Mayor Lenny Curry has the right idea – put off plans for a new convention center.
That perennial question had popped up again, and it is premature.
Jacksonville didn’t have a convention center until the 1970s. Conventions did their business in the hotel where they were staying, generally.
But when the idea got rolling, it sparked a spirited competition between two groups of people with considerable political clout, and local politicians felt the heat.
One group wanted to convert the old railroad station at Lee and Bay into a convention center. It had been unused since the government took over private rail service and a new one was built.
The other group proposed to build a new one downtown on a site formerly used by Sears.
The railroad station group won, even though it isn’t near a hotel. Backers convinced the politicians that it would be easy for people in downtown hotels to zip over on the Skyway Express.
But the size of the convention center limits it to a particular niche – medium-sized conventions. It just isn’t big enough to draw major conventions, like ones in Orlando, Miami and the Tampa Bay area.
So, city boosters want one that is bigger and better (and more costly to the taxpayers).
Curry wrote to Jim Bailey at the Downtown Investment Authority this month, saying, in effect: cool it.
Curry noted that the authority’s feasibility study and responses from a request for proposal both had highlighted a simple fact: not enough people are going to be interested in using a large, new facility unless Jacksonville has more to offer as a destination.
There are a number of new additions on the drawing board such as The District and the redevelopment of the old shipyards site. There is also the problem of the fuss between city officials and the owners of The Landing.
Diverting dollars to a convention center before other projects are completed that would make the city more attractive would by a classic cart before the horse.
Curry realizes the taxpayer lemon can only be squeezed so much.