Guest column: Young entrepreneurs are leading downtown revival

Downtown Vision, Inc.‘s executive director Terry Lorince submitted the following editorial to the Florida Times-Union to celebrate the young entrepreneurs responsible for Downtown’s home grown nightlife scene. This editorial appeared in the Florida Times-Union print edition earlier this week and can also be read on We welcome feedback to

Burro Bar at Art Walk

When most people think of downtown revitalization projects, they think of developers, local business leaders and city politicians.

But Jacksonville’s explosive growth, primarily in the entertainment venues, can be attributed to several young entrepreneurs who saw great opportunity and were willing to take the risks to turn downtown into a destination.

Almost all of downtown Jacksonville’s bars are locally and independently owned and operated.

That’s truly unique.

Burrito Gallery was among the first entrepreneurial ventures. It opened in 2005.

“Back then, downtown was just screaming for an eclectic, ethnic, trendy spot,” said Paul Shockey, co-owner of Burrito Gallery

“So we took that leap of faith and look where we are today. We’re getting ready to expand our restaurant.”

In 2010, Downtown Vision Inc. approached the young owners of Burro Bags — a bicycle bags, gear and apparel shop in Springfield — about moving downtown.

They relocated and soon entered a joint venture with friends to open Burro Bar.

It helped pave the way for more entrepreneurs to invest in downtown.

“As soon as we moved downtown, we saw the energy among locals just waiting to be tapped,” said Jack Twachtman, owner of the Burro Bar.

Even young entrepreneurs outside of the urban core saw the growing energy across downtown and jumped on the bandwagon.

Underbelly — voted the No. 1 live music venue in 2013 by Void Magazine — opened in 2012.

It relocated to downtown from its former home in 5 Points.

And the owners of The Fox in Avondale opened Chomp Chomp, which quickly became a popular lunchtime and late night downtown eatery.

These happy hour and nightlife destinations consistently receive high marks on Yelp and Urbanspoon.

Dos Gatos, opened by a Jacksonville native in 2009, was recently named one of the “100 Best Bars in the South” by Southern Living magazine.

And the momentum is growing.

Just last month, downtown welcomed two new nightlife venues — the Downtown Cigar Lounge and The Volstead, a speakeasy style cocktail bar whose young owners all previously worked at Burrito Gallery and teamed with Content Design Group, a downtown design firm, to transform a raw space on Adams Street into a seven-day-a-week nightspot.

The independent spirit that brings entrepreneurs downtown also brings them together.

The Elbow nightlife district was formed in 2012, bringing together downtown bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

“Downtown is close knit,” said Jason Hunnicutt, owner of 1904 Music Hall.

“The Elbow really spotlights this sense of community and gives our district an identity.”

These are just a few of the young entrepreneurs investing in downtown. And their ventures are not limited to nightlife.

From restaurants to retail, creative firms to artists, young entrepreneurship is thriving in downtown Jacksonville.

“When I arrived in Jacksonville, I was amazed by all of the young entrepreneurs who have such a strong commitment to seeing downtown thrive,” said Audra Wallace, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority.

“I commend them for taking the initiative and the risks to bring their visions of a vibrant downtown to life,” Wallace said.