The lights are much brighter there

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.

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About newzgrrl

Writer, editor, photographer, Southerner. I love Downtown Jacksonville and bicycles.
This entry was posted in Make it better, Revitalizing Downtown and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The lights are much brighter there

  1. dukeroberts says:

    I would love to see growth in the Downtown sector, with minimal expense to the taxpayer, of course. Unfortunately, for as many years as I have lived here (almost 28), the same general sense of “Something must be done about Downtown” has prevailed. If any growth has occurred during that time it has been by baby steps.

    The Landing, unfortunately, has never quite lived up to its intended potential. Parking Downtown is still a sticking point for many people (myself included). It’s darn inconvenient. Lack of activities, or infrequency of activities, may also be a cause. I also wouldn’t discount people not wanting to deal with homeless people as a cause.

    I think for Downtown to grow as many want it to, some steps would have to be taken that would make it seem less like Downtown, like a multi-screen, multiplex movie theater and shopping/restaurant center, like Tinseltown. It would also have to have ample, free parking. This may bring people Downtown, but in doing so, Downtown would lose its identity. Who is willing for that to happen?

    • newzgrrl says:

      Transforming Downtown into a suburban neighborhood with suburban amenities is the wrong way to go. If locals already don’t want to make the drive Downtown, how would an Outback Steakhouse in Downtown compel them to make the drive, when they’ll pass one or more of that restaurant to get Downtown?

      Downtown amenities have value because they are special and different and not easy to get to. Maybe in becoming more casual, we’re losing respect for place and event. Downtown is a destination; eating at the Chart House, attending the Symphony, getting drinks afterward at Dos Gatos is part of the Downtown experience. You have to work for it, and it’s more memorable. It’s not as easy as going to McDonald’s.

      There is a call in the later part of the report for a destination entertainment complex and a cinema is listed … stay tuned.

      Thank you, Duke, for your comments and your perspective.

  2. Dave says:

    If downtown becomes less like downtown, it’ll be unable to distinguish itself from suburbia and all reason to go there, rather than to a more convenient equivalent, will be lost.

    I agree that downtown ought to have free parking at least temporarily as an incentive, and to ease up on its draconian parking enforcement that seems to be a major disincentive to businesses and visitors. But I fail to see how it’s not ample…there are far too many surface lots and garages downtown. I think one of the most common misperceptions of downtown is that it lacks for parking. It has far too much parking relative to the number of people who work, live, and visit there. The massive garages, which mostly lack for street-level retail, create dead spots that lack activity and destroy connectivity.

    • newzgrrl says:

      David, it’s nice to see a comment from you. Someone (I don’t remember who; Ron Barton?) said a few years ago that Downtown doesn’t have a parking issue; rather, people in Jacksonville have a walking issue.

      People have different expectations when they visit other cities. When visiting the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., do visitors expect to park at the front door? No. They’re inclined to take the Metro. Certainly it would help if we had stronger public transportation, but my point is that expecting to park front and center and for free is misguided in our most historic neighborhood. Ample parking in the suburbs is not a good reason to insist on available parking in every square inch of Downtown.

  3. Dan M says:

    As a newcomer who is entering into this conversation that has been going on for a long time, I do wonder–what can people in the community as a whole do to help make these things happen, than merely be talked about? I like it here and want to see the city only get better from here on.

    • newzgrrl says:

      Hi, Dan! Thank you for your comment.

      In my experience, the best thing to do is to talk about Downtown. A lot of locals, especially lifelong locals, will give you ten reasons not to go Downtown, then tell you they haven’t visited in 15 years. Downtown has changed substantially in 15 years. Meet misperception with fact — Downtown Vision is a great source (downtownjacksonville.org).

      Tuesday evening, Preston Haskell, chairman of the task force that compiled the report, presented the report to City Council. Urge your councilmember to read the report and take action. Maybe even support candidates who support Downtown redevelopment.

      A lot of it comes down to education, and understanding why a strong city center is imperative to a vital and healthy city as a whole. That’s another section in the report. My plan is to have this series finished this weekend.

      • Dan M says:

        Excellent insight. I found a Lonely Planet guide to Florida written in 1997. Whoever wrote it hated Jacksonville. But some of the things they observed back then (particularly negativity about the roads) aren’t even the case today–it seems to me like the city as a whole has improved immensely even since then.

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