We forget how much things have changed Downtown.
- In 2001, we had no market-rate residential units. Today, we have close to 1,700 market-rate residential units in 12 residential projects, with an additional 600 units coming on line this year.
- In 2001, the Northbank Riverwalk was only in front of The Landing and Times-Union Center. Today, it is approximately four times as long and easily connects to Riverside. The St. Johns River is, without question, one of the most magnificent rivers in the country.
- When I came to Jacksonville in 2001, there were only three places in the Northbank core to stop for a drink after work – The Landing, the Omni and the VooDoo Lounge. Today, there are close to 20 options to grab a drink.
- It was only about eight years ago that we sat at public meetings to discuss building a parking garage at the foot of Hogan Street on the riverfront. Now, we are talking about a new design plan for The Landing and better incorporating Hogan Street into this plan. Talk about progress: we are now thinking smarter and bigger, focusing our development energy – and dollars – on projects that will truly make Downtown a destination.
We need to continue to build a Downtown vibe. People will come Downtown if we give them a great product and/or a great experience. One look at Sweet Pete’s and the Candy Apple will tell you that. Together, they are a one-of-a-kind destination that will bring more people Downtown. It’s these venues, coupled with great public spaces like Unity Plaza and Hemming Park, that will make Downtown experiences even more spectacular.
Small is good. I am a big fan of smaller, incremental events Downtown. From a Downtown perspective, I’d rather have 10 events that bring 10,000 people Downtown than one event that brings 100,000 people Downtown for one night. For example, Downtown Vision brings about 8,000 people Downtown each Art Walk, which helps change perceptions of Downtown, helps retailers and encourages more businesses to open Downtown.
You get what you pay for. When my husband and I moved here in 2001, we estimated we saved close to $7,000 – $10,000 a year on real-estate taxes, not paying a state income tax nor a wage tax for working in the city. But there is a cost to that. We don’t have a dedicated weekend and evening police force Downtown. Bricks are cracked. The Riverwalk, our No. 1 asset, receives little in the way of flowers, banners or programming, as another city would provide for such a major asset. The main Downtown library does not open until 11 a.m. on certain days because of budget cuts. You can’t run one of the largest Downtowns (and cities) in the country on the cheap.
Downtown has more champions now than ever. Recently, more and more people are investing in existing buildings and giving these buildings new life. What started as efforts from the owners of Burrito Gallery, TTV Architects, Dalton Agency and Chamblin’s Uptown have spread to include Allison and Pete Behringer with Sweet Pete’s, Jacques Klempf with the Cowford Chophouse, and the Jessie Ball duPont Center at the former Haydon Burns library. We need more people to step up the plate and give Downtown some love by buying and renovating buildings.
I believe in the following principles from a keynote address given by Bernard Zyscovich at a local Urban Land Institute meeting a few years back. The meeting topic was what Jacksonville needed to do to revitalize its Downtown. His thoughts:
- Downtown needs a massive attack on a lot of little things.
- We need to open up the riverfront, improving accessibility and making it lively.
- Our revitalization is not brick-and-mortar intensive – rather it should focus on activation.
- Our revitalization efforts need to be neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, and it will happen over time.
- We need to overcome how carved up Downtown is through projects and initiatives that will connect its major nodes.
- Lastly, we need to do a lot of little things before we can do that one big thing.
It has been my honor to serve as executive director of Downtown Vision. I know the DVI board and staff under new executive director Jake Gordon will continue to work tirelessly to make great things happen for our Downtown. I look forward to Downtown’s continued progress. Thank you.