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How Jacksonville’s Union Terminal Became Prime Osborn Convention Center

Prime Osborn Convention Center, formerly Union Terminal, Jacksonville, FL

Many years ago, during the height of America’s streetcar era, Jacksonville, FL was home to one of the country’s busiest terminal stations.

Union Terminal, as it was called, was constructed in 1919 in Jacksonville’s historic LaVilla neighborhood. It replaced the former railroad station located on the same property; part of that old station, built in the late 1890s, can still be seen behind the newer building. “Jacksonville Terminal” was etched into the front of the station.

At the time that it opened, the new Union Terminal was the largest railroad station in the South. Its Roman architecture was designed by Kenneth Murchison; Murchison was the architect on several railroad stations in the early 20th century, including Penn Station in Baltimore, MD.

The station was a bustling hub of activity in its heyday. The LaVilla area, then an active suburban neighborhood, was a heavy area of traffic for the Jacksonville railroad industry. The concourse featured shops, food stands, and a full-service restaurant.

The station thrived for many years, but gradually the railroad industry went into decline. Passenger trains gave way to automobiles and buses, and while commercial trains remained a profitable industry, they didn’t need the Union Terminal to do their business.

At the same time, the surrounding neighborhood of LaVilla was entering a decline. With railroad jobs declining, residents moved to other parts of the city to find work. The gradual end of segregation also led residents to branch out from LaVilla, which was for many years a thriving Black suburb.

The station ceased operation in 1974, having served the Jacksonville community for 55 years.

In the mid-1980s, after a decade of inactivity at the property, work began to convert the old station into a new convention center for the city. It was the result of a partnership led by Prime F. Osborn III of Jax-based railroad company CSX, for whom the convention center would be named.

The Prime F. Osborn Convention Center opened in late 1986 and has served as the city’s primary convention center ever since.

You can still see telltale signs of the building’s former usage – the most obvious being the “Jacksonville Terminal” lettering that still remains along the front of the building. Other features include a railroad car next to the original station building commemorating the building’s history and the old ticket booths that are now, obviously, permanently closed.

Jacksonville plans to build a new convention center in the near future, making the Prime Osborn Center obsolete. But it’s likely that the project can be revamped once again as a mixed-use development neighboring the city’s new transportation center building – meaning the 101-year-old building should live on for the foreseeable future.

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