Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan presented his proposal for the vacant Jacksonville Shipyards on Tuesday during the team's "State of the Franchise" press conference. It included a jaw dropping vision of what downtown Jacksonville near the stadium could be like, which in turn should give the injection downtown Jacksonville has desperately needed for decades.
One thing that is noticeable in the Shipyards presentation was the lack of Jaguars branding all over the place. Yes, there was a Jaguars head on the "public use fields" and indoor practice facility, but that was essentially a back end add on to the project as a whole and that was by design.
"Absolutely because it is the shipyard," Khan said on Tuesday when asked if the lack of Jaguars branding was intentional. "It was here way before my time and hopefully it will be here way after my time, so there is no egotism here. I think it's building Jacksonville at its finest. And if Jacksonville does well, Jaguars will do well."
This seems to be a point lost on many, as most Jaguars fans focus is on the potential indoor practice facility, but the Shipyards project is a much bigger vision than just somewhere to practice when it rains. So much so that even that facility won't even really be used by the Jaguars all that much, outside of the indoor part during inclement weather.
The Practice Facility
For the Jaguars fan perspective, the most topical thing in the presentation was a seemingly three-tiered practice facility, which included one that is indoors. An indoor practice facility is something that Jaguars coaches and players I'm sure have wished is something they've had for a while, because the team often loses practice sessions in training camp and in the fall due to thunderstorms. In Florida, you can literally have thunderstorm suddenly appear and in the late summer/early fall, it's nearly every day that it happens.
As mentioned though, the practice fields in the Shipyards project isn't just for the Jaguars.
"I don't think that's something that has been a major deterrent in any way. The vision for what we have at the Shipyards is not only a place where the team can practice occasionally and get out of the elements, but it will be open to the public," Jaguars president Mark Lamping said on Tuesday. "A place where you not only have sporting events there and activities, but you could have community events there. We really want it to be something that draws people to the Shipyards and provides activities for hopefully 52 weeks of the year."
Photo courtesy of Populous
Khan promised earlier in the offseason the potential Jaguars indoor facility would be like nothing we've ever seen before, and judging from the renderings, that much is true. It appears there is a field on the roof of the facility, as well as a field indoors and one directly adjacent to the building itself.
"It's so beautifully done that it doesn't scream. Those two levels that you saw, that's the enclosed practice facility, the green space. It's open on both ends so you can have air go through it and it's covered," Khan said about the proposed facility. "It doesn't look like what you'd look at a covered practice facility which is like a steel covered building or garage. It respects the views of the river, it respects the green, it's open on the side with a lot of glass and it's not a typical facility."
The Bigger Picture
If you've been to Jacksonville in the past 50 years, you've probably driven down Bay Street and seen vacant lots on the riverside of the street and wondered what exactly they were. I've wondered that my entire life, which for the most part has been spent in Jacksonville, and have heard ideas upon ideas about what to use it for. It's prime real estate, as it's on a major river in the heart of the city, but you can see unfinished condos on the banks currently as well as many started and failed projects, the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" as Khan referred to.
The reason for that is, there's really no good reason to live in downtown Jacksonville. It sucks. I say that as someone who's downtown often, in San Marco often and in Riverside often. Those latter two areas of town are awesome. They're also pretty much separated by the river and right next to the region where the Shipyards would be. Looking at the proposed plan for the Shipyards, they would completely change that.
There was no reason to go to J. Turner Butler and Gate Parkway 10 years ago, outside of your drive to work are cutting your way to the beaches. Then the St. John's Town Center was built and it's a booming commerce center with stores, restaurants, bars and residential areas continuously cropping up in the direct area. It's also not finished and about to begin another phase. They gave people a reason to flock to that region, and by all accounts it appears to be a raging success.
The same thing can and should happen downtown. There is always a project to "revitalize downtown Jacksonville" but it always sputters and fails. There are some nice pockets in downtown with a lot of potential to be awesome (Laura St. trio, Hemming Plaza, parts of Springfield etc.), but there hasn't been a true effort to get people back to downtown. Something like the Shipyards is a step in this direction. There's not just residential in the proposal, but there are things to do. There will be a reason to not only live downtown, but to frequently go downtown. There will be things to do after sporting events, in walking distance. There will be places to shop and things to do for people in Arlington in the JU region. It opens downtown up for more business to want to relocate and be near what's going on.
Khan hit the nail on the head as to why past attempts have failed.
"Because a piece at a time really doesn't work in this case," Khan said when asked why he decided to take on everything instead of piecing it out. "You've got to have a big vision which ties in all of the things that are missing. I refer to it as a ‘boulevard of broken dreams' and that's what the history has been here. When you come in you look at an abandoned building. It could be downtown Beirut, across from a prison with a lot of other things going on that don't present the city in its best light so if you go piece meal you're not going to accomplish it. I think this is an economic revival, I think this is a visual revival, it's also really revival for the Jaguars."
I'm not saying this will work, but I think it's one of the best plans we've seen for making downtown Jacksonville what it can be. I don't know the cost. I don't know how much Khan is planning on spending privately, I don't know how my tax dollars will be used for it. To be perfectly honest, I don't care. It's something that's needed to improve the overall viability and profitability of the city as a whole and that's something I'm comfortable with my tax dollars going towards, because in the long run it has a cascade effect on everything else. It connects the spots complex, it connects The Landing, it makes Bay Street the "thing" to do downtown, which in turn should allow people to continue to discover what is downtown.
Ultimately the Shipyards project is a big help to the Jaguars, as far as sustainability is concerned, but in the bigger picture it's a big help to the betterment of Jacksonville as a city. It's effect on the Jaguars is a secondary bonus. Khan has long since opined about the potential of Jacksonville to be a major city, since his days of doing business on Blount Island and it's a bit refreshing to see someone come with that kind of vision.
The practice field is also pretty rad.