What will happen to old Duval County courthouse?

Riverfront building will be empty by end of May

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In less than a month, a Jacksonville landmark will be empty.

The city is getting ready to move out of the current Duval County Courthouse along the St. Johns River downtown. It was supposed to have happened seven years ago, but delays and cost overruns in the new courthouse kept that from happening.

Even with the extra time, no decision has been made on what to do with the old building.

The current courthouse has been there for more than 50 years. It's hard for some to imagine what it would be like without the building there, being torn down and becoming open space.

That is one idea the city has in mind for what to do with the old courthouse.

"It's so old. It was here when the old jailhouse was over there," said Gregory Mitchem, who frequents downtown. "I would imagine they would knock it down. What do you think?"

Some whose job it is to promote downtown have the same idea.

Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision, believes getting rid of the old is the answer.

"In the short term what we see happening is the existing courthouse is demolished," Lorince said. "A public space area is made available, which is a grassy area that can be used for programming and different events and can be used to support the existing businesses and activities in that area."

For more than 12 years, three different mayoral administrations knew this day was coming, but there has been no word on what will happen to the old building. There has been talk of maybe building a new convention center, selling the property or just leaving it empty.

Things have changed in the area of the courthouse. Bay Street since Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl has become somewhat of an entertainment district, and some wonder what will happen when the courthouse workers and lawyers are gone. Will it change Bay Street even more?

"I don't think it's going to hamper the area," Lorince said. "I do think an outdoor space where we could have outdoor movies, we can do different events, we can do smaller promotions, close off the street, and we can do more street festivals. And it would provide a good relationship with the growing nightlife scene we are seeing there."

There is also concern about the Courthouse Annex, formerly City Hall. When the state attorney's office leaves in two years, it will be empty as well.

Both buildings have structural problems, and the city would have to do work to keep them in service, though some say it would be a shame to get rid of them.

"I think they should renovate and turn it into a homeless center," Harry Wilson said.

It's going to take a while before the final determination on the buildings. City officials said those decisions aren't even on their radar.

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