New convention center on back burner for Jacksonville planners

Downtown Investment Authority committee wants other development first

By Scott Johnson - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After discussion of competing proposals to build a new convention center along Jacksonville's downtown riverfront, a subcommittee of the Downtown Investment Authority on Thursday decided to put the project on the back burner.

During a discussion on building a new convention center, the DIA committee essentially put the project on hold because the city wants a downtown that conventions want to come to before investing in a new convention space.

This came a day after Mayor Lenny Curry's plan to move the city's main jail away from the Bay Street corridor was discussed and the same day the U.S. Department of Transportation approved $25 million in grants to fund improvements from Bay Street to the Sports Complex, including tearing down the Hart Bridge ramp between the TIAA Bank Field and other city facilities and the riverfront.

"A whole set of dominoes is being set up. Occasionally, the order of the dominoes will change, but at the end of the day, the goal of all of this is a vibrant downtown," said Brian Hughes, Curry's chief of staff.

Over the past year, the city received proposals for new convention centers both on the site of the old, vacant county courthouse and high-rise City Hall are being torn down and the Shipyards property along the river across from Maxwell House Coffee. 

The DIA has already approved a plan to turn the skeleton of a building originally planned as a second Berkman condominium tower across from the current jail into a hotel with an adjoining family amusement area, including a Ferris wheel.

Dimitri Demopoulos runs a condo association on Bay Street and is happy to see these eyesores either demolished or turned into something useful.

"I’ve owned now for almost 10 years, and I’ve been hoping for something like this to happen (for) a long time," Demopoulos said. "But as you get closer to stuff actually happening and you’re right in the middle of it, you’re more concerned about what will go there and how it will impact your neighborhood."

The plans reviewed by the committee Thursday still have go before the full Downtown Investment Authority. The land where the old courthouse and city hall will remain city property until a buyer is found or there is a decision about a future convention center.

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