by: Admin in Thought Leadership No Comments  

I recently returned from this year’s Chamber’s leadership trip to Cincinnati and thought I’d share some of my observations and comparisons of their Downtown.

I grew up in Pittsburgh and lived there on and off until I moved to Jacksonville in 2001. My initial observation is that Downtown Cincinnati looks and feels exactly like Downtown Pittsburgh. As you enter Downtown, you’re treated to a dramatic skyline view with surrounding hills and vistas. A flood plain and flood walls line the highway that runs along the riverfront. PNC, a major bank that has helped lead their Downtown revitalization efforts has a large Downtown presence. The streets are all well lit – many Chamber members commented specifically on this. A new stadium and entertainment complex overlook the Ohio River; there is also a large stock of historic Class B and C office buildings, many of which remain vacant; a struggling retail environment; and crumbling infrastructure. Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh share the goal of bringing more people into downtowns that have experienced significant population losses since the 1950s. One other similarity that Pittsburgh shares with Cincinnati is that Steve Leeper, one of the individuals directly responsible for Pittsburgh’s revitalization, has been working as president and CEO of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation since he moved to Cincinnati in 2004.

When comparing our Downtown (top) to Cincinnati (below), Cincinnati Downtown (in red) fits within ours (green). Our Downtown Improvement District (in yellow) takes up nearly as much land area as all of Downtown Cincinnati. (Graphic courtesy of Ennis Davis)

Here are some comparisons and contrasts between Downtown Cincinnati and Downtown Jacksonville:

•    Downtown Cincinnati is about a third the size of our Downtown, as depicted in the overlay courtesy of Ennis Davis. Downtown Cincinnati consists of about 100 blocks, with about 60 blocks comprising the core. The whole of Cincinnati’s Downtown is more comparable in size to our 90-block core, the Downtown Improvement District [Link to post with map of our boundaries]. Jacksonville has one of the largest Downtowns in the country at two-and-a-half square miles in size.
•    Downtown Cincinnati is home to about 8,000 residents, with an additional 14,000 in the adjacent Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which is similar to Jacksonville’s Springfield. Our Downtown houses less than half the amount of Cincinnati’s, with approximately 3,200 residents.
•    Downtown Cincinnati has 55,000 office workers in the entire Downtown area, compared with approximately 30,000 workers in Downtown Jacksonville’s core, roughly the same land area.
•    Downtown Cincinnati has more than two and a half times the office space as Jacksonville, with a Class A office vacancy rate of 18.9% in the Central Business District. Downtown Jacksonville’s Class A office vacancy rate for the Northbank is currently 23.5%.

Here is a selection of photos from Downtown Cincinnati:


by: Admin in Historic Preservation 1 Comment  

At the Sept. 26 Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission (JHPC) meeting, the Committee denied owners of the Bostwick Building—originally know as the Guaranty Trust and Savings Building—permission to demolish the structure. The Commission also instructed staff to prepare an application for landmark status. Landmark status would protect the Bostwick Building from demolition and make it eligible for various funding sources for rehabilitation.

The owners have since filed an appeal of this decision, which will be reviewed by City Council.

The JHPC held a meeting yesterday, during which they determined completeness of the landmark application and scheduled a public hearing to determine whether to recommend landmark status. The hearing will be held Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m. in room 851 of the Ed Ball Building, 214 N. Hogan St.

Following this public hearing, City Council will hear the appeal of the demolition permit denial. If the Bostwick Building is recommended for landmark status, then a bill will be filed with City Council and the Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) Committee will conduct a public hearing on both the appeal and the Landmark status together.  If the JHPC does not recommend landmark status, then the LUZ will consider the appeal as a separate item.

Downtown Vision, Inc., supports the designation of the Bostwick Building as a local landmark and urges the City Council to uphold the JHPC’s denial of the demolition permit.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Thought Leadership No Comments  

New York City’s Bryant Park—one of the most densely populated urban parks in the world today—provides an excellent case study for turning a declining public park into a neighborhood asset. One key element in bringing people to Bryant Park was the introduction of movable chairs. After observing how people use public spaces, the park’s management placed movable chairs in the park to give people a sense of empowerment, by allowing them to control their experience and sit wherever and in whatever arrangement they like.

Read more on the benefits of the movable chair here.

Moveable chairs can enhance park visitors’ experiences

by: Katherine Hardwick in Thought Leadership (2) Comments  

Market Square in Houston is among one of the most successful urban park renewal projects. Over the years, the Square transitioned from the city center’s historic district to a parking lot to a green area to art space, never having a real sense of purpose or welcoming. Yet in 2010, through collaboration and partnerships, the park was transformed. City government, local development groups, residents and property owners all came together and formed consensus on a plan for the park, designed to preserve its historical and artistic roots.

Project for Public Spaces was brought on board early in the process to lead the programming phase through a series of town hall meetings, focus groups and onsite evaluations. The City’s commitment to creating a focal point for the historic district and a sense of community by funding the entirety of the project is what allowed the project to move forward.

Today, a visitor can follow a black granite band through the park for a tour around the footprint of the old City Hall’s foundation. A rectangular lawn sits at the foundation’s center. The park’s cafe (selected through an RFP process) features outdoor seating and tables. Art and sculpture are abundant. And a crescent‐shaped dog run provides a welcoming place for dogs to play off-leash. The park is now brimming and bustling with friendly, safe, activity.

The key to the park’s event planning is partnerships. This enables the park to leverage events through collaborative planning, budgeting and co‐marketing. Events include a concert series, outdoor movies, dog training seminars, organized bike rides and historic and architectural tours. Special events are designed to drive traffic not only to the park, but also to the surrounding businesses.

Follow the transformation here.  Read the full case study here.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Downtown Vision, Inc., Thought Leadership 1 Comment  

As the discussion surrounding Hemming Plaza heats up with tomorrow’s meeting to discuss the restriction of games in the park, Downtown Vision, Inc. (DVI) wanted to weigh in on some possible solutions for revitalizing and re-energizing the park.

In January 2012, DVI made a presentation to the Hemming Plaza Ad Hoc Committee regarding best practices in urban parks and how these might be applied to Hemming Plaza.  You can view the presentation here.

Our goals for Hemming Plaza are to create an atmosphere that makes the urban park attractive to the entire community and to leverage the economic impact of a positive, active urban park space.

Best practices in urban parks tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Make the space clean, safe and attractive;
  2. Create events and activities to bring visitors to the park; and
  3. Redesign the space based on how the community wants to use it.

With regard to making the area clean, safe and attractive, those who manage the park should:

  • Improve park maintenance;
  • Strictly enforce park rules and city ordinances;
  • Provide visible, active police or security presence;
  • Maintain landscaping and clear sightlines; and
  • Improve lighting.

A key component of successful urban parks is creating events and activities that attract visitors. These activities can include:

  • Programming small, free or inexpensive activities, such as garden clubs, book mobiles, pet adoption, small lunch concerts, art and exercise classes, reading rooms;
  • Partnering with other organizations to bring events to the park – make it easy, such as MOCA’s recent “Park Your Art” event;
  • Attract high-quality kiosk retail, such as a cafés or coffee shops;
  • Improve vendor quality and variety; and
  • Use event fees and percentage of sales revenues to offset cost of maintenance and operation of park.

Design is a critical component of creating welcoming spaces and the public’s safety concerns should drive the park’s design. Successful urban parks have included the following design elements:

  • Use moveable seating; spread out limited stationary seating to reduce crowding;
  • Use softscape (plants and flowers) instead of hardscape.

Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation and a widely respected expert on revitalization of urban parks had the following to say about park design, “Create a space where women want to be – they are an indicator of the safety and success of a public space.”

These strategies have proven successful throughout the country, with Houston’s Market Square Park being a good example, as you’ll see in the presentation. Before implementing new rules and regulations, the City should ensure that existing rules and regulations be enforced and implement relatively low-cost incremental improvements that can spur activity and revitalization in Hemming Plaza.

Please share your ideas on revitalizing Hemming Park in our comments section. We want to hear from you!


If you’re interested in learning more or making your voice heard, you can attend the Hemming Plaza Ad Hoc Committee meeting, tomorrow, Tuesday 10/23 at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, City Council Conference Room A (please note new location), 4th floor. 



by: Katherine Hardwick in Thought Leadership No Comments  

According to American urban studies theorist Richard Florida, “Public art plays two roles in a community: It helps to create an authentic sense of place and serves as a tool for revitalization. Quality of place is one of the defining issues of the creative economy. Places that are aesthetically pleasing help to attract innovative, creative talent. The arts can also help play a role in revitalization. Investment in the arts (galleries, public arts, common spaces, etc.) provides public leaders with a viable alternative to the large capital investments such as stadiums, convention centers, and so on.”

Downtown Minneapolis has done an amazing job of engaging local artists and installing art in public spaces. We got to see much of this public art first-hand at the recent International Downtown Association conference.  Here are a few snapshots of how public art can change Downtown.


What ideas do you have for public art in Downtown Jacksonville?


by: Katherine Hardwick in Thought Leadership (4) Comments  

How many times have you visited another city and come home to Jacksonville and said, “I wish we could do that here.”?

Each year, members of Downtown Vision attend the International Downtown Association (IDA) conference where we network with industry contemporaries, attend workshops, hear from internationally renowned speakers and take home plenty of enthusiasm and new ideas. This year’s conference titled, Poised to Compete, was held in Minneapolis in September.

Our trip wasn’t all work and no play. Amid our schedule of workshops and presentations, we got a first-hand look at how Downtown Minneapolis has created a sense of place.  The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District was formed in 2009 and the city has made great strides in creating an inviting, vibrant Downtown.  Public art was plentiful along the streets giving new meaning to the term ‘sightseeing’. Large information and directory kiosks also served as public bulletin boards where local residents could interact and connect. Outdoor café seating along the sidewalks lets residents take full advantage of the more seasonal months in Minnesota. Nightlife thrived with an abundance of late night restaurants and bars in both the Downtown core and the revitalized Warehouse District.  And the famed riverfront Mill District has been restored with urban loft apartments and walking trails.

Role model cities, like Minneapolis, provide great roadmaps to Downtown revitalization.