It’s no secret that downtown Jacksonville has been in revitalization mode for decades.
However, revitalization kicked into high gear last year with significant accomplishments. We must use these as a springboard and keep moving forward.
In 2012, Farah & Farah completed a building renovation and added a private courtyard on Main Street.
7-Eleven opened two new convenience stores: the first on the ground floor of Julia and Forsyth Streets, the second at the intersection of Main and Union Streets.
After four years of construction, the new Duval County Courthouse opened its doors in June.
And the JAX Chamber launched renovations to become “Downtown’s new front door.”
A major victory for downtown, the new Downtown Investment Authority is actively defining its role and pursuing new development projects.
The green-lighted 220 Riverside development and the Pope and Land mixed-use project along Riverside Avenue will result in nearly 600 housing units, new retail and restaurants and a public park within biking and walking proximity to the downtown core.
Plus, the Yates YMCA will be second to none following the completion of its new riverfront facility.
All of this will provide an additional 1,000 people living downtown — roughly a 25 percent increase toward the goal of having 10,000 residents downtown.
WORKING WITH WHAT WE HAVE
New development is traditionally easier than renovation and often provides greater economic benefit. However, adaptive reuse of downtown’s existing areas allows Downtown to retain a sense of personality; attracts the creative class; fosters small business incubation and affordable housing; stabilizes neighborhoods; and attracts arts, culture and heritage tourism.
The St. Johns River is downtown’s No. 1 asset. The city and its authorities own more than 120 acres of riverfront, including the former courthouse site and the Shipyards property on the Northbank and the JEA site on the Southbank.
How should this land be developed? What kind of residential development would best suit our city — high-rise condos or quaint lower-density buildings?
Downtown boasts nearly three miles of riverwalk, but they lack management, maintenance and activation.
How do we grow the Riverwalk into a premier asset?
How do we provide more river access?
What other services (such as water transportation, for example) are needed to increase opportunities along the river?
We need to turn what we already have into thriving public spaces.
Two of our “ripest” public spaces, Hemming Plaza and the Main Street pocket park are begging for attention. Currently, lack of management, maintenance and activation plagues these areas.
The demolition of the former courthouse will create an additional public space.
I firmly believe that the issues surrounding Hemming Plaza are solvable and that we are on the cusp of turning this landmark into a spectacular space.
I’ve seen other cities with limited resources turn struggling parks into thriving destinations overflowing with people and activity.
Please join the discussion on our blog at www.downtownjacksonville.org/blog.
Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/business/columnists/2013-01-18/story/guest-column-revitalization-downtown#ixzz2ISaPfaBF