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Architect: Shipyards plan will revitalize downtown

City council members respond to Shad Khan's ambitious Shipyards proposal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The buzz around the River City for the past 24 hours has been the proposal for the Shipyards that Jaguars owner Shad Khan unveiled Tuesday.

Populous, the Kansas City-based company behind the design, said success with the project has a lot to do with timing.

Architects have designed incredible plans for places that never came to fruition because, for instance, the economy tanked.

But the designers behind Khan's blockbuster proposal said this may be the perfect time for the development of the Shipyards and the project might just have the right people behind it now to turn the vacant lot into a state-of-the-art district for everyone to enjoy.

Ben Stindt put a team together of about 20 of his architects and urban planners after receiving Khan's request around the holidays. In less than two months, that team created a vision that encompasses live, stay, work and play in about 50 acres along the riverfront that is currently the vacant old Shipyards lot.

MORE: Architect's renderings of Shipyards project | Architect's flipbook
VIDEO: Shipyards proposal unveiled

Stindt's company, Populous, has worked with EverBank Field for 20 years and helped design the new stadium upgrades, including the world's largest video boards.

Populous has also done major planning for the Pittsburgh Steelers and London Olympics and is currently working on a project in Sydney, Australia.

Stindt says this project is the best way to revitalize downtown Jacksonville.

"We look at the city as a beautiful backdrop. We love framing this development as a city and a backdrop. It definitely will be successful with the city," Stindt said. "You'll see more restaurants, more entertainment venues popping up in the city because that's really what the Shipyards is doing. It's bridging the sports complexes with the downtown, so you'll see a revitalization of the downtown as well."

The Shipyards proposal includes a new amphitheater, apartments, office space, restaurants, stores, a hotel, park, marina, riverwalk, and a home for the USS Adams Navy ship that would become a permanent floating museum.

"You think of Walt Disney as a genius at this," Stindt said. "We had a way of entertaining people every block. So you want a certain density. Otherwise you don't want to be walking from space to space with a gap."
 
City Council members seem excited about Khan's plan.

"I think of all the people who could develop it, he's our best hope and best choice," Councilman Bill Gulliford said.

"Obviously, it's a great concept," Councilwoman Lori N. Boyer said. "We like the idea of getting downtown moving."

But the big questions on their minds as the project moves forward are how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay it?

Other questions revolve around the use of the city-owned land.

The Downtown Investment Authority, which is run by the city, is the managing entity for development in downtown Jacksonville.

Aundra Wallace, CEO of the DIA, was at the unveiling Tuesday and said he expects to receive the proposal by Monday.

"It clearly, closely aligns with our market study and the visioning for the actual Shipyards site," Wallace said. "There's a lot of momentum; there's a lot of excitement about downtown."

But he said the DIA is required by law to solicit other proposals, evaluate them all, and choose which is best for the property and city. That process usually takes at least a month. Then they will start negotiations.

Right now the Shipyards property, valued at $9.6 million, is undergoing an environmental contamination assessment that will be factored in to any future development. That assessment started months ago.

Wallace said the big question is how much it will cost to clean up any possible contamination as they move forward.

"While we're still in the early stages of trying to get this revitalization underway, I think the pace is just right," Wallace said. "I think the marketing forces and conditions are turning in our favor so we're excited and we're looking forward to doing good things."

The DIA holds monthly meetings, seeking guidance and input from its board of directors, and the public is welcomed to attend those meetings, which are advertised ahead of time.