By Jacob Johnson
Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez-Brosche is calling for the city’s Confederate statues, memorials and monuments to be moved off of public property and into museums or other educational facilities.
On Monday, she said she’s directing the Parks and Recreation Department to inventory all of the monuments before she introduces formal legislation.
The newly elected leader of the Jacksonville City Council told WJCT Monday she understands both sides of the removal debate, but “there’s still an opportunity to make sure that on public property that we are not honoring memorials that do cause as much pain as they do.”
She also told WJCT she’s been in contact with local law enforcement in anticipation of conflict between Confederate supporters and opponents. She made her announcement within two days of a deadly clash between the two sides in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue there.
“It has been divisive, and we’ve seen that in our council meetings so far. I know that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is taking note, and they will be prepared as we move forward,” she said. “At the end of the day, I do want the markers, memorials and monuments to be respectfully preserved and placed where we can understand what they mean to our community.”
Meanwhile, a group calling itself #TakeEmDownJax has just begun a petition drive calling for council members and Mayor Lenny Curry to support a plan to remove the markers from public spaces.
At an event Monday, Curry uniformly condemned Nazism and white supremacy but stopped short of saying whether he would support the monuments’ removal.
“Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II.One of my grandfathers told me stories of, literally, the face-to-face combat he had with Nazis, specifically. I heard those stories as a child,” he said. “So, I condemn and reject the KKK, white supremacy — all of these groups — Nazis, neo-Nazis. It’s not what America is about.”
When pressed on whether he’d support legislation, Curry said he deferred to City Council as the “legislative body.”
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (JZG) has announced that work began last week on the major renovation of its African Forest exhibit.
This will include the remodeling the great apes loop including the gorillas, bonobos, mandrills and lemurs. A new entryway will be added, topped with a 40-foot buttressed tropical tree enveloped in mesh, a new bonobo house and updated natural habitats.
The $9 million, four-acre project incorporates what the zoo describes as ‘wellness-inspired design’.
It will replace the current great apes section that originally opened to the public in 1998.
Funding for the project was boosted by a $2 million gift from Dan and Brenda Davis.
Executive Director, Tony Vecchio, said the acclaim won by JZG’s exhibits such as ‘The Land of The Tiger’ and ‘The Range of The Jaguar’ had raised visitor expectations across the whole zoo. He added that the new African Forest exhibit would continue that legacy.
Demolition begins tomorrow. During construction, there will be partial or full closure of the great apes loop until the project’s completion in 2018.
A number of animals will not be on view during construction, although the lemurs and siamangs will be relocated to other parts of the zoo where they can be visited.
iFly opening a location at TopGold. An indoor skydiving center.
iFly is an indoor wind tunnel that blows hard enough to keep someone midair. There is a 300-pound weight limit, though. And there is a training session before you go.
At the Orlando location, two flights for one person is $69.95. Each flight lasts about 60 seconds.
The company now has 65 locations in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia, including Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.
iFly has 2.5 acres under contract, but only needs 1.1 acre for its project. So Duke Addison and Amanda Kinkade, who brokered the deal for Addison Commercial Real Estate, are looking for a buyer for the other 1.4 acre.
The idea is to keep the entertainment theme going. Addison said they’ve talked to another entertainment venue and a themed restaurant.
Addison said he expects the sale to iFly to close in January and construction to take nine months.
The developers behind The District — an ambitious mega-development with a Zen-like motif planned for Jacksonville’s Southbank — inked a deal this week for a hotel with up to 200 rooms, which would make it the first riverfront hotel built in downtown since 2001.
Impact Properties, a Florida hotel builder and operator that does business with Marriott and Starwood branded hotels, has signed a sale and purchase agreement with The District team and put down a deposit. The hotel — whose brand wasn’t disclosed — is in the design phase.
The hotel “will have a very cool and edgy vibe,” said Michael Munz, a partner in The District. “It’s not a brand that is in Jacksonville at this time.”
Impact Properties will build and operate the hotel.
The District, which is the brainchild of a team that includes former Disney Co. executive Peter Rummell, plans 1,170 residential units, 285,500 square feet of commercial and retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space and a 125-slip marina — in addition to the hotel. It will also feature a riverfront public park.
Those plans would amount to about $400-$450 million in development value.
The partners moved the plans forward on parallel paths as they’ve waded through various regulatory and bureaucratic approvals.
Rummell’s team plans to close on the 28-acre site of JEA’s former Southside generating station by the end of the year, where the sprawling development will take shape. The state Department of Environmental Protection recently signed off on a clean bill of health for the site, a crucial regulatory hurdle that had to be crossed before the development team could close on the property. It’s just a matter of paperwork at this point.
The group will pay a little more than $17 million for the site. Munz said the development team has spent about $2 million so far.
He expects the groundbreaking to happen in the first quarter of 2018.
The development team has a letter-of-intent for a cinema at one of the major parcels on the property and is in negotiations for a letter-of-intent with an office tenant. Munz also said the team is involved in “very detailed discussions” for a grocery store.
The city’s downtown redevelopment agency signed off on The District’s master plan in 2016.
With DEP’s environmental green light in hand, the team can negotiate with City Hall and the Downtown Investment Authority on a development agreement, which could include economic incentives like tax credits.
Rummell has touted The District not just for its large development value but as a community that would do no less than improve mind, body and soul. The development will be built to encourage healthier living — bike paths, fitness centers and a base camp at the site’s core that will hold classes on yoga, health counseling and community gardening.
The development is finding momentum as other major sign of life are sprouting in the downtown core.
Mayor Lenny Curry is planning one of the largest surges in infrastructure spending in downtown in years. One area of focus will be on readying the former county courthouse and City Hall Annex off Bay Street for private development. Those buildings have long been discussed as a site for a new convention center — an option Curry has said is on the table.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan is in talks with downtown-improvement officials to develop The Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, which are across the river from The District. Earlier this year Khan’s firm was selected as the master developer for the sites. Those plans aren’t finalized but will almost certainly include a hotel.
The last hotel to open on downtown’s waterfront was the Adam’s Mark — now the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront — in 2001.
By Becky Grisham
John Crispens hopes to open his Crispy’s restaurant in Springfield in early August. Renovations have been ongoing at the 1735 N. Main St. location, a former department store and then pawn shop. Crispens bought the building in 2014 and has been working on the plans. Building and related permits so far show almost $420,000 in construction work in addition to the $109,000 purchase price. The investment is more than $500,000 so far.
“I’m pretty much ready to go,” he said Wednesday. “It’s coming out amazing,” Crispens said.
In June, Springfield Gallery LLC applied for a zoning exception and waiver for a liquor license. Crispens, who leads the group. In the applications, Springfield Gallery describes Crispy’s as a full-service, family-friendly, 150-plus-seat restaurant.
Crispens says in the zoning documents that Crispy’s “has helped spur the establishment of new business along the Main Street business corridor in Springfield.” Among those are two breweries, which already have received waivers and won’t be serving food.
“Crispy’s will offer a full food menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with alcohol and liquor as only a portion of overall sales providing a social, cultural, and dining environment desperately needed in Springfield,” the documents say. The waiver requests a reduction in the minimum distance from a church from 500 to 233 feet. The exception is for the retail sales and service of all alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption including outside.
Crispens said Thursday the restaurant would open with lunch and dinner and later add breakfast. It will start with a focus on pizza, paninis, sandwiches and salads. He hired Chef John Allen and said about 20 people will staff Crispy’s. It’s been a project long in the making.
In December 2015, Crispens said he wanted to contribute to the level of development along that part of Main Street, which is north of Downtown. He considered himself lucky to have found the almost 6,000-square-foot building, which he bought in 2014.
He said the more than 80-year-old building featured architectural elements including terrazzo marble floors and two original skylights. He also wanted to restore the grand staircase to the second level.
The first floor features dining among large communal tables and 22 other tables and includes a full-service bar with about 25 seats. A second-floor mezzanine can seat 50 and also can be used for private events.
Crispens, a veteran restaurant and bar manager, said the Akra Bros. Department Store opened in the Crispy’s building March 23, 1933. It operated there for 40 years after which the structure was used briefly as a music store and then a pawn shop. Crispens bought it in May 2014 from Gold & Coin Inc.
City property records show the building was constructed in 1945, but Crispens said it was developed for the 1933 store opening, according to a story in The Florida Times-Union.
He has been restoring the front of the building to its original look, with display windows on each side and a covered alcove with a display window in the center and doors on each side.