Lot J Pedestrian Walkshed

This diagram illustrates a 1/4 mile distance from the center point of a fully developed Lot J, following a public investment of $233.3 million in incentives. This 1/4 mile stretch represents the general distance the average person is willing to walk in a pedestrian hostile environment to reach a specific destination. Filling this zone with as much pedestrian friendly activity and density as possible is a strategy used to create vibrant walkable districts across the country.

In other words, a fully built out Lot J will have little impact on walkability and the pedestrian scale urban environment west of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. It will certainly be a benefit to the Sports & Entertainment District in making this node of the urban core more of an everyday destination. However, it’s fool’s gold to believe that it will generate much economic impact or vibrancy a mile west in the historic Downtown core.

Hemming Park Pedestrian Walkshed

On the other hand, a 1/4 mile distance from the center point of Hemming Park is full of projects right in the Downtown core. Within that space there a number of major infill and adaptive reuse projects proposing hotels, apartments, office spaces, and retail, all withing a five-minute walk radius around Downtown’s historic heart. This is exactly the zone that needs to be packed with pedestrian-friendly activity and density to revive the Downtown core. It will have little impact a mile east in the Sports and Entertainment District, just as Lot J will likely have little impact on the Downtown core. In other words, if all highlighted projects become reality, they’ll bring significant positive impact to the Downtown core - something that a project a mile east in the Sports and Entertainment District can’t claim.

Tale of the Tape These are the projects proposed for Lot J and the area around Hemming Park, respectively:

Hotel Rooms

Lot J: 200 rooms Hemming Park: 400 rooms

Multifamily Resident Units

Lot J: 300 apartment units Hemming Park: 340 apartment units

Class A Office Space

Lot J: 120,000 square feet Hemming Park: 670,000 square feet

Retail Space

Lot J: Live! Arena; size unknown. Hemming Park: 55,000 square feet plus three rooftop restaurant/bars, five ground floor restaurants, an underground speakeasy and urban grocery

Public Subsidies

Lot J: $233.3 million Hemming Park: $18.5 million

A quiet weekend scene in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville. Regardless of the size of an individual project, the key to bringing an urban area back to life revolves around successfully clustering of multiple, complementing projects (both big and small) within a compact pedestrian scale setting.

This tale of the tape suggests that while Lot J could become a great anchor destination for events at TIAA Bank Field and in the Sports and Entertainment District, it will have significantly less impact on downtown than the projects already taking place in downtown currently. Thus, if Lot J is considered a “game changer” for downtown, what’s happening around Hemming Park is a substantially greater downtown “game changer”. Because of the importance of clustering, complementing uses within a compact pedestrian scale setting on downtown environments, it also raises a question that Jacksonville’s residents should think long and hard about. How fast could the historic downtown core be brought back to life if more focus and priority on clustering within a five minute walk of Hemming Park, where existing amenities and proposed development is already underway?

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com