Jax Beach plaza redesign draws protests
Jacksonville Beach's City Council got an earful this week from the man who puts on the popular monthly 904 Popup at the Seawalk Pavilion and Latham Plaza.
Mark Braddock's message was simple: He said the community does not want a proposed redesign of Latham Plaza to be done as is because it will severely restrict what he calls "Jacksonville's largest curated pop-up," and any other event held there.
Just a day after Braddock protested the concept's plan, Jacksonville Beach voters knocked down a referendum that would have let a proposed parking garage and retail building be taller than the city's height limit. More than 82% of voters said no to the referendum, which would have allowed the mixed-use structure where a parking lot now stands next to Latham Plaza to exceed the 35-foot height limit the community approved in 2004.
Jacksonville Beach Mayor Chris Hoffman says there was a very concerted campaign against lifting the height restriction to 55 feet.
“The community redevelopment agency is still intending to redevelop that property," she said. "The intention is yes, ground floor retail restaurants, parking structure and hopefully some rooftop activation. So the question wasn’t yes or no on that development. The question was 35 feet or 55 feet.”
Latham Plaza is Jacksonville Beach's retail, government and civic center, running from City Hall east across 2nd and 1st Avenues North to the boardwalk, with the beach and Atlantic Ocean over the sand dunes. It includes the Seawalk Pavilion's stage at the east end, while a central walkway runs from City Hall to the boardwalk. Restaurants and retail stores line its northern edge. A city parking lot would be replaced with the 35-foot-tall mixed-use building is on its southern end.
904 Popup is one of a number events held on the plaza, as well as others like Springing The Blues, Deck The Chairs and the Jax Beach Arts Market.
The 904Popup is held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. one Sunday a month except for February, November and December. The next one is this Sunday, then on June 25. Braddock created it in 2019.
City officials want to renovate Latham Plaza to make it more appealing for everyday use, as well as events, Hoffman said. The 2022 redevelopment proposal states the redesign would "create a sense of place" by adding design features and pedestrian-friendly walkway connections, the proposal said. It also would create seating options for daily use and special events, with room for festivals.
City Manager Mike Staffopoulos held a briefing May 8 to update the City Council about the Latham Plaza concept, which would add a pond with fountains, shaded seating and redesigned walkways and could be bid out for construction this summer, according to city documents.
One week later, Braddock told the City Council that he fears the new design would hurt local small businesses and severely affect the 904 Popup. He complained that the public has been shut out of the process so far, and he started a Change.org petition opposing what is now proposed, with 1,196 signatures as of Wednesday.
"Such a significant change to the layout of our beloved Latham Plaza and Seawalk Pavillion should not be made without input from the community," Bradock said. "If these proposed changes are made, it would result in a 50% reduction in our 904 Popup footprint. Not only will this reduction have a profound impact on thousands of small businesses that depend on the revenue generated from the 904 Popup, a community we have built over the past five years will suffer from the limited greenspace for our event."
Braddock also said that the concept has had no public input since it was first discussed by city officials in 2016, nor has the city reached out to anyone who holds events in the plaza, he said. And the work required to change the current design to the new one would see the plaza shut down for over a year, he said.
"The vendors heavily rely on the 10 events per year organized by the 904 Popup and numerous other events," he said. "I am asking that the drawing board be revisited and the input of Jacksonville Beach be sought."
Hoffman says the design is still a concept, with two community workshops now planned for June 15 and 27 to discuss the redevelopment plans with downtown businesses and promoters who use the plaza.
"The idea is to activate the park yearround, every day, not just when we have special events," Hoffman said. "But we certainly want to make sure that we have some harmony there. We do have some very great special events in our downtown, so we want to make it a more useful park on those non-event days, but also practical for those putting on special events."
Hoffman said she has spoken with Braddock and other promoters and invited them to come to the workshops, hoping that they help modify it as she acknowledges that the plaza will be redeveloped because the community has asked for changes.
"This is a huge greenspace right in the middle of downtown that is more often than not empty," she said. "There is a real opportunity to make that something that integrates more seamlessly with the surrounding businesses, not just on event days."
As for the garage structure, Hoffman says it will expand parking for Latham Plaza events as well as businesses. It’s not known when construction will start.