Master Planning: Why a city needs one to protect Florida’s scenic waterfronts

…”Jacksonville has long approached downtown development in a secretive and piecemeal fashion, and over the last few weeks this has resulted in several different groups offering up competing plans for parts of the city center.

It’s time for Jacksonville to create something many cities with successfully revived Downtowns have done: create a comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted Downtown master plan.

What would a Downtown master plan do?


The City of St. Petersburg, through the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan, envisions a continued legacy of preserved and enhanced open space that is inclusive and offers opportunities for all.

Essentially, a Downtown master plan is simply a long-term guide for future planning and development. Very many cities have master plans for their downtowns, from Atlanta, Georgia to Erie, Pennsylvania and everywhere in between. One of Jacksonville’s peer cities, Oklahoma City, has seen a tremendous impact from its elaborate plans, both inside and outside Downtown.

Common elements of master plans include:

– Defining public, semiprivate, and private amenities Downtown
– Laying out the concrete, longterm vision for key public sites and amenities
– Determining areas to cluster complementing uses in a compact setting
– Identifying primary streets (high traffic commercial corridors) versus secondary or service streets
– Identifying locations and timelines for public amenities that may spark private development
– Creating an implementation schedule for moving development phases forward.
– Community outreach and engagement to ensure the stated vision matches the vision of citizens.

A master plan should not dictate what takes place on private property; instead it should focus on public amenities and making sure land use policies and zoning are set up so that private owners can achieve their property’s fullest potential. In general, a Downtown master plan allows a city to guide development over time, instead of just putting a library here and a museum there like a SimCity player who just got the game and hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Why don’t we have one?


A rendering from the Downtown Savannah 2033 Master Plan

According to the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), we do. They have referred to the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Plan released in 2015 as the city’s “Downtown master plan”. As DIA CEO Lori Boyer told the Jacksonville Daily Record in February 2021, “In recent months we have repeatedly heard from members of the public and in the media that there is no master plan for Downtown and we are simply looking at projects piecemeal… In fact there is.”

The Jaxson argues that the 2015 CRA Plan is not a true master plan. Or at least if is, it’s a bad one. The CRA Plan is a decent start with a lot of positive features, but just doesn’t have many elements that absolutely should be in any true, effective, comprehensive master plan. For example, a master plan should show the community’s intention and vision for publicly owned properties. If Downtown Jacksonville is going to have a new convention center, the master plan should specify the site, how it will be funded and the timeline for its construction. If Amtrak and passenger rail is going to return to the Prime Osborn, the master plan should estimate when it will happen and how much it will cost so that those developing nearby blocks can coordinate their efforts. The CRA plan doesn’t do this.

The DIA has contracted consulting firm GAI (no relation) to draft a broader plan for Downtown to be released later this year, which is apparently an update to the 2015 CRA Plan. It’s not clear what it will include, but some signs are encouraging; for instance it will encourage more sidewalk dining and restaurants. Other signs are… less encouraging. For example, one significant element of the plan is rebranding effort for Downtown neighborhoods. The city got an early taste of how that’s going recently when DIA released their survey proposing, among other things, to rename Downtown’s Northbank and Southbank with goofy marketing-speak names, “NoCo” and “SoBa.” Jaxsons on social media gave that one a fat No-Go.

But whatever this plan includes, if it doesn’t include, for instance, the longterm vision for key catalytic public sites, including along LaVilla’s long overlooked historic Broad Street corridor, we are in fact looking at projects piecemeal. That means Downtown will remain in the dark when it comes to leveraging the private sector, gaining public support and encouraging certain types of uses in key locations. In other words, it’s still not a true master plan.

Jacksonville’s past experience with plans


A sketch of the 1971 Downtown Master Plan

Jacksonville is no stranger to plans of various kinds. The city adopted a Downtown master plan in 1971, though it didn’t follow up on most of the recommendations, and the piecemeal approach it took just made the situation worse. In 1987, this was followed by the Downtown initial action plan. In the plan, KBJ Architects noted that “All too often plans for downtown are just that. They ignore the political, financial or market realities of downtown and end up on the shelf ignored.” You know where this is going: that plan also ended up on the shelf, largely ignored. In 2000, Mayor John Delaney sponsored Celebrating the River: A Plan for Downtown Jacksonville, with updates to the previous unrealized plans. His successor Mayor John Peyton embraced this plan, but then, nothing. It wasn’t followed and ended up on the shelf.

Other plans include the Mobility Plan and a forthcoming bike master plan, and numerous studies commissioned by various public and private entities. It’s totally reasonable for Jaxsons to be skeptical of another plan or study. But other cities’ experiences prove that a good master plan, when well designed and followed up upon really can have positive effects. It’s a matter of devising a good plan and then seeing it through over the years.

And anyway, the track record for not having or following a plan isn’t any better.

No plan means a whole lot of contradictory plans


Developer Steve Atkins’ $1.1 billion Riverfront Jacksonville Master Plan proposed for Jacksonville’s Northbank Riverfront

One result of the lack of a master plan for Downtown Jacksonville is that, as interest in redevelopment heats up, various groups have launched their own. In the last few months alone, Steve Atkins’ SouthEast Development Group, Shad Khan and the Jaguars, advocacy group Riverfront Parks Now, the Jacksonville chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund have all announced, completed or happen to be in the stage of working on various visions for parts of Downtown. And in addition to the DIA’s work on the updated CRA plan, the agency is also wrapping up a design competition for the future of Lenny’s Lawn – sorry, Riverfront Park – to replace the old Jacksonville Landing.

The problem with this is obvious. We now have an array of competing plans and visions that don’t jive with each other and are unlikely to match whatever DIA is working on. The DIA may not feel it’s looking at projects piecemeal, but everyone else certainly is. And that’s not their fault; they’re working without a publicly accessible master plan. This is the peril of not working with what you already have. Redevelopment becomes a lot easier, less time consuming and far more affordable when looking at the entire downtown area holistically, understanding what we can and can’t do with certain spaces and then coordinating adaptive reuse and infill projects within those parameters and guidelines. These are certain elements of a master planning process that the existing CRA plan largely lacked.

As we’ve argued before, the lack of a comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted master plan continues to hold Downtown Jacksonville back. The city government has acquired a reputation for making big decisions behind closed doors and keeping the public out of the decision making. When decisions are made in bubbles like that, they don’t get vetted or exposed to other potential solutions and better ideas. And the citizens footing the bill don’t get a chance to say what they really want to see in their Downtown.

Where we go from here


A vision for Brevard Street in the draft version of Charlotte’s 2040 Center City Vision Plan

The DIA should take the opportunity provided by the CRA plan update to really get things right. They should make sure the plan includes elements from Downtown master plans in other cities that have successfully revitalized. In doing this, it’s absolutely crucial that they bring the public in before, not after, the plan is developed. It can’t be just a panel of preselected “stakeholders” or an online survey. Think about it this way: if there had been public input on the Downtown branding project, terrible names like “NoCo” and “SoBa” would have been shot down before being released in the wild only to be torn apart.

Let’s do the right thing here: let’s give Downtown Jacksonville the comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted master plan we’ve always needed but never had – and stick to it.

Bill Delaney and Ennis Davis, AICP, Editorial in The Jaxson Mag
Read entire article here

“$1.1 billion riverfront master plan proposed for downtown Jacksonville”

“$1.1 billion riverfront master plan proposed for downtown Jacksonville”

Photo: Gallery in Jacksonville Daily Record
“Jacksonville developer Steve Atkins says he wants to lead a nearly $1.1 billion redevelopment of mostly city-owned property, including the former Jacksonville Landing, on a stretch of the Downtown Northbank riverfront.

At an invitation-only event June 1 at the Florida Theatre, Atkins presented his ‘Riverfront Jacksonville’ redevelopment plan for about 25 acres along the St. Johns River.

Atkins, who is SouthEast Development Group LLC managing director, says he will try to persuade the city and Downtown Investment Authority to pay for $536 million in a public-private partnership to build 1.8 million square feet of space from the former Jacksonville Landing to the former Duval County Courthouse and old City Hall site, rebranded in 2020 by DIA as The Ford on Bay.

City buy-in

As of May 28, DIA staff and Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration have seen all of SouthEast’s master plan work, according to Atkins.

It is unclear if city officials are willing to accept Atkins’ request for about $500 million in tax money.

Atkins said Goldman Sachs and Piper Sandler together committed to financing the estimated $1.1 billion upfront if the city agrees to an incentives package to repay its share over time…

With all but 2.5 acres targeted as publicly owned, Atkins also would have to convince city officials to change or integrate taxpayer-backed development plans active on the riverfront…

The city also awarded nearly $375,000 in stipends to three national firms in March for a competition to design a 4.5-acre public park at the former Landing site with a selection expected in October.

The DIA and city have renamed the site Riverfront Plaza. DIA CEO Lori Boyer said a plan to put the remaining land on the market for private development after park construction is underway.

Atkins said SouthEast’s team recognizes the park competition but did not commit to keeping the design selected by the DIA should the city agree to work with him.

‘I’m hoping that some of the best (park) ideas are things that we might be able to collaborate with folks on in this plan,’ Atkins said…

Next steps

A spokesperson for Atkins said SouthEast said in a May 30 email the company plans to formally approach the DIA in July with a development proposal.”

— Mike Mendenhall, Jacksonville Daily Record
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For a gallery of renderings of Riverfront Jacksonville, click here

Legal: “Palm Beach County moves to expand ban on floating structures anchoring in county waters”

Legal: “Palm Beach County moves to expand ban on floating structures anchoring in county waters”

Photo: Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post

“…Palm Beach County is one step closer to expanding a local law that bans floating structures from anchoring in county waters, with some exceptions.

If passed, an update to the Cindy DeFilippo Floating Structure Ordinance will apply to floating structures anchoring or mooring in all waters within the county, including those under the jurisdiction of a city or town.

County commissioners will take a final vote on June 15.

A floating structure isn’t a boat or other watercraft, which the state defines as a ‘vessel’ and requires registration.

Rather, it is a ‘floating entity … not primarily used as a means of transportation on water but which serves purposes typically associated with a structure or other improvement to real property,’ according to the state. These can include functions such as a residence, restaurant or clubhouse. ”

— Hannah Morse, Palm Beach Post

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Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Photo: Sierra Club
“…Pinellas County Government and City of Dunedin officials have announced new developments in the effort to acquire land in North County for environmental preservation and passive recreation.

‘We’re very pleased with the public and private funding commitments we’ve been able to garner thus far for the property, and look forward to working with the estate to preserve the property for future generations,’ said Pinellas County Administrator Barry A. Burton.

‘Our community believes acquisition of this property is an intergenerational imperative,’ said Dunedin City Manager Jennifer K. Bramley. ‘The City of Dunedin looks forward to working with our partners, both public and private, to place a strong offer before the estate.’

County and City officials also announced they will submit a joint application next week to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a Florida Communities Trust state grant. They hope that the grant, coupled with an ongoing community fundraising effort, would contribute toward the final acquisition and environmental restoration costs for the Douglas-Hackworth property…”

— Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Patch.com
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“NFL Kicks Off Super Bowl LV Community Greening Program”

“NFL Kicks Off Super Bowl LV Community Greening Program”

Photo: in Patch – Super Bowl volunteers create sand dunes at Picnic Island Park
“Each year, a symbolic Super Bowl ‘Golden Shovel’ is passed from one Super Bowl host community to the next. The National Football League, Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Tampa Bay Parks and Recreation, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL partner Verizon and Force Blue special operations veterans joined forces for this iconic moment, which is the kickoff for numerous Super Bowl LV community greening projects.

Back-to-back Super Bowls in Florida allow for a unique passing of the ‘Golden Shovel’ from Miami to Tampa Bay. The final Super Bowl LIV community greening project in Miami included a sand dune restoration at Crandon Park and the handing over of the ‘Golden Shovel’ to a Force Blue diver who transported it to from Miami to Tampa – emerging from the water with shovel in hand for a unique Florida ‘Golden Shovel’ presentation to the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee.

In advance of the ‘Golden Shovel’ presentation, Tampa Parks and Recreation built sand dunes at Picnic Island to help prevent erosion and protect against storm damage. Volunteers and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful planted those sand dunes with 900 plants including sea oats, dune sunflowers, railroad vine, muhly grass and cordgrass to help prevent erosion. Volunteers worked in small groups and followed safety protocols as a precaution against COVID19…

Other planned community greening projects include a large mangrove restoration project at Picnic Island, a beautification project to create a pollinator garden at Veterans Memorial Park, a large tree planting at the Boys & Girls Club in Wimauma, creation of a vegetable garden and community compost project at the Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful Environmental Education Center at Reed Park, native plantings and cleanups at Lowry Park and at McKay Bay Nature Park, and one of the most innovative Super Bowl environmental projects, the continued restoration of a Florida coral reef.”

— Dana Gordon, Patch
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“US outlines $4.6B plan to protect Miami from climate impacts”

“US outlines $4.6B plan to protect Miami from climate impacts”

Photo: Miami Herald

“The federal government is proposing a $4.6 billion plan to protect the low-lying Miami area from the effects of climate change, including the construction of miles of sea walls. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a draft plan … calling for walls to protect the area from sea level rise that could reach about 13 feet (4 meters) in height.

The Miami Herald reported Saturday that the plan is designed to protect tens of thousands of homes and businesses from flooding. The plan also calls for movable barriers at the mouths of three waterways, elevating and flood-proofing thousands of buildings throughout the county and restoring mangroves in vulnerable areas.

The plan does not contain previous proposals to buy out hundreds of homes and convert them into parks or open spaces…

— Associated Press, Citrus County Chronicle

Read article about this project in Miami Herald with details