by: admin in Resident Spotlights No Comments  
Lauren Grawbowski and Daisy

New Downtown resident Lauren Grabowski and her pup, Daisy

A homeowner on the Southside for the past few years, 30-year-old Lauren Grabowski took a leap and is now one of Downtown’s newest residents. As a tenant of the recently opened 220 Riverside, Grabowski is loving her new city life in Downtown’s bustling Brooklyn neighborhood. Read our chat with Grabowski below, where she shares why she enjoys calling #DTJax home.


Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Jacksonville?

I’m originally from upstate New York. My dad was transferred for a job when I was 2 ½. The plan was to be in Jax for two years and then go back to New York. Since life never goes according to plan, my family has now been here for more than 25 years and have made it home.

Why did you choose to live Downtown?

I was looking for a lifestyle change. I realized suburbia wasn’t the place for me, so I sold my Southside home and took the plunge into something different. It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when I joined Downtown Rotaract Jax, that I even became familiar with this side of town. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of people in this city don’t venture out of their own neighborhood.

Interior of Lauren's 220 Riverside apartment

Interior of Lauren’s 220 Riverside apartment

Why did you choose 220 Riverside in Brooklyn, specifically? What’s the coolest part about living there?

I first heard about the community when Jen Jones came to speak at a Rotaract meeting about the plans for Unity Plaza. It sounded like an exciting place to live – restaurants, bars, an amphitheater, an urban park – all attached to the community. My balcony overlooks the plaza, so I’m really excited to hear about all of the upcoming events.

While we know you just moved in, what do you love most about living Downtown so far?

The view.

The Unity Plaza balcony view from the west side of 220 Riverside.

I’m really enjoying the urban lifestyle. It’s so different from living in other areas of Jax. Downtown just has a totally different feel about it. I enjoy being able to walk my dog along the Riverwalk and head to the Riverside Arts Market on the weekend. And I know it sounds funny, but I love the smell of roasting coffee coming from Maxwell House!

What do you think is the biggest myth about Downtown?

Probably that Downtown is a scary place. A lot of people have a negative view of Downtown Jax, and I don’t understand why. It’s great to see the effort that people are putting into revitalizing our city center.

What are your favorite things to do Downtown?

I’m still learning my way around, but I love all of the restaurant and bar options. My New Year’s resolution this year is to go to every restaurant on Jacksonville Magazine’s list of top 50 restaurants. So many of the restaurants on that list are in this area. Only a few months and a lot more restaurants to go!

For information on all Downtown residences, including the new 220 Riverside, visit DVI’s living spaces directory at

by: Katherine Hardwick in Downtown Vision, Inc., Resident Spotlights No Comments  

The following is from our Downtown column published monthly in EU Jacksonville.

Let’s play a game. How many Google results do you think come up for “Love Downtown Jacksonville” versus “Hate Downtown Jacksonville,” (using quotations for more accurate results)?

Would you guess 780:1? If you did, swing by my office for a gold star.

That’s some pretty positive, if unscientific, insight into the passion for Downtown these days. And why not? Downtown is the source of community identity, culture, history and pride. It’s everyone’s neighborhood and now there is a membership program for everyone who wants to get involved and feed the flames of a Downtown on fire. (Metaphorically, of course.)

Home---Discover-Downtown-Jacksonville_webresJust launched, The Alliance (or more formally, the Downtown Vision Alliance, Inc.) is a group of Downtown residents, employees, business owners and Jacksonvillians from all walks of life who are tired of saying, “Downtown has so much potential.” This is a group of funders, doers, networkers and advocates taking action to make a difference Downtown.

Alliance socials and events connect like-minded members. Networking opportunities open doors and allow members to share or gain professional expertise as well as insight into the issues that shape Downtown. Ideas are formed, nurtured and launched when passionate people come together.

Volunteer opportunities are varied to allow members to chip in wherever their strengths lie. If you’re creative or have a green thumb, clean and green projects may be up your alley. If you’re the life of the party, event volunteering may be for you. If your gears are always turning on projects to turn potential into reality, help lay the framework for something new.

It’s true, Alliance members are asked to put their money where their passions are. All members receive a Discover Downtown card, a small and useful key to unlocking dozens of Downtown deals and discounts. Art and cultural aficionados will appreciate offers when they frequent MOCA Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, The Artist Series, and the Maritime Heritage Center and Adams Class Museum. Using the card at participating local businesses not only provides discounts on books, clothing, jewelry, toys, spa services and, of course, tasty meals, it allows members to support one-of-a-kind businesses that enrich the character of our community.

While it’s hard to put a price tag on the benefits that members receive, the benefits that members provide are invaluable.

The annual membership fee, beginning at $20 for individuals, supports a wide range of programs through Downtown Vision, Inc. (DVI) targeted at making Downtown more beautiful, more exciting and more welcoming. These range from cleaning and greening endeavors, like replanting the landscape beds in Hemming Plaza, to extending hospitality and safety services through the Downtown Ambassador program to placemaking and programming projects including great new experiences at Art Walk.

Dialogue with Alliance members helps drive decision-making for Downtown. Ideas and feedback from this tuned-in target group inform City and civic leaders.

Lastly, there is no better marketing for Downtown than word of mouth. Alliance members are advocates for all of the places to go, things to do and reasons to love Downtown Jacksonville. Whether it’s sharing a Downtown experience around the water cooler, taking a friend out for one of the Discover Downtown buy-one-get-one offers, or leading a volunteering project Downtown, it’s easy to make a difference in Downtown.

Visit to become a member today.

by: admin in Resident Spotlights 1 Comment  

Natalie Wearstler

By Natalie Wearstler, contributing writer

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 

– from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”

When I was 10 years old, my mother told us we were moving to Florida. At the time, we lived in a small rural town in East Tennessee — so, of course, I assumed our new home would look like a hybrid of Nickelodeon studios and the pictures of Daytona Beach I’d seen on post cards my classmates brought back from summer vacations.

Boy, was I surprised when we pulled up to our modest rental home in Middleburg. There were no palm trees, no wave pools and no tanning salons, as I had been led to believe existed on every corner in the Sunshine State. Save for weekend trips to St. Augustine Beach, the only sand in my toes came from the dirt roads that formed our new neighborhood.

Middleburg was a great place to grow up. But like most teenagers, I decided college was my big chance to get ready for a life outside of my hometown. Bolstered by the thrill of a family trip to New York City when I was 16 years old, I felt I was destined to live somewhere bigger and better than my humble hometown. In fact, I haughtily told my mother I would be living in New York City within six months of my college graduation, thank-you-very-much.

(Spoiler alert — that didn’t happen.)

It’s funny to look back on those days, now that I have the benefit of a few years’ worth of life experience to round out my perspective. If I had known at 17 or 21 that I could have the urban young professional lifestyle I so craved, without having to move across the country to find it, I could have saved myself a lot of energy.

DT SkylineMy fiancé and I moved Downtown last September after a string of relocations and job changes afforded us the opportunity to move back to Jacksonville from our new home of Atlanta. With just two weeks to find a place to live, we started considering the pros and cons of living in the urban core. It wasn’t long before we realized all of the things we valued most in a neighborhood — walkability, a strong sense of community, access to cultural venues, and proximity to restaurants and bars — were part of the Downtown experience. Living in a converted historic building with a breathtaking view made the deal even sweeter.

It’s been a little more than six months since we made the decision to become Downtown residents, and I couldn’t be happier. I love my short commute to work, our evening walks by the river, and our ability to be part of the action for events like Art Walk and One Spark. We get to enjoy the constant buzz of activity that comes with living in an urban area as well as the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a community.

Best of all, I no longer feel the need to drive out to Middleburg to feel like I’m finally home.

The Pennisula

The Peninsula

It should come as no surprise to Downtown enthusiasts that Downtown is becoming one of Jacksonville’s hottest real estate markets, and with more than 600 units under construction, it’s going to get even hotter. With more than 15 living spaces to choose from, Downtown residential complexes include everything from a historic former hotel, The Carling, to The Peninsula, a modern high-rise luxury condominium.

DVI recently polled Downtown living spaces for occupancy rates and are pleased to report a 94% occupancy rate for the 11 residential buildings surveyed. Here are five examples of occupancies Downtown:

You may be asking yourself, why do urban areas including Downtown Jacksonville have such high occupancy rates? According to, cities are now becoming the fastest growing communities compared to the suburbs. Most of these new urban-area residents, known as the Generation Y, are 20-somethings who prefer the city life due to the conveniences and amenities it provides.


The Carling

So what are some benefits of living in Downtown Jacksonville, you ask? Jacksonville’s core boosts more than 90 restaurants, 20 bars and clubs, close proximity to hundreds of workplaces and hundreds of cultural events to enjoy throughout the year. Many choose the Downtown area because of the nightlife, accessibility to entertainment and easy access to high-quality dining without the need to drive.

While DVI’s numbers prove Downtown has a hot residential market with competition to get into the most popular properties, there are several opportunities to grow in the works. Examples of residential projects currently under construction or proposed include 220 Riverside, the Brooklyn Riverside and The Jacksonville Landing‘s proposed addition of residential units.

Downtown resident Dimitri Demopoulos has lived in major metropolitan areas across the United States and traveled the globe. Despite his worldly adventures, Demipoulos loves hanging his hat in Downtown Jacksonville, where he’s lived at Churchwell Lofts for the past four years. Below, he shares why Downtown is the place for him:

Dimitri Demopoulos in the lobby of Churchwell Lofts

Dimitri Demopoulos in the lobby of Churchwell Lofts

Why did you choose to live Downtown?

I’ve always preferred to live in or near the center of cities. It’s hard to explain, but as a single person, living in a suburb would make me feel lonely and disconnected. I realize Downtown Jacksonville is still a work-in-progress, but that’s part of the fun and excitement – watching things change, grow and improve. By deciding to live Downtown, I hope I’m contributing to that improvement process. And the real beauty of living in the urban core is not only can I enjoy the assets of Downtown Jacksonville, but I also have the communities of Springfield, San Marco, Riverside and Avondale surrounding me like a painter’s palette. On any given night, I can amble over to Indochine for some drunken noodles, or within minutes, I can be sipping a craft beer and savoring a pizza at Pele’s in Riverside. That’s hard to beat!

Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Spartanburg, S.C., but for most of my adult life, I’ve lived in large cities like Boston, San Diego and even Athens, Greece. I’ve also had the good fortune to travel to a number of foreign countries and enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere of some magnificent cities.

What do you love most about living Downtown?

First and foremost, I love my building. The opportunity to live in Churchwell Lofts was what enticed me to live Downtown initially. I feel it’s one of the coolest buildings in Jacksonville. Add to that the bonus of having Olio on the ground floor, and well, what more could you want? Hungry for a gourmet sandwich? Hop in the elevator, take a left out my front door and presto – great food! But if that’s still not enough for you, I’ll go ahead and pile it on: The Florida Theatre, the Symphony, MOCA, Art Walk, Riverside Arts Market, Burrito Gallery, Indochine, Chamblin’s Uptown, Chomp Chomp, Burro Bar, Underbelly, and last, but most definitely not least, Dos Gatos. Oh, I almost forgot, the other thing I love about living Downtown – walking or riding my bike to Jaguars’ games and waving at all those wonderfully patient people waiting in traffic to pay $20 for a parking space. That’s two beers!

Churchwell Lofts

Churchwell Lofts

What do think is the biggest misperception about Downtown?

That Downtown is unsafe! All right, all right, I’ll confess – I had a cell phone “disappear” from my stool at a local bar this time last year. But by Downtown standards, that was a crime wave.

Do you have favorite Downtown activities? 

I’m a bit of a trivia junkie, so you’ll usually see me and some friends taking on the competition at Trivia Night Live on Thursday nights at Dos Gatos. Our team name is “Churchwell Chuggers,” so if you and your friends think you have what it takes, feel free to come on down and try your luck. First place gets you $20 worth of Dos Gatos Bucks that can be applied toward your tab. But don’t get your hopes up, my friends, the Chuggers are a force to be reckoned with. While I work out my mind at trivia, I work out my body at RiverFit Gym in The Landing. Pam, the owner, is a barrel of energy, and you can’t ask for a better view of the St. Johns River while sweating your brains out. I’ve even seen dolphins on more that one occasion.

For someone who’s looking to move to another part of the city, why would you recommend Downtown?

In addition to all the assets I’ve already mentioned, I’d recommend moving Downtown because it offers the opportunity to become part of an emergent community. Being a bit of a pioneer is always exciting. And in this case, there’s no downside. Compared to most other parts of the city, you’ll have access to more cultural opportunities, not less. That could also be said for sports and dining. If you work in or near Downtown, you’ll save money on gas. And finally, when living Downtown, you have relatively quick and easy access to most other parts of the city via I-95, I-10 and the bridges – Jax is essentially at your fingertips.

Anything else to add?

Take the plunge. The water is fine.

by: tdurandstuebben in Resident Spotlights No Comments  

There is a significant amount of dialogue and debate regarding the need to improve the element of transportation within and to our urban core. Between the JTA Bus Rapid Transit plan and DIA redevelopment meetings, there are many individuals working toward an improved, innovative transportation solution. But I would like to stretch your the perception of our urban connectivity.

water taxiThere are many options to get around Downtown Jacksonville. I’m going to dispel some of the assumptions about our lack of connectivity within Downtown with my experiences during Florida-Georgia weekend. The day began walking across the street (allow me to reiterate, I walked across the street) to ride the Jacksonville Water Taxi over to Metropolitan Park Marina after my husband’s weekly Saturday golf.

After enjoying a few tailgates, we decided to seek out a late lunch and jumped onto a bike taxi/rickshaw to Burrito Gallery. With our grande burrito take-out, we walked home over the Main Street Bridge. We then watched most of the game from home before we walked (again) across the street to have dinner at Chart House.

The Florida Theatre

The Florida Theatre

At the same time, game revelers were moving about Downtown, we finished dinner and headed to the Florida Theatre for Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band concert via a traditional automobile taxi. The jazz infused Cajun and blues music was awesome for those who did not know about the performance.

To finish the full, diverse Downtown day, we walked home once again over the Main Street Bridge. Living Downtown, we experienced all of this so easily in one day: three types of taxis, Florida-Georgia football, lunch, dinner, concert and two walks over the bridge.

Jacksonville is working on urban connectivity, and it will get even better than it already is – come try it out!

~ Terry Durand-Stuebben, Downtown resident and advocate

Read other posts by Terry in our “Downtown Residents” blog section.

by: Admin in Resident Spotlights No Comments  

Downtown resident Ian Latchmansingh

Local interactive designer Ian Latchmansingh has called Downtown Jacksonville home for the last four years – and he isn’t going anywhere. A City Place resident, Latchmansingh loves Downtown for its energy, nightlife and proximity to everyday conveniences. We recently chatted with him about what he loves most about living in the heart of the River City:

Why did you choose to live Downtown?

It seemed natural to move Downtown. I think everyone should live in a city versus a suburb just due to the practicality. I tried to set an example by living here.

Where are you from originally, and how did you end up in Jacksonville?

I’m a New York transplant, but I spent most of my youth in Central Florida. I studied graphic design at Flagler College and was head-hunted just before graduation to work as a designer for an interactive agency in Jacksonville.

What is your professional background?

I’ve been an interactive designer for the last eight years. I’m currently the Creative Chair for the American Advertising Federation of Jacksonville and the Lead Experience Designer for St. John & Partners, an ad agency here in Jacksonville. I also have two independent record labels.

What do you love most about living Downtown?

I have both of my banks within walking distance. I can go enjoy the nightlife of Bay Street with relative ease. I like that we have a monorail like the Springfield of The Simpsons. I also like that I can walk to CoWork Jax events. There are also plenty of conveniences (two 7-11’s within a few blocks!).

How would you describe Downtown’s vibe? 

As someone who’s been on the stage and in the audience, I can say that from either perspective there’s definitely a “vibe” Downtown. It’s more progressive here, maybe subversive even. Additionally, I feel like there’s a collaborative tone. I feel comfortable in any bar or club.

What are your favorite Downtown activities?

I’m a huge fan of Olio, particularly because you can add foie gras to any item. The noodle bar (Pho. A Noodle Bar) is pretty cool, too. The restaurants we have Downtown are worth visiting. I also like the clubs included in The Elbow, as they’re now calling it. I don’t think I’ve bothered deviating from nightlife in that area in a while. It’s been steadily entertaining.

What do you think is the biggest misperception about Downtown?

The idea that it can’t be revived. I regularly hear from native residents that they’ve been ‘trying for years’ to inject some vitality into the Downtown area. If you look at the history and note the amount of spending since the white flight of the last century, it’s clear that over the last 10 years there has been some serious investment in improving the urban core. And lately, with groups like Khan’s investors and One Spark, the private sector may be able to give urban Jacksonville the shot in the arm it needs.

If someone was thinking about moving Downtown, what would you say to them?

Hurry up already! Also, there’s a U-Haul center in the urban core.