Jacksonville’s waterways, its bridges and the steel structures anchoring the scoreboards at EverBank Field inspired the design of the amphitheater and indoor field the Jaguars and the city are financing, according to the architect working on the project.
The design is based on forging a “strong connection between the stadium and the waterfront,” said Jonathan Mallie, principal with Populous, the architectural firm hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
From inside the amphitheater and indoor field, spectators looking up at the roof will see “subtle undulations” that are a nod to the city’s waterways, Mallie said. From the outside, the steel structures on top of the roof will look like the structural supports for the stadium’s scoreboards and lights, while also making a visual link to the city’s steel bridges, he said.
But the design, unveiled Aug. 19 at a ground-breaking ceremony, has met some backlash from the public. Jacksonville architect Ted Pappas has said the reaction he heard from fellow architects is that it’s mediocre and utilitarian. Some letters from Times-Union readers have compared it to an aircraft hangar or an erector set.
The varying views make the amphitheater and “flex field” the latest in a line of big projects that have spurred debate about what it takes architecturally to create a “world-class downtown.”
Jaguars President Mark Lamping said Friday the project will be an “iconic structure” that will attract people downtown. “It will be a bold facility, and one that Jacksonville will be very proud to call its own,” he said.
The city and the Jaguars are splitting the $90 million cost on a 50-50 basis for EverBank Field upgrades and construction of the amphitheater and indoor flex field. The Jaguars are responsible for anything in excess of $90 million.
The agreement approved in December by City Council exempted the project from undergoing review by the Downtown Development Review Board. The exemption appears to be the first since the city created a downtown zone for such reviews in 2003.
“We would have liked to see this project, but it never was presented to us,” said Rafael Caldera, chairman of the Downtown Development Review Board.
The board is comprised of architects, urban planners, downtown property owners or employees of downtown businesses, and a contractor, developer or Realtor who does work in downtown. Caldera said the review of proposed development reflects the importance of downtown and the input from the board helps applicants.
‘A GREAT PARTNERSHIP’
In the case of the amphitheater and indoor field, the agreement assigns oversight to the city’s public works director and its chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa.
The Jaguars organization, which is in charge of the design and construction, provides monthly updates and submits updated renderings. The city has five days to raise any objections or ask for design modifications, a fast-track process that the agreement says is needed because “time is of the essence.”
While the Jaguars are in charge of the project, the agreement gives the city the right to review and approve the overall design concepts, said city Assistant General Counsel John Sawyer. He said that includes design of the roof, which has changed as the project progressed.
A Times-Union public records request showed the city has not made any written objections or requests for design modifications. Lamping said the city approved the roof design in June.
City officials and the Jaguars met Friday to go over the status of the project. City spokeswoman Marsha Oliver did not respond directly to a question about what Mayor Lenny Curry or Mousa thinks of the latest design, but she said the city looks forward to continued collaboration with the Jaguars.
“We have a great partnership and working relationship with the Jaguars and will continue to work together and stand together on the successful completion of this project,” Oliver said.
‘THE DESIGN CONTINUES TO EVOLVE’
The latest architectural design is considerably different from renderings released in November, when Curry announced the proposed financial partnership. Those renderings depicted an oval-shaped building with shiny blue walls for the indoor field, and next to it, an open-air amphitheater with a swooping cover rising at an angle.
The City Council approved the agreement on Dec. 8. It does not specify any particular architectural design. Lamping said the agreement shows that the project would have an “integrated layout” for bringing together the flex field and amphitheater, and the Jaguars have carried out that approach.
The Jaguars unveiled new renderings Jan. 29 at the team’s State of the Franchise event showing a continuous fabric roof covering both the amphitheater and flex field. Lamping said the design does not conform to the usual approach for an amphitheater. Combining the facilities under the same roof in a way that ties them in with EverBank Field will allow staging of events like music festivals, cultural series, or attracting the NFL Draft event, Lamping said.
The roof was shaped to have a wave design in it, which Mallie described as a “free-flowing surface” with “subtle movements and undulations” inspired by Jacksonville’s waterways and estuaries.
In a Jan. 29 report to the city, the Jaguars said work remained before finalizing the design. “The design continues to evolve to fit within the budget that we have developed, while still maintaining — in our opinion — a distinctive and uniquely Jacksonville look,” Jaguars Senior Vice President Megha Parekh wrote.
On May 31, the Jaguars told the city that the roof would have steel trusses on top with the fabric covering underneath — a change from the January design. Mallie said the change meant that spectators inside would not see the steel structure of the roof, and as an “added benefit” the acoustics would be better.
“I think the main driver for us is to create an architectural feature that when experienced from the interior, you have a one of a kind presence of this roofscape over your head,” he said.
The steel on the outside echoes the city’s bridges, and the side of the building facing Gator Bowl Boulevard will have an “iconic presence” with a row of beams that hold up the roof fabric in a wave-like pattern, he said.
But the previous designs have their fans.
Jacksonville architect Tim Miller, who served from 2007 to 2014 on the Downtown Development Review Board, said the design unveiled at the State of the Franchise event had “some very cool, contemporary” features.
“I thought they were doing something that would be a catalyst for some really new and different type of architecture downtown,” Miller said. He said the later design shown at the groundbreaking is “good, it’s fine, it just isn’t as exciting as some of the earlier schemes, in my opinion.”
BOARD REVIEWS MOST PROJECTS
The visual appearance of downtown development has been an issue since at least 1998, when the city provided $21 million in incentives for the Adam’s Mark hotel that is now the Hyatt Regency Riverfront.
After critics called the hotel’s design uninspired and boxy, the Downtown Development Authority in 1999 set up a design review committee of citizens with expertise in such matters. The city created a downtown “overlay zone” in 2003 and gave the Downtown Design Review Committee approval authority over projects in the zone.
That panel, which later became the Downtown Development Review Board, reviews all development in the zone, both private and government, including in the sports complex area. The scope of projects ranges in size from the Duval County Courthouse, which the board approved in 2008, to bus shelters.
Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said his staff cannot recall any projects being exempted from review in the same way the amphitheater and flex field were. Miller said he cannot think of any exemptions during his time on the board. Oliver did not respond to a question about whether city administrators knew of any other exceptions.
Miller said projects going through DDRB review benefit from the array of viewpoints at the table. But the process can be time-consuming. In 2012, for instance, the board rejected the initial design for a 600-space parking garage next to the SunTrust Tower, and eventually approved it four months later after the developer agreed to changes.
When the owners of The Jacksonville Landing proposed replacing that landmark building with a new development in 2014, critics said the renderings showed a ho-hum design. The Downtown Investment Authority then invited the public to design sessions to rethink the proposal. The redevelopment didn’t move forward so it never got to the Downtown Development Review Board.
For the amphitheater and flex field, the agreement said the accelerated design review process was needed in order to achieve a “compressed schedule” striving to get everything built by July 31, 2016. The agreement also said that it might not be possible to hit that fast-track target, in which case the timeline for completion would be July 31, 2017. The latest target date for completion is May 1, 2017.
Preparations for construction are under way at the site, where fencing surrounds bare ground and a few pieces of heavy equipment.