Jacksonville developer releases plans for Southbank high-rise, gondola lift

28-story building would have 300 residential units, businesses, retail

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There are big plans in the works for Jacksonville's Southbank, including a high-rise apartment building with restaurants, offices and shops that's connected to downtown by a gondola lift.

A local developer released that proposal this week, as reported by News4Jax's news partner The Jacksonville Daily Record.

It's one of many Jacksonville-area projects on the drawing board right now. Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce leaders want to have 10,000 people living in the downtown area in the next several years, and this project would help. But there are obstacles.

Wednesday was another busy day at The Bearded Pig BBQ on Kings Avenue, as the lunch crowd packed the Southbank restaurant. 

"We are happy with the traffic that we get. As you can, see our lunch crowd right now is busy," said Michael Schmidt, the owner of The Bearded Pig. "They're excited to come to this area."

Chase Properties, Inc.

And the area could get even busier if developer Mike Balanky has his way. 

He released plans this week for a new high-rise with apartments, businesses and retail. It would be 28 stories high and have 300 residential units.

VIEW: Developer's full presentation on plans for Jacksonville's urban core

"(There's a) huge need (on the Southbank)," Balanky told News4Jax on Wednesday. "The city's got an initiative going on right now."

The $80 million building would be built in the parking lot next to the Hilton Garden Inn and the Homewood Suites, near the Strand, Peninsula and San Marco Place tower.

There are other projects in the works, including The District and a high-rise next to the Duval County Public Schools building. But what’s getting everyone’s attention is the plan for a gondola lift, nicknamed the Jag-Wire, that would cross the St. Johns River. 

Chase Properties, Inc.

Gondola lift rendering (Courtesy: Chase Properties, Inc.)

The Jag-Wire would be a fast track, connecting people from the tower on the Southbank to a potential convention center that could be built near the old courthouse downtown. 

The last stop would be at the sports complex, where people can go to games, concerts and festivals. 

"New York is working on one. Boston is working on one. Chicago is working on one. Washington is working on one. All of a sudden, this ropeway gondola system has become economically viable," Balanky said. "You can image -- the views a couple (of) hundred feet in the air will be just spectacular."

It's not a sure thing. The land is owned by the Jacksonville Transit Authority, and Balanky is in a lawsuit with JTA about land use. He wants the area to be zoned for residential units, not just business. 

The developer said he's optimistic his dream will become a reality.

"We think it's pretty likely, depending on how much we get from the city," Balanky said. "I'm not talking necessarily about financial support. I am talking about the enthusiasm from them."

The developer said he has the support of city leaders and Jaguars President Mark Lamping. Balanky said he hopes to come to an agreement with JTA by the end of this month, and said if everything goes according to plan, the projects could be built in about two years.

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