Councilman Plans To Turn ‘Destitute’ Mayport Land Into ‘Incredible Destination'

Jun 5, 2018

The City of Jacksonville could soon acquire 6.72 acres of Mayport waterfront property with the goal of attracting private developers to transform the area into a mixed-use development.

The Village of Mayport land, which has been under JAXPORT'S control for about a decade, sits between Singleton’s Seafood Shack and Safe Harbor Seafood on Ocean Street.

Under the proposal, the city would buy it from JAXPORT for $1.

Tuesday afternoon, Manuel Rosario had two fishing lines cast into the water in a spot he frequents between Singleton’s and the St. Johns River Ferry.

“I catch croaker, angel fish, red fish,” he said

Rosario said he’s been fishing in the area for 15 years, and would like to see something done with the vacant land — maybe more eateries.

“They don’t want to do nothing about it. It’s a good fishing spot, though, for me,” Rosario said.

On the other side of the JAXPORT-owned parcel, Steve Schaffer was making his way into Safe Harbor Seafood. He works for a ship-building company and is often traveling back and forth on the ferry.

“[Development] might bring in more people, more boaters down this way, pulling in, if it had slips and stuff like that, so I’m not opposed to that,” he said.  

JAXPORT had acquired the property for a cruise ship terminal but wasn’t allowed to use it that way because of restrictions related to the proximity of Mayport Naval Air Station, the legislation states.

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford leads a public meeting Tuesday afternoon to talk about what could be done with the Mayport property.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Bill Gulliford, held a public meeting later Tuesday to talk about what could be done with the property and hear ideas. He called the area in its current state “destitute,” but said it has the potential to become an “incredible destination.”

Gulliford imagines the area with permanent fishing and shrimping boats, charter vessels, and a seafood processing center, saying there aren’t any in the area.

“A potential seafood processing center would attract boats from all up and down the east coast. Your mind can just go crazy over it,” Gulliford said. “It could be a fantastic thing.”

But he said the area should be more than just industry. He envisions commercial retail and more restaurants. He even asked the crowd how they’d feel about a boutique hotel.

Some in attendance asked if a grocery store would make sense, saying those going out on fishing voyages have to stock up before departing.

Gulliford said, "most importantly," he hopes the area becomes the new home for a marine-research vessel called Ocearch, which could be docked there. It’s known for tagging and tracking sharks.

Ocearch currently partners with the Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute and keeps the ship there when it's in Jacksonville, said Director Quinton White.

“If we could base the ship at Mayport, that means we could go out on almost a daily basis and look for sharks, tag sharks, take students out, take people out. It opens up a whole  world of possibilities when you’re that much closer to the coast,” he said.

White added it would also be a teaching tool to educate the public about shark protection and keeping a viable ocean.

Gulliford said he could also foresee JU's partnering with the proposed seafood processing plant,  saying researchers in Egypt are making reusable grocery bags out of shrimp shells.

The legislation is headed for a full Council vote next week after winning approval from two committees.

As part of the deal, the city would split 50/50 with JAXPORT any net revenue from the development for the next 20 years.

The city has $900,000 set aside for building docks and more than $300,000 in state money for the project. Gulliford said he’s also hoping to lure in developers with a federal tax credit called the New Market Tax Credit Program, which encourages private investment in low-income communities through an income tax credit. 

Gulliford said if the bill passes, the first step will be to start building docks.

Like all bills, the legislation would be subject to approval by Mayor Lenny Curry.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.