Jacksonville Shipyards Proposal Would Create 'Innovation District'

Mar 17, 2017

A proposal submitted to the city of Jacksonville would turn downtown’s shipyards and  Metropolitan Park into what developers are calling an “innovation district.”

Spokespeople for companies behind the proposal said their vision includes green park space in front of the river, lots of walkability and what’s called a “jobs factory,” which is a central place for people to develop their ideas into businesses, said Jason Walker of Chattanooga’s EMJ Corporation, which is partnering on the proposal.


“That’s going to be a collaborative coworking, coliving, coshopping building that just exudes entrepreneurial energy, creativity and growth,” he said.

He said that means the property will feature high-speed fiber optic internet access to ensure there’s enough bandwidth to support technology.

EMJ Corporation and Wess Holdings LLC of Texas, the lead developer on the proposal, wants this to be the first of 100 jobs factories across the U.S.

Jacksonville's John Newman of Mission One Global holdings, a company that helps people with financial literacy and job training, is also partnering on the proposal. He said creating new businesses and business leaders is more important than using the land to build tourist attractions.

“The reason why to this day the Jacksonville Landing is in either disrepair or it is in decline is because it was not a sustainability model,” Newman said. “We just put up something, thought it would be nice and thought that would simply get it done. It didn’t.”

He believes in creating a type of model that will make local college graduates want to stay here.

The proposal’s developers said even the construction will be done differently. Instead of one company designing the project and then passing it off to contractors, planning of the project will be a collaborative effort from the start, including input from the public.

“All components need to be vetted through the community,” Walker said.

He said this approach saves money because, “There is about 30 percent waste in every development and construction  process due to the fact that entities do not collaborate,” he said.

The winner of the bid will also have to deal with a portion of the shipyards property that is contaminated. John Albers of Wess Holdings said he wouldn’t disclose the exact plan to address the issue, other than he’s proposed a “dual path” for the city and his company to address it together.

The proposal is going up against two others, including one by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan and another proposal to build Florida’s tallest structure on the site.

The city is evaluating the proposals. City Spokeswoman Tia Ford said she doesn't know how long that will take. 

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