate to the street level, and so on.

At the Sunday School Building, architect R.R. Hunt used Italian Renaissance Revival elements to create a more vertical lift to the building and used some original details like the rounded entry piece that relate more to the Art Deco style. The terra cotta tile details at the top are still in impeccable condition and this building is a mini history lesson for anyone interested in early twentieth century architecture.

While I admit it is not on par with the Tribune Tower in Chicago or the Chrysler Building in New York or even the St. James Building next door, it is still a wonderful work of architecture and would be a travesty to demolish. I have spoken with over 100 of our chapter members and they all agree this building is worth saving. The only architect in Jacksonville who would disagree happens to be a member of the First Baptist Church.

I believe there are alternative ways the First Baptist Church can create a drop off area for members that has prefunction space and connects with the Hobson Auditorium. There are many examples of new spaces created in between two existing historic buildings, such as the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. A similar strategy could be employed to create a unique meeting space in between the Hobson Auditorium and Sunday School building. The church could also potentially work with the city to eliminate the parking along church street in order to add green space for gathering outside the church.

I have taken a couple hours to show one such idea the creates a canopy similar to the one here in Jacksonville at the UNF student center. I have even reached out to the First Baptist to offer the services of the AIA to assist in coming up with alternate solutions, but they are not interested.

Please do not let Jacksonville lose yet another historic building. We hear all the time that Jacksonville does not have a unique identity of its own and yet we erase our history one building at a time, and then look to other cities like Savannah and Charleston with booming tourist industries and wonder why Jacksonville can’t do the same. We can’t change the past and bring back all the buildings that have been destroyed over the years, but we can draw the line right here and right now.

Great architecture often comes from overcoming difficult site constraints as great architects get creative to arrive at the best solution. Demolishing a historic building because you don’t want to deal with difficult site constraints is a weak and lazy answer and Jacksonville deserves better.

Thank you for your service to this community and I appreciate your time.


Brandon Pourch, AIA Jacksonville

I’d encourage any of our readers interested in this demolition request to reach out to City Council members before Tuesday, June 23, and ask them to send the request back to the Historic Preservation Commission for a full report and professional recommendation prior to Council making a decision. Contacts for the Jacksonville City Council are below.

District Council Members

District 1: Joyce Morgan Phone: (904) 255-5201 Email:

District 2: Al Ferraro Phone: (904) 255-5202 Email:

District 3: Aaron L. Bowman Phone: (904) 255-5203 Email:

District 4: Scott Wilson Phone: (904) 255-5204 Email:

District 5: LeAnna Cumber Phone: (904) 255-5205 Email:

District 6: Michael Boylan Phone: (904) 255-5206 Email:

District 7: Reggie Gaffney Phone: (904) 255-5207 Email:

District 8: Ju’Coby Pittman Phone: (904) 255-5208 Email:

District 9: Garrett L. Dennis Phone: (904) 255-5209 Email:

District 10: Brenda Priestly Jackson Phone: (904) 255-5210 Email:

District 11: Danny Becton Phone: (904) 255-5211 Email:

District 12: Randy White Phone: (904) 255-5212 Email:

District 13: Rory Diamond Phone: (904) 255-5213 Email:

District 14: Randy DeFoor Phone: (904) 255-5214 Email:

At-Large Council Members

Group 1: Terrance Freeman Phone: (904) 255-5215 Email:

Group 2: Ronald B. Salem Phone: (904) 255-5216 Email:

Group 3: Tommy Hazouri Phone: (904) 255-5217 Email:

Group 4: Matt Carlucci Phone: (904) 255-5218 Email:

Group 5: Samuel Newby Phone: (904) 255-5219 Email:

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at