The Jacksonville Civic Council released Tuesday morning its final report of the Northbank Redevelopment Task Force. Peter Rummell, Civic Council chair, and Preston Haskell, Civic Council member and Task Force chair, presented the information to the media.
“Downtown is an economic development story that is every bit important as moving a Fortune 500 company to Jacksonville. Downtown is how you become defined in the world,” Mr. Rummell said in his opening remarks.
The report is divided into six categories: The Case for Downtown, Land Use Recommendations, Governance and Implementation, Business Case and Economics, Near-Term and Related Issues, and Summary and Conclusions. Here are some highlights from the first category (in quotes), along with my thoughts. I will post highlights from the other categories through the week.
The Case for Downtown: Some residents believe the time for Downtown development has passed, that the city center has moved to the greater Southside – much of which is on the former Skinner’s Dairy property – and the skeletal remains of Downtown should be bulldozed into oblivion. Comments on Downtown stories at the Times-Union’s website abound with these sentiments.
The report does a nice job of building a case for Downtown. “Without a useful downtown, the surrounding neighborhoods are simply left with a hollow core, an empty eyesore, a symbol of a time gone by, a reminder of former grandeur that does not go away.” Wow.
As it continues, the report says there are two dimensions to Downtown vitality. “First, a vibrant city center delivers tangible economic benefits to the entire city – not just those living Downtown. But beyond that, it is a symbol of community cohesion, partnership between the private and the public sectors, quality of life, local pride, external reputation, and community history.”
“A city’s Downtown is a physical reflection of civic pride, self-worth and confidence … The television aerial shot during a football game is of Downtown, not a suburb.”
“Downtown helps reduce sprawl by concentrating activity in one area. By building density in the heart of the community, we make the entire city more livable, and protect and sustain the outlying areas. An economically productive Downtown spills over into the suburbs, raising values and per-capita incomes throughout the community.”
An oft-repeated quote since the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s October visit to Indianapolis comes from that city’s former mayor, Bill Hudnut: “You cannot be the suburbs of nowhere.” It came up again today. Perhaps this can be turned into a billboard and plastered all over Arlington, the Beaches, Baymeadows, Regency, Timuquana, Normandy, Oceanway, Mandarin, Northside, the Intracoastal, Westside and at the entrance to St. Johns Town Center.
As an aside, it was a great pleasure to read the report, and not just because it is a potential path forward for Downtown. It was clearly written in simple language. One did not need a background in planning and development to understand the report. The information was straightforward. One English major rejoiced and considered quoting the entire report.