Downtown Jax getting a facelift

Laura Street. trio to get makeover

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Look for some changes  in the heart of the city.

Four historic buildings not far from Hemming Park may soon get a facelift. The Downtown Development Authority gives its stamp of approval for almost $10 million dollars in incentives from Jacksonville for developers to make some changes at four historic buildings.

The targets are the historic Barnett Bank building built in 1926, and what is called the Laura Street trio: the Bisbee building, the Florida Life building and the Marble Bank. All built in the 1900s. In 2017, these once majestic buildings are a sign of urban blight. The trio dilapidated, vacant and an eyesore.

“It’s hard to underestimate the impact of filling those three buildings and also the Barnett across the street. I mean, no one that I talk to in downtown wants those buildings empty,” said Jacob Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision.

There’s an irony about these buildings. They sprung up after the great fire of 1901. They were designed to bring people back to downtown Jacksonville. And now a century and a quarter later, renovations on the drawing board area designed to do the same thing.

“What downtown needs is more people, you know. More people working here, more people living here, and filling up the trio with a lot of businesses and residences and restaurants is exactly what we need,” said Gordon.

The trio would be redeveloped to house a hotel with retail space, a gym, restaurant and rooftop bar. The price tag is $44 million dollars. The city would give developers almost $10 million in incentives. The developers wouldn’t get the money until the project was finished.

“I think the downtown investment authority working with the mayor’s office and city Council has structured it very well. All the risk is on the developer but at the same time the city as an investor because then the city has the rights to kind of make sure the project meet their expectations,” Gordon added.

Jennifer Morrissey has a hot dog stand in the shadow of these buildings. She has worked in the area for the past 7 years. She and other business owners are nothing short of ecstatic that renovation is on the horizon because it means more people and subsequently more business.

“It’s going to be great! The construction workers. The demolition, first they will do, and then they will be remodeling for almost two years. I've been waiting for this for almost 7 years. I've been down here and it's going to be tons of business for me,” Said Morrissey.

A sign on the old Marble Bank building is somewhat prophetic. From the book of Proverbs. It reads: “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.”  No plans to remove them, just rejuvenate.

The project still needs City Council’s approval so no definitive date is set for work to begin, but plans are on the drawing board.

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