THE MAGAZINE OF THE REBIRTH OF JACKSONVILLE’S DOWNTOWN
I S S U E
NEXT UP FOR
ST JOHNS RIVER
THE STAR OF
WHAT DO PEOPLE
THINK OF OUR
WE FOUND OUT.
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ISSUE 1 // VOLUME 1 // JUNE 2017
IT’S TIME TO FIX IT!
BY FRANK DENTON
One look at Downtown Jacksonville, and you’ll see the potential. Sadly, much of it – like with
the Laura Street Trio – is unrealized. Is this the era when our Downtown finally comes alive?
A RIVER RUNS
BY ROGER BROWN
With the successful
launch of Daily’s Place
amphitheater, Shad Khan
isn’t slowing down.
Next up? The Shipyards.
Four downtowns. Four
success stories. Can
its Downtown into a
BY RON LITTLEPAGE
The St. Johns River
provides a dramatic
foreground to Downtown
Jacksonville’s skyline. But
what more could it offer?
BY ROGER BROWN
Despite more than
parking spots, many think
it is too difficult to find
a place to park.
BY FRANK DENTON
What do northeast
Floridians think of
Our poll reveals the
good, bad and ugly.
JEFF DAVIS (LAURA STREET TRIO)
J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
9 FROM THE PUBLISHER
12 PROGRESS REPORT
14 GRADING DOWNTOWN
56 DOWNTOWN DILEMMA
59 12 HOURS IN DOWNTOWN
63 QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
74 THE FINAL WORD
ON THE COVER
Shad Khan doesn’t make the Forbes list of
the world’s richest people by sitting idle. The
billionaire owner of the Jaguars continues to
invest in Downtown Jacksonville.
PHOTO BY BOB SELF
THE MAGAZINE OF
THE REBIRTH OF
VP OF SALES
DIRECTOR OF SALES
VP OF CIRCULATION
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A PRODUCT OF
FSCJ’S AWARD-WINNING CULINARY + HOSPITALITY PROGRAM
turns passions for food and service into promising careers. Students learn the culinary arts business from
the kitchen to the front of the house in state-of-the-art facilities, including a full-service training restaurant
open to the public.
In late 2017, FSCJ will also open a farm-to-fork café operated by culinary students located in the new
student housing building at 20 West Adams Street.
DEGREES + CERTIFICATES
• Culinary Management (A.S.)
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Top 20 Culinary School — FSR Magazine, 2014
Exciting changes are in the works. JTA’s vision of a regional multi-modal hub
is coming to a reality with the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center.
This multi-modal hub, located in the heart of the Downtown LaVilla area, will
integrate key local, regional and intercity service in one location.Find out more
FROM THE PUBLISHER
depends on the heart
of our downtown
e owe this to future generations
W as well as our own.
Jacksonville is many things to
many people. From our amazing beaches
and eclectic neighborhoods to the Fortune
500 companies and the mom and
pop shops that line our streets, Jacksonville
continues to be a city on the verge of
Many have said the very vitality of a city can be
measured by the energy of its downtown. If that’s the
case, it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing. Now
is the time to be part of something remarkable. Now is
the time to look to ourselves instead of future generations.
Now is the time to make this happen.
If Jacksonville, circa 1968, was tagged the Bold
New City of the South, today we should all aim to be
Boldest City in America. A city no one can overlook.
A city no one will ever take for granted. And a city
that’s the envy of every place — big or small — in this
With resurgence tied directly to the rebirth,
revitalization, reimagination and renewed spirit in
their downtown cores, cities such as Denver, Atlanta,
Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Greenville, S.C., have
flourished while breathing an infectious spirit into
their communities. Spirit that attracts new business.
Spirit that attracts new people. And, just as important,
the very spirit that makes people swell with pride in
the places they live.
There is no other city in this country as perfectly
poised to be the next “big thing” as Jacksonville. But to
do so, it can no longer be hampered by its struggling
Downtown. It can no longer let time pass. It can no
longer be a city of unrealized potential.
In 2014, Jaguars owner Shad Khan said, “A homeless
guy in Detroit has more mojo than a millionaire
in Jacksonville.” While some bristled at the thought,
consider Khan’s context in that same speech when
he said, “There’s great potential here, and I’m always
befuddled. … Why aren’t we doing better? ... It’s just
not that we have great people here. I mean, they are
young people. And that is absolutely the DNA, I mean
the vital juice, that everybody craves.”
Today, Khan’s view remains a critical lens on both
the opportunities we have, as well as the challenges we
must overcome to take that important next step. That
While the optics through which we are seen, and
even how we view ourselves, are critical in making this
Bold City as unique and vibrant as we all imagine, the
single biggest missing piece to the puzzle of this amazing
place we call home is our city’s downtown.
Make no mistake, this is not an indictment of what’s
transpired in the past. This is not a finger-pointing or a
rehashing of the “if we’d only dones.” No, this is about
moving forward. Rolling up our collective sleeves. Pulling
the oars in the same direction. All of us. Together.
You’re holding the first issue of J Magazine, its
pages filled with a simple mission: to look forward
while chronicling the transformation of Jacksonville’s
downtown. With the dreamers and the doers. With the
policy makers and the developers. With the new voices
and the old. With the obstacles and the solutions.
With vision and hard work, Downtown Jacksonville
will be a place of which we can all be proud. A place
where we’ll be honored to say we helped to create this
remarkable transformation. A place that is the envy of
every city in our country.
In coming issues, you’ll find articles on everything
from the river bisecting our core to the future of Jacksonville’s
mass transit. From Peter Rummell’s unique
living concept to Shad Khan’s desire to breathe life into
the Shipyards. From the influx of housing bringing millennials
to live, work and play in our downtown to the
intersection of art and culture in a thriving urban area.
The country’s Boldest City can only be a reality if we
stop squinting to imagine a vibrant downtown.
Let our legacy be that we didn’t kick the can down
the road. Let our legacy be that we helped make Jacksonville’s
downtown BOLD for generations to come.
MARK NUSBAUM is president and publisher of The Florida
Times-Union and T-U Media. He and his wife live in
Jacksonville’s Avondale neighborhood.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 9
at the University of North Florida
Associate Component Test Engineer
Class of 2016
University of North Florida
Bachelor of Science in
By The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board
HITS & MISSES
OF MONEY IN
IN MAY FOR
should free up some city
money for Downtown
improvements, as well as
other civic needs.
AUTHORITY and its
CEO, Aundra Wallace,
Downtown master plan.
The new WINSTON
FAMILY YMCA on
Riverside Avenue is a
showplace of health
and fitness, with access
to the Northbank
were designed to
speed people out
of Downtown, but
they also make it less
walkable, a hallmark of a
JAIL, especially since
the reason for its
location – next to the
courthouse for easy
transport of prisoners –
no longer applies.
JACKSONVILLE LANDING, a big
orange symbol of the inability of the
owners and the city to work out their
differences and fix this Downtown icon.
The opening of the
to provide a large
venue while enhancing
CURRY’s decision to
withdraw from Florida
and stay here and
JAXSPORTS landed an
NCAA Division I men’s
basketball regional playoff
game for 2019, the
fourth time in 13 years.
traps people in
nostalgia about the old
downtown that doesn’t
recognize the value
and power of the new
allows us to forget all
the rich history that
has happened in our
Downtown before and
after the Great Fire.
City Council President
LORI BOYER shows
great initiative with
timelines for Downtown
access to the river.
committed up to $9.8
million for the Laura
Street Trio/Barnett Bank
project and $810,000 for
the Northbank Riverwalk.
developing housing for
with a café run by its
All too visible
FAILURE and neglect
along Bay Street:
Berkman Plaza II, the
old courthouse and
the City Hall annex.
The beautiful Gothic
CHURCH sits alone
and unused, loved only
by the National Register
of Historic Places.
FRIENDSHIP FOUNTAIN was a
thumbs-down because of no parking and
little access, but now the city has negotiated
public parking under the Acosta.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 11
LOFTS AT LAVILLA
This complex will feature studio,
one-, two- and three-bedroom
units and is located directly in
front of Prime Osborn Convention Center.
STATUS: Under construction.
Morris Publishing Group,
owner of The Florida Times-
Union, is considering offers to buy or
partner in redevelopment of its buildings
on the river next to the Acosta Bridge.
STATUS: Proposals being considered.
This 108–unit project, has been
approved by the Downtown
Development Review Board.
STATUS: Construction in early 2018.
W. ADAMS W. ADAMS
TRIO & THE
These historic buildings are expected
to be renovated into residences,
offices, a hotel and commercial/retail
uses. Mayor Lenny Curry and the
Downtown Investment Authority
approved the $79 million project,
with up to $9.8 million from the city
STATUS: Waiting for City
is expected to have 20
apartments for 58 students
which will include a café and
part of the school’s culinary
STATUS: The café, currently
named 20 West, is to open
in the Fall and the student
housing by Jan. 1.
MAIN STREET BRIDGE
A 10-story apartment tower
with about 300 units is
planned as the next addition
to the growing Brooklyn neighborhood on
STATUS: Construction is slated to begin
in early 2018.
tasting room near Unity
Plaza already has its state and
Review Board approval.
A four-story apartment building with
courtyards and a three-story parking
garage, this development will have 143 units with
a few studios and the rest one- and two-bedroom
STATUS: Awaiting approval from the Downtown
Investment Authority, then back to the Downtown
Development Review Board this summer.
FULLER WARREN BRIDGE
With $10 million of
restoration going into
the former Bostwick Building, when
complete this upscale restaurant
will include a rooftop lounge.
STATUS: No set opening but
hopefully this summer.
Selected by the Downtown
Investment Authority in April
to be the master developer
for the 70-acre project, Shad Khan’s plan
includes mixed-use redevelopment of the
old Shipyards and Metropolitan Park.
STATUS: Currently negotiating a
detailed term sheet for a development
agreement that will go to City Council.
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH
Plans for The Doro include
a bar, restaurant, boutique
bowling alley and possibly a hotel or a
multifamily residential complex.
STATUS: Awaiting final approval from
the Downtown Investment Authority.
S T . J O H N S R I V E R
has a new lease agreement to
manage five new Southbank
parking lots under bridges. Three
under the Acosta will open soon,
and two more under the I-95
overland bridge (near the Skyway
station) will open after the I-95
construction is complete.
THE DISTRICT –
LIFE WELL LIVED
Peter Rummell’s community
concept will have up to
1,170 residences, 200 hotel rooms,
285,500 square feet of office space and
STATUS: Now negotiating terms and
conditions with the DIA. Property close
will be late summer, with construction
beginning shortly thereafter.
BROADSTONE RIVER HOUSE
Next door to the Duval County Public Schools
headquarters, this five- to-six-story structure
will have 260 to 300 apartments and a
STATUS: Under construction.
BY FRANK DENTON // J MAGAZINE
MAP BY LINDSAY MEYER FOR J MAGAZINE
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 13
By The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board
Ugly, useless structures add to
complex challenges Downtown
Actual crime Downtown
is low, and those pesky
panhandlers are more irritating
than dangerous. But public
perception is much worse and
must be addressed. Will it take
a cop on every corner?
Trending up with visionary
leaders Lenny Curry, Shad
Khan and Lori Boyer. They need
ongoing support from the
C-suites: the City Council, the
Civic Council and the chamber
of commerce. Now is the time!
Greater Downtown officially
has 8,500 residents, but most
are on the fringe, not in the
heart. And we don’t see them
because they don’t have enough
public places or experiences to
be seen! They play elsewhere.
Jacksonville has spent a lot of
money Downtown but not in
a focused way. The city needs
to invest many millions more
in the Shipyards, the Landing,
a convention center and
Trending up with new
projects. Still, Downtown is
pockmarked by ugly, useless
structures that need to be
upgraded or gone: The
Landing, Berkman Plaza II, old
City Hall and Courthouse.
EVENTS & CULTURE
Instead of just annual (Jazz
Festival), monthly (Art Walk)
and siloed events (Florida
Theatre), we need more
connected and concentrated
things to do.
Bus service is improving
countywide, but Downtown
needs better service, an
expanded Skyway – from
EverBank to Five Points –
and two-way streets to be
The Prime Osborn
works well for trade shows
and special events, but
Jacksonville desperately needs
a convention center near the
Where’s the plan?
We’re starting from a good base of potential.
Implementation of the projects being actively planned
or underway – plus a new convention center and a
revitalized Landing – will defibrillate the heart of the
city. We must have urgent and powerful action.
14 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
We Are Your
Join Us Today: (904) 366-6653 | myjaxchamber.com
D O W N T O
WHY ‘NOW’ IS THE RIGHT TIME TO TRANSFORM
BY FRANK DENTON // J MAGAZINE
W N J A X
DOWNTOWN INTO A WORLD-CLASS DESTINATION
TO FIX IT
PHOTOS BY KEVIN BLANE PHOTOGRAPHY
Looking northwest from high above the St. Johns River, Downtown Jacksonville could be on the verge of a transformation years in the making.
EMEMBER THE FIRST TIME you sped
across the Fuller Warren Bridge, and suddenly and
unexpectedly, you did a double take at Jacksonville’s
Downtown riverscape? Wow, what a panorama! This
must be some city, with a downtown like that.
It is some city. You know people who came here
incidentally or on temporary work assignment and fell
in love, or at least powerful like, with Jacksonville and
never left, voluntarily. I’m one of them, and you may
be too. It’s the climate, the beauty, the Southern sensibility,
the friendliness, the beach, the diversity, the
texture of a real city ... But it’s not because of the downtown.
The reality of life and times in the heart of the city belies that striking skyline.
It’s not a Potemkin downtown; some of our civic treasures — museums,
theaters, sports venues — are there. It’s just that our downtown is the center of the
city only in geography and government.
KEVIN BLANE PHOTOGRAPHY // WWW.KEVINBLANE.COM
18 J MAGAZINE | SPRING 2017
We may go there to work, but we leave
at 5 o’clock. We may go to a concert but
arrive just in time and go straight to our cars
immediately afterward. If we go to MOCA or
the library, we park as close as possible then
skedaddle. A lot of people go to church there
but bolt after the benediction. Going to the
Jazz Festival, Art Walk or One Spark is a rare
We don’t hang out Downtown, or socialize
or explore or experience it. Somehow, Downtown
just doesn’t work.
It’s time to fix it.
And that’s likely closer than you think.
There is good reason to believe 2017 is the
landmark year of the turnaround.
At worst, it should be inevitable, sometime,
because a city without a vibrant
Downtown is just a collection of neighborhoods
and suburbs — in Jacksonville’s case,
a huge sprawl of suburbs connected only by
highways and shopping malls.
The sprawl and the decline of Downtown
were born after World War II, when the
American dream became owning a house
with a lawn and a white picket fence in the
new suburbs, where people could live among
other people like them. Racial integration in
the 1960s and ’70s intensified the flight.
Meanwhile, merchants followed and fled
Downtowns, lured by lower rents for bigger
and more modern stores with easy and
abundant parking in the new shopping malls,
notably Regency Square and The Avenues.
They, in turn, were depleted beginning in
2005 by the advent of St. Johns Town Center
and neighboring malls. Nordstrom has added
new allure out there, and Ikea is to open this
Downtown became merely the “central
business district” with a lot of offices.
And it withered. In 1992, a Chamber of
Commerce committee warned that the heart
of the city was “spiraling toward disaster,”
as “much of Downtown is deserted in the
evenings and on weekends.”
In a 2009 series, a Times-Union reporting
team provided an “unvarnished” look at the
dull and depleted Downtown, finally left with
a loose collection of office and government
buildings, arts and entertainment venues,
churches and sports stadiums. “Most days,”
the reporters wrote, “Downtown is a ghost
town after dark.”
The series documented a long series of
study-committee and consultant reports
that did lead to some improvements over the
years: Jacksonville Landing, the Skyway, some
street beautification, Metropolitan Park, the
renovated Florida Theatre, the Riverwalks.
Civic and political leadership have been
there, off and on, in varying degrees, sometimes
effective and sometimes conflicting.
Every mayor has had his own ideas and
priorities, but they often fell short of term
limits. “A master plan,” said urban planner
Ennis Davis, “can’t be implemented in four to
eight years.” Jim Bailey, chair of the Downtown
Investment Authority, added: “By the
time you get in there, you don’t have time to
get anything done. You have to spend the last
year and a half campaigning.”
Don’t blame the taxpayers. They did their
part, guided by some strong political leadership.
In the 1990s, the $230 million River
City Renaissance added infrastructure and
renovated major buildings, like City Hall and
the Times-Union Center for the Performing
Arts. In 2000, voters approved the $2.2 billion
Better Jacksonville Plan, which included the
Downtown Main Library, Veterans Memorial
Arena, the baseball park and the courthouse.
Public money subsidized the Hyatt Regency
and other projects.
But there also were notable, and profoundly
demoralizing, fits and starts, retreats
and failures. In 1980, the old Downtown
FIVE REASONS WHY OUR DOWNTOWN IS DOWN
BY THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION EDITORIAL BOARD
A lack of shared
what a successful
downtown is and
what it means to
a city. We’ve been
lulled into inaction by
the comfort of the
beach and our other
Mayors are limited to
two four-year terms,
and that is shortened
by an early learning
inspired by long-term
mayors or successive
mayors with a shared
While cities like
Oklahoma City and
their downtowns in
response to economic
crises, Jacksonville has
grown through sprawl,
shopped at suburban
malls and just casually
MONEY FOR THE
While we’ve spent a
fortune on specific,
downtown, we haven’t
for a revitalized
downtown. And we’ve
had those publicemployee
support, while private
content to invest in
JUST DON’T CARE
They have their
shopping malls, the
beach and little
patience with what
they perceive as
of parking and
panhandling. After all,
that important to
Houston and Los
WHAT IS NEEDED TO FIX DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE?
“More people –
in order: living here,
working here and
CEO OF DOWNTOWN VISION INC.
“We’ve created an
got to give it the
power to do it.
Got to give them
to do it and keep
politics out of it.”
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF DIA
“This isn’t about fixing
things. This is about
a vision to build to.
It’s irrelevant what
we need to fix. What
we have to fix will
CEO OF VISIT JACKSONVILLE
a place people want
to be, not just pass
you’re living there,
or dining there,
PRESIDENT OF THE CITY COUNCIL
Development Authority proposed a new hotel
and convention center across from what is
now the Times-Union Center, but instead the
venerable Union Terminal was converted into
the Prime Osborn Convention Center, isolated
on Downtown’s western fringe without a
handy hotel or restaurants. Today, it mostly
offers trade shows and special events, and the
city doesn’t have a real convention center.
In 1999, a developer got $40 million in city
incentives to develop the riverfront Shipyards
site into mixed use of residences, retail, offices,
a hotel, a marina and park. Five years later,
the developer stopped the project in a dispute
with the city over how the money was spent. A
succeeding developer wanted to build luxury
condos but, in a bad economy, went bankrupt
and lost the property to the city in foreclosure.
The Shipyards has been called “a place of
dead urban development dreams.”
Despite brave and marginally successful
initiatives like Art Walk, the Friends of Hemming
Park, One Spark and the Jazz Festival,
Downtown still has not gained traction as a
destination or a community. It always, and
only, has great “potential,” which can be a
blessing or a curse.
Meanwhile, other cities, larger and smaller,
re-energized their Downtowns into much
more than just the central business district.
Nashville, Austin, Raleigh, Kansas City, San
Diego, Asheville and many others have found
ways to turn their old Downtowns and natural
assets into centers of life and activity. Davis
estimates that Jacksonville is about 15 years
behind peer communities.
While we haven’t been able to capitalize
on the majestic St. Johns River, cities like
San Antonio and Greenville, S.C., created
excitement and activity around ordinary
streams. The St. Johns always has been “too”
something — too industrial or too polluted
and, more recently, too swift or too big to
allow use on a personal scale. Want to have a
drink or dinner on the riverfront? There’s one
“We have a river that’s great to look at,”
Davis said, “but how do we play with it?”
Downtown redevelopment has long been
a routine buzzword in mayoral and City
Council campaigns, but the race between Alvin
Brown and Mike Hogan for mayor in 2011
seemed to call the question. While Brown
advocated for Downtown renewal, Hogan
treated it as just another neighborhood.
Brown won, but just barely.
Aside from civic pride, why does Downtown
matter? Jacksonvilleans have survived
the past half century without a vibrant Downtown.
Maybe we ought to give up the ghost
and be satisfied with our own individual
neighborhoods and malls and more localized
No, we shouldn’t. There are reasons we
chose to live in a city.
In her influential 1961 book, “The Death
and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs
wrote that a city depends on its Downtown
heart: “When a city heart stagnates or disintegrates,
a city as a social neighborhood of the
CONTINUED ON PAGE 69
20 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
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22 J MAGAZINE | SPRING 2017
JAGUARS OWNER SHAD KHAN CONTINUES PARTNERING
WITH THE CITY TO INVEST IN DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE
AS HIS AMBITIOUS SHIPYARDS PLAN GETS THE GREEN LIGHT
BY ROGER BROWN // J MAGAZINE
ILLUSTRATION BY IGUANA INVESTMENTS
SPRING 2017 | J MAGAZINE 23
Jaguars owner Shad Khan visits with Steve Bisciotti, owner of the Baltimore Ravens, before a game between the two teams last season at EverBank Field.
OSHAD KHAN: DOUBLING DOWN ON THE
FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE
ver the last five years, Dan Gilbert,
the owner of the NBA Cleveland
Cavaliers and founder
of Quicken Loans, the
nation’s largest online
company, has been
a visionary one-man
force in revitalizing
He’s turned a
downtown building —
abandoned for years after a
department store chain went
defunct — and turned it into the
swanky and popular Jack Cleveland
He’s purchased and totally
renovated the city’s Ritz-Carlton
Hotel, restoring glamour to
a top-tier spot that had lost its
luster if not its name.
He’s acquired Tower City
Center, an ailing shopping
mall that had been squandering
its prime location near the
Cuyahoga River, and put it back
on solid footing.
So go ahead, ask Gilbert — a
Fortune 400 billionaire who could
have easily limited his involvement
in Cleveland to running his
title-winning basketball team —
what has motivated him to invest
PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AP (KHAN); STEVE NELSON (MAP)
24 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
IGUANA INVESTMENTS SHIPYARDS PROJECT
A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
(Relocated Metropolitan Park Lands)
St. Johns River
Gator Bowl Blvd.
Gator Bowl Blvd.
vast sums and energy into bringing downtown
Cleveland back to life.
He will give you a pretty powerful
“A professional sports franchise is an incredible
platform to launch a commitment
to an urban core and its community unlike
any other,” Gilbert said in an email response
to the Times-Union. “(It can serve)
noble purposes,” Gilbert added. “Everyone
So thank our lucky stars, Jacksonville,
that Jaguars owner Shad Khan clearly
shares that noble mindset.
And that he energetically embraces it.
Because, yes, we are all benefiting from
Khan’s recent winning bid to develop
the Downtown Shipyards property opens
a new and exciting chapter in the bond
between the city and the NFL team owner,
one that continues to add vibrancy to Jacksonville
and raise its game as a community
on the move.
Khan has clearly proved that he’s a
big-picture thinker with an innovative spirit.
He’s clearly proved his love for Jacksonville.
He’s clearly proved his willingness to
commit considerable resources to making
“Shad Khan has
made a commitment
to Jacksonville that
is beyond immense.”
JACKSONVILLE CITY COUNCIL
Jacksonville a better place.
And that has led to a magnificent partnership
between Khan and the city — one
that’s seen the Jags owner invest millions
on projects, with the city also chipping in a
The formula has produced a wonderful
body of work:
• The state-of-the-art video scoreboards
at EverBank Field, which have helped Jacksonville
host premier events like last fall’s
Navy-Notre Dame game.
• Other wide-ranging stadium improvements
that have made EverBank Field one
of the NFL’s top facilities and secured the
Jaguars’ long-term future in Jacksonville.
• The completion of Daily’s Place amphitheater
— a 5,500-seat, futuristic venue
— and an indoor practice facility (with both
facilities adjacent to EverBank Field).
The Shipyards project along the river is
poised to prove yet again that when Khan
and the city get together on something,
things get done.
And they’re done well.
“Shad Khan has made a commitment
to Jacksonville that is beyond immense,”
says Councilman Tommy Hazouri, the city’s
mayor from 1987 to 1991. “And I truly feel
that the benefits of the relationship between
Mr. Khan and our city won’t just endure for
years, but for generations.
“He’s been that much of a force for good
VISION IS PROMISING
And it’s beyond doubt that the latest
collaboration between Khan and the city
to breathe life into the Shipyards has all the
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 25
SQ. FT. STORES/
AT A MARINA
marks of being a game-changing moment
It holds the promise of enabling the
Shipyards to truly fulfill its true destiny as an
iconic Downtown landmark.
One reason is because Khan’s impressive
proposal — chosen by the Downtown
Investment Authority over two other
submitted plans — isn’t merely bold in
It is breathtakingly broad in scope:
• It would span 70 acres and entail more
than $500 million in private investment.
• It would include 300 to 500 condominiums
— and an equal number of apartments
— built on our majestic riverfront.
• It would bring significant numbers of
stores, restaurants and hotel rooms to the
previously underutilized Shipyards — as
well as a massive marina to take full advantage
of the St. Johns River.
• It would lead to the revival of the Shipyards
and Metropolitan Park (which would
also be developed).
This is beyond being an ambitious plan.
It is a transformational one.
It holds the power to make Jacksonville a
better and richer city.
“He understands Jacksonville,” Hazouri
says of Khan. “That’s why he’s able to do
such an amazing job of aligning his ideas,
his vision, in a way that perfectly matches
what we want to do as a city.”
And Khan has the track record to bring
this latest idea, this latest vision, to life.
As in previous joint efforts, the city will
be an active and engaged colleague with
Khan in revitalizing the Shipyards, largely
by taking care of the major infrastructure
work necessary to drive the project
Our city, no doubt, will live up to its end
of the deal.
And let’s be clear, this is a great deal for
Over the past few years, our town
has reaped the great benefits of having a
forward-looking figure in Khan, someone
who, like Gilbert in Cleveland, combines
resources and energy with honorable intentions
and a genuine desire to use a vehicle
that traditionally unites a community — a
sports franchise — to make a difference
that goes way beyond numbers on scoreboards.
“He has become far more than just a
partner,” Hazouri says regarding Khan’s
stature in Jacksonville.
“He has become family.”
ROGER BROWN has been a Times-Union editorial
writer since 2013. He lives in Downtown Jacksonville.
26 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
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CLEVELAND OKLAHOMA CITY PITTSBURGH CINCINNATI
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fter its half-century, passionate love affair with suburban growth, America
is rediscovering its cities. From Baltimore to San Diego and from Seattle
to St. Petersburg, cities are refocusing on their
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Urban planner Ennis Davis estimates that
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J magazine took a look at four successful cities
to discover the source of their sparks.
READ ON »
Long considered one of the
best skyline views in the
world, a 400-foot observation
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point to take in downtown
Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 29
Owner of Cavaliers
Oklahoma City rises
from economic slide
BY ROGER BROWN // J MAGAZINE
Once, downtown Cleveland was an uninspiring patchwork of
abandoned retail buildings and poorly utilized space.
Now, it’s an eye-catching area that includes a popular casino,
entertainment districts that stretch for several downtown blocks, a
glittering new convention center,
2,060,810 (Rank: 31st)
Median household income
in 2015: $26,150
Median house or condo
value in 2015: $69,600
Median rent in 2015: $654
a health innovation complex and
restaurants operated by celebrity
chiefs like Michael Symon.
Once, companies and organizations
scoffed at the mere
thought of considering downtown
Cleveland as a site for its
major gatherings, conferences
Now Cleveland sits among
America’s first-tier cities as an
attractive site for large-scale
events — so much so that it won
raves for how it hosted the 2016 Republican National Convention
and even attracted the producers of “The Fate of the Furious” to film
huge chunks of the blockbuster movie in the city.
Clearly, many have played a role in Cleveland’s transformation —
including its local government.
But one person has undeniably been the major inspiration, the
lead visionary behind Cleveland’s phoenix-like rise to its current
He is Cleveland Cavaliers team owner Dan Gilbert, who has used
BY FRANK DENTON // J MAGAZINE
The revitalization of Oklahoma City’s downtown was inspired
by economic failure and wounded civic pride, but sustained over
time by leadership — political and civic.
In the late 1980s, a swoon in the oil and gas industry delivered
a body blow to the city, so to
1,358,452 (Rank: 41st)
Median household income
in 2015: $47,779
Median house or condo
value in 2015: $138,600
Median rent in 2015: $778
create more jobs and boost the
economy, Mayor Ron Norick in
1991 decided to compete with
other cities to attract a United
Airlines maintenance center.
He even got voters to approve a
1-cent sales tax to support a rich
incentive package. But United
“The mayor asked them
why,” said Cathy O’Connor,
president of The Alliance for
Economic Development of
Oklahoma City. “They told him a group of United executives and
their spouses came to Oklahoma City, and there wasn’t anything
to do, nothing going on. A dead community.”
Norick quietly visited Indianapolis to see for himself: “I drove
around downtown, and I said, shoot, I know why they got that
United plant. It was obvious to me ... I mean, this is a live city. I
mean, there’s people on the streets, and there were restaurants
and hotels and a convention facility and all this stuff. It got to
be a quality of life issue if you were the CEO of United Airlines
CONTINUED ON PAGE 32 CONTINUED ON PAGE 32
THINKSTOCK (4); GRAPHIC DATA: AMERICAN FACTFINDER – U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
30 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
Strong mayor pushes
Pittsburgh to rebirth
BY MIKE CLARK // J MAGAZINE
The Pittsburgh renaissance is the gold standard of revitalization.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Tom Murphy, who took over as Pittsburgh’s mayor in 1994,
describes a city that was “economically depressed.”
About 500,000 people
2,353,045 (Rank: 26th)
Median household income
in 2015: $40,715
Median house or condo
value in 2015: $94,700
Median rent in 2015: $810
had left the region between
1970 and 1990. In the mid-
1980s, the jobless rate was 20
percent. The Pittsburgh city
pension fund was 12 percent
funded, much worse than
even Jacksonville’s situation.
There were 300,000 people
living in the city and 400,000
commuters who didn’t
contribute anything in taxes.
About 40 percent of the city’s
tax base was made up of nonprofits,
and the Pennsylvania legislature had exempted many
of the large corporations from taxes.
The voters turned down a sales tax proposal.
So Murphy got pushy and creative. He found more than 25
ways to collect taxes. He played hardball with the state Legislature
to gain more financial freedom.
He built partnerships with an active cultural sector that was
cleaning up the city’s red light district. Business had to be enlisted
to build or return downtown.
Business groups lead
growth in Cincinnati
BY MIKE CLARK // J MAGAZINE
2,157,719 (Rank: 28th)
Median household income
in 2015: $33,604
Median house or condo
value in 2015: $119,700
Median rent in 2015: $649
Downtown revitalization needs a conductor.
The strong-mayor approach is one way. Or the leader can be a
private businessman like a pro sports franchise owner.
In Cincinnati, the conductor is a strong nonprofit titled 3CDC.
Founded in 2004, the nonprofit
hired as its CEO, Steve
Leeper, who earned his urban
revival chops in Pittsburgh, one
of the models of urban reconstruction.
Leeper declined an interview
request, but someone who
knows the story is Mark Wert,
topics team strategist for The
Cincinnati Enquirer. Wert basically
operates as a supervising
editor in the newsroom.
Managing an investment
of $1.1 billion, 3CDC represents an unusual combination of
developer, financier and entertainment promoter. Its projects
range from developing condos, office buildings, restaurants and
historic buildings as well as park revitalization, entertainment
programming and more.
It also provides the sort of services that the Friends of Hemming
Park and Ability Housing provide in Jacksonville.
A nonprofit does have certain advantages over government,
the ability to get moving without all the red tape. And so far the
CONTINUED ON PAGE 35 CONTINUED ON PAGE 35
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 31
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 30
both his position of local prominence owning
the city’s basketball team and his impressive
track record as a bold, innovative businessman
— Gilbert is the founder of Quicken
Loans, the nation’s largest online mortgage
lender — to bring Clevelanders together to
revive its once-slumbering downtown area.
Gilbert took a dusty, empty building —
once the downtown home of Higbee’s, a local
department store beloved by Clevelanders
— and invested $350 million to turn it into the
When it debuted in May 2012, the
multi-level site — now known as the Jack
Cleveland Casino — was the first casino to
open in Ohio.
It quickly became a popular spot for residents
and tourists alike.
But equally important, the fact that Gilbert
took a vision and brought it to completion in
such spectacular fashion served to spark a
belief among those inside and outside the city
that it WAS possible:
Downtown Cleveland could not only be
revived, it could thrive.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 30
and you wanted to have your people work
in Oklahoma City or Indianapolis, it was a
Presumably a little humiliated but
inspired, the mayor pulled together the City
Council and Chamber of Commerce to develop
a set of projects designed to transform
Oklahoma City and build that quality of life
— an indoor sports arena, a baseball park,
a new downtown library and a renovated
music hall and convention center.
With the endorsement of the local
newspaper, voters again approved the
penny sales tax, for five years, to pay for the
improvements. And when that tax expired,
they extended the tax for seven more years
to build or remodel every school in the city,
then again to renovate the basketball arena
for the NBA Thunder.
In 2009, Oklahoma City voters, apparently
liking their re-energizing city, again extended
the tax to build a park to connect downtown
to the Oklahoma River, a streetcar system, a
convention center and other improvements.
Since then, investors have flocked to
And the construction cranes have, too.
Neither shows signs of stopping anytime
And Gilbert hasn’t stopped tackling
ambitious downtown projects — including
the purchase and total renovation of the
Ritz-Carlton Hotel and acquisition of the
once-dormant Tower City Center mall.
In each case, Gilbert has not been afraid to
think big, set high goals that focus on improving
downtown Cleveland in transformative
ways and work in a collaborative fashion to
get things done.
Oh, and along the way, Gilbert’s Cavaliers
have won an NBA title — and will probably
win more in years to come.
In an email to the Times-Union, Gilbert
offered these observations on what has driven
his desire to become involved in bringing
downtown Cleveland to life:
“Engagement and investment in our
communities is a central part of our operating
culture and who we are as an organization.
“Not just for the impact on the urban
core, but the impact that extends into the
In late 2015, Jax Chamber took its leadership
trip to Oklahoma City, and Jerry Mallot,
president of JAXUSA Partnership, said he
was stunned at the turnaround since his last
visit 25 years before. “I was amazed as we
toured the tremendous man-made changes
to the river, downtown infrastructure and
development around the city that created an
environment I couldn’t have imagined.
“Damming up the river to make it beautiful
and create a national rowing center,
putting a canal in downtown with tour boats
around which condos, restaurants and businesses
developed, building beautiful parks
in the center of the city, constructing a new
arena for basketball that attracted an NBA
team, and so many other things had turned
this very dull town into a very interesting
place to visit.
“They followed the plan and gained the
trust and confidence of their citizens, which
allowed them to get reauthorization of the
sales tax every seven years to do more great
things in their community.
“You can’t make this up because no one
would believe it.”
neighborhoods as well.
“Investing in projects that stimulate development
and growth outside the walls of the
arena are a reflection of that commitment, but
it also benefits the entire franchise and all of
“‘Doing well’ and ‘doing good’ do not
conflict. In fact, they fit like two pieces from the
“Connectivity is a huge part of our philosophy
as well. Business, community, jobs,
and economic growth are all threads that tie
“Making downtown a place where
generations of people want to live, work and
play has a multiplying effect for retaining and
attracting more business, more residents, more
young talent and growing the job base and
“A professional sports franchise is an
incredible platform to launch a commitment
to an urban core and its community unlike
any other. The levers you can pull to affect real
positive change are endless.
“I encourage all team owners to leverage
their platforms for these noble purposes.
National Geographic christened Oklahoma
City as one of 20 “must-see places” in the
world, going from “the beer-gut metropolis
spilling across the Great Plains” to a changed
city. “The central Oklahoma River has a
community boathouse and a new West River
Trail. An 11-acre white-water rafting center ...
Local architect firms and coffee roasters that
wouldn’t be out of place in Portlandia now
line once dormant Automobile Alley. And
then there’s MidTown. Not long ago a den of
crackhouses and abandoned lots just north
of downtown’s 1995 bombing site, MidTown
has sprouted condos, a boutique hotel, and
Dust Bowl Lanes.
“This is Oklahoma?”
O’Connor credited vision and leadership
— starting with Norick, who was mayor
1987-99 and his non-term-limited successors,
now Mick Cornett, in office since 2004
— but including the committed chamber of
commerce and supportive taxpayers.
“Don’t underplay the value of political
and civic leadership that is aligned in what
they want to accomplish,” O’Connor said.
“You can’t underestimate the power of that.”
32 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
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The result was a city on the move.
Pittsburgh constructed a new baseball
park, a football stadium and a convention
center through a $1.2 billion bond issue.
And while the city is famed for its “Eds
and Meds” economic base, the university
and health industry sectors were not
being capitalized on. Murphy’s job was to
make the city attractive for recruiting and
retaining outstanding people to the education
and health sectors in part by finding
venture capital opportunities.
The result has not been perfect. Pittsburgh
still has issues, but its rebirth has
It shows the power of a mayor to lead a
Murphy now travels the world for the
Urban Land Institute to spread his message.
His four keys to urban revival, described
in an interview:
“When I go to cities and they say they
don’t have money to do this stuff, I tell
them they’re lying. If we can figure out
how to do it, anybody can figure out how
to do it.” The Jacksonville assessment:
Money’s available, but there is little will to
spend it downtown.
2. LAND CONTROL
One reason Jacksonville was able to
build the Southbank Riverwalk in the
1980s is that Southbank property owners
were willing to partner with the city. The
Jacksonville assessment: It’s not an issue
because other factors are not in play.
3. SOPHISTICATED DEAL-MAKING
The city can’t “get its pocket picked”
in partnerships. The Jacksonville assessment:
Confidence in Mayor Lenny Curry’s
finance team is high at the moment.
The money must be invested wisely.
The Jacksonville assessment: Piecemeal
projects, not vision, have characterized
downtown development. City Council
President Lori Boyer has been working on
a plan for revitalizing the river that could
serve as a template for downtown as well.
Bottom line: When Jacksonville found
the will, the city lured a pro football team
here against high odds. That same will has
been lacking downtown.
“I’ve been to Jacksonville a fair number
of times, and it is a city that has not been
willing to make the difficult decisions to
make their downtown work really well,”
Tim Johnson, the head of the Police
and Fire Pension Fund in Jacksonville,
is a Pittsburgh native who spent most of
his life in that city. Like Jacksonville, it is
connected by bridges.
Johnson, who lives in the Strand high
rise on the Southbank, looks across to the
Northbank and said he is “perplexed” at
the lack of progress. He can see the old
city hall, the vacant old courthouse, the
relics of the Berkman II and the abandoned
Shipyards property. It’s not a pretty
But Jacksonville has many of the same
opportunities as Pittsburgh did before its
renaissance. All it needs is that conductor.
In the past, that person was the head
of the Chamber, Claude Yates, who led the
During Murphy’s tenure in Pittsburgh,
Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney was
leading a $2.2 billion investment in Jacksonville,
much of it downtown.
Downtown needs a leader. It can be the
mayor. It can be the business community.
It can even be a nonprofit. But it has to be
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 31
operation has avoided scandal, though
Wert said that 3CDC has focused its efforts
on downtown and a near-downtown
district, called Over the Rhine or OTR.
Over the Rhine has historically been
the landing place of newcomers: Irish,
Germans, Appalachians, African-Americans
and now millennials.
Over the Rhine is an urban neighborhood
that has been used in films like
“Traffic” that need scenes of urban grit.
Many of the tenements were so rundown
that they qualified for a term called
“demolition by neglect,” Wert said.
Many of its buildings need renovation,
something that 3CDC has been leading.
“3CDC was an attempt by the city to
partially get out of economic development,
not entirely, and to leverage corporate
money, which it has done,” Wert said.
The nonprofit often uses various tax
credit programs in which private developers
can benefit from tax credits in return
for developing housing in low-income
Wert said 3CDC has its own agenda.
Sometimes the nonprofit is asked to take
over a project, such as renovations of historical
entertainment venues: Music Hall
and Memorial Hall. In addition, it is renovating
an historic hotel. Those renovations
often involve asbestos removal and specialty
construction, which 3CDC manages.
Probably the most iconic development
project led by 3CDC involves Fountain
Square downtown, Cincinnati’s central
gathering place. This early project was
completed in 2006.
Gone are a “Soviet-style stage,” in
Wert’s words, skywalks and a generally
The new design has been paired with
frequent activities such as nightly broom
ball leagues, ice skating in the winter, light
shows, musical performances and even
Santa rappelling down over the holidays.
3CDC handles the programming.
“They do have some entertainment
chops, which is a little unusual for a nonprofit
developer,” Wert said
The bottom line is that Fountain Square
is a lively place at night. The proof is that
people are lining up for Graeter’s Ice
Cream at night.
“That’s the ice cream test,” Wert said,
“If people are willing to stand in line for
ice cream at 9 o’clock at night, then you’re
probably doing something right.”
The lessons for Jacksonville are clear.
Nonprofits have unique advantages in
Invariably, urban revival needs the
collaboration of government, business and
nonprofits. In every city, someone needs
In Cincinnati, it has been 3CDC.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 35
BERKMAN PLAZA II
This riverfront 23-story building on Bay
Street has been sitting as a skeleton
unfinished since 2007, when a section of
the parking garage collapsed and killed a
construction worker. Through a series of
lawsuits, Choate Construction of Atlanta
took possession after receiving a $10.2
judgment against the developer.
If you’re sick of looking at it, imagine how
Choate feels – a construction company
with a piece of crumbling real estate on its
Mike Hampton, COO of Choate, said
there’s no news yet: “We had a very
solid purchaser/prospect under contract.
We got it rezoned for hotel use. But we
couldn’t secure a franchise for a hotel. We
are back looking for suitable purchasers.”
Three months ago, City Councilman
Reggie Gaffney, who represents the Northbank,
told a Times-Union editorial writer
the issue will be resolved – with the City
helping find a developer, buying the site
itself or condemning the building and
razing it. “One way or another, I’m pretty
confident that a year from now we won’t
be having this same discussion,” he said.
“Jacksonville is a city on the move,” the
T-U editorialized. “But Berkman Plaza II
puts our city in a poor light – and needlessly
so. That is why it’s imperative to
finally address this monstrosity in a definitive
manner. Rebuild it. Or raze it. But let’s
do something about it.”
Think about how Berkman II’s value will
rise as the neighborhood blossoms, with
the Shipyards next door to the east, the
Elbow across Bay Street and the looming
possibility of a new convention center just
to the west. Those hotel companies may
have a second thought.
BY FRANK DENTON // J MAGAZINE
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JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 37
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ONE OF DOWNTOWN
ASSETS HAS BEEN
AS THE CITY’S ICONIC
WILL THE MAJESTIC
ST. JOHNS RIVER
FINALLY BECOME A STAR?
BY RON LITTLEPAGE
PHOTOGRAPH BY STOCKTREK
A satellite view
the St. Johns River
bisecting the heart
of the city.
he eye-catching expanse of the St.
Johns River as it flows through Downtown
on its journey to the Atlantic
Ocean is a natural wonder of magnificent
So where are the people pausing
along its banks to soak up that beauty?
We’ve spent millions of dollars to
build top-flight Riverwalks Downtown,
yet they are often void of people on
Where are the hikers, the bikers,
the joggers, the picnickers, the bench
Downtown’s skyline is stunning
when viewed from the river. Where are
the boaters? Why are docks often unused
and a lonely marina empty?
TJUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 41
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
CONNECTIVITY KEY FOR RIVER
BY LORI BOYER // JACKSONVILLE CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT
THERE ARE A FEW critical elements
that are intertwined.
We must turn the Riverwalks into well
maintained, aesthetically engaging
experiences that are connected
to key downtown elements, such
as the sports complex or the
performing arts center or the
medical district, by unique and
distinguishable node features along
the water; and enhance opportunities for
people to cross the river whether by water
vehicles or pedestrian walkways to connect
the two sides of our downtown waterfront
An increase in marina slips and docking
Sure, we often describe the St. Johns
River as the city’s greatest asset. Other
cities, we say, would dearly love to have
such a spectacular river gracing their
That prideful feeling, however, is frequently
followed by a lament about unrealized
plans. The reasons for that failure are
many: a lack of consistent leadership, bad
decisions, no money.
Another reason can be found in history.
While we look at the Downtown riverfront
today and dream of what it can be,
for much of Jacksonville’s history, the St.
Johns wasn’t celebrated for its beauty and
facilities that enhance opportunities for
boaters to visit and patronize downtown
facilities is certainly a desirable element as
This connectivity across and
along the banks, and between the
waterfront and interior attractions
and businesses, and enhancement
of experience along the existing
facilities is top priority.
The nodes, whether parklets, plazas,
pieces of art or structures serve as
place-makers along the waterfront that
tell the story of downtown and create the
tapestry that weaves together the river, our
history, our attractions and our future.
potential. It was a working, industrial river,
and the Downtown riverfront reflected
that. With docks, piers and warehouses, the
riverfront was about commerce — shipbuilding
and repair, lumber, naval stores,
When the Great Fire of 1901 destroyed
many of the docks, they were rebuilt.
But the methods of commerce change,
and by the 1950s, the Downtown riverfront
was a rotting, smelly mess.
And in that can be found the answer to
questions newcomers to Jacksonville often
Why was so much of the Downtown
riverfront occupied by parking lots?
Why were so many government offices
built on the riverfront instead of prime,
property-tax producing private developments?
The St. Johns wasn’t a thing of magnificent
beauty then. The city was dumping 15
million gallons of raw sewage a day into the
river and its tributaries. On the other side
of the river from Downtown, the Southside
Generating Station belched plumes of
black smoke into the air.
A story written for the Jacksonville
Historical Society described the pollution
Downtown in 1949:
“Along Jacksonville’s downtown streets,
ladies were stunned to see their nylon
stockings rot away from their legs.
“The women would become flush with
heat and suffer a devilish tickling on their
legs and ankles. Their hose would then
shrivel and peel away in spots.
“The problem panicked so many
residents that Life magazine sent a team to
cover the story.”
Enter Haydon Burns, who became
mayor of Jacksonville in 1949 and served
until 1965. He cleaned up the Downtown
waterfront by having the rotting docks and
warehouses torn down and a bulkhead
built in the 1950s.
The parking lots were placed where
the docks had been to serve a new county
courthouse in 1958 and a new city hall in
1960, buildings that helped attract private
A lot has happened since the days of
Haydon Burns the Builder.
In 1977, the last of the 77 raw sewage
outfalls were capped, and Mayor Hans
Tanzler famously skied in the St. Johns
River Downtown, showing the world that a
state official’s description of Jacksonville in
1969 as “the cesspool of Florida” no longer
The Jacksonville Landing replaced one
of those parking decks. The Northbank and
Southbank Riverwalks were completed.
And in 2000, the City Council approved
a master plan for Downtown called “Celebrating
the River: A Plan for Downtown
An introduction to the plan read:
“Downtown Jacksonville is the heart of the
city. It can and should reflect the beauty,
diversity and vitality of our entire region,
and this master plan provides the guidance
needed to make that vision a reality.”
Among other things, the plan emphasized
open space and pedestrian connectivity
to the river and Downtown.
BRUCE LIPSKY (BOYER): DEDE SMITH (PAPPAS)
42 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
‘RIVER CITY’ FAR FROM REALITY
BY TED PAPPAS // JACKSONVILLE ARCHITECT
NEXT YEAR, consolidated government
will celebrate 50 years. The JCCI Study, “River
Dance,” was presented in 2005 – 12 years
ago while consolidated government
was 37 years old.
This JCCI study focused on
environmental concerns relating to
the health of the river and the many
potential and exciting uses of the
river. “Putting the River in the River
City” was our theme along with “Celebrating
What an easy theme “Celebrating the
River.” We have a natural wonder that gives
us our unique city identity: A river that runs
right through the middle of our great city
of 847 square miles of land area. A river
crossed by seven significant bridges and a
river with fast moving tides.
In some ways, we can say that we have
celebrated the river with two significant river
walks on the Northbank and Southbank, both
wonderful assets for pedestrians and cyclists.
The river serves as a large urban living
room with our most impressive buildings
placed front and center.
And yet the river lacks the
potential and important quality of
hustle bustle. The two riverbanks
north and south are divided by this
wide living room with little connection
between, except for the fast
moving traffic crossing the bridges.
We lack large-scale urban core yacht
basins with heavy boat traffic. We lack
riverside terraced restaurants and tree-lined
Riverwalks. And we lack a pedestrian bridge
connecting both banks of the river.
As chair of the river study 12 years ago,
my expectations were much bolder than
what reality has presented.
We have not calculated the equation of
political will combined with public funding for
major riverfront public works projects.
It called for the creation of an “Emerald
Necklace” – a ring of parks and open space
connecting Downtown neighborhoods to
“The Emerald Necklace will function as
the seam binding individual neighborhoods
together. To emphasize the connectivity to
the river, Hogans Creek will form the first
part of the necklace and McCoys Creek the
Four years later, Jacksonville Community
Council Inc. completed a study called “River
Dance: Putting the River in River City.”
One of the study’s main recommendations
was to “implement and fund the
Downtown master plan ‘Celebrating the
Now 17 years after the City Council approved
that plan, it’s still but a dream.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress.
In 2005 when the Super Bowl came to
town, the Downtown riverfront was alive.
The Main Street bridge was closed to
automobiles and became a pedestrian walkway
linking the Northbank and Southbank
Riverwalks. The weather was spectacular,
and the river sparkled.
The game ended, the visitor went away
and the excitement Downtown died. The
Downtown master plan faded with the
In recent years, however, recognition of
The first automobile
bridge over the St.
Johns River in Jacksonville
was built in
1921. Originally called
the St. Johns River
Bridge, it later became
known as the Acosta
Flowing through 12
counties, the St. Johns
River stretches a
whopping 310 miles,
making it the longest
river in Florida.
With a drop of less
than 30 feet from its
origination point in
the swamps south
of Melbourne to the
Atlantic Ocean, it is
known as one of the
world’s laziest rivers.
According to the
Florida Fish and
make their homes on
the St. Johns River.
Where the St. Johns
River meets the
Wekiva River near
Sanford, troops of
can be found. How
they ended up in
that region remains
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 43
the importance of integrating the riverfront
into a revitalized Downtown and capitalizing
on this gift of nature has sputtered back
One reason is the St. Johns is cleaner and
more inviting than it once was. Dolphins
are frequent visitors to Downtown now, a
welcome and enthusiastically received sight
that would not have been seen when the
city’s reputation was that of a “cesspool.”
In 2015, the annual JAX Chamber
Leadership Trip traveled to Oklahoma City.
Participants came back amazed at what that
city had accomplished Downtown by investing
in, no disrespect intended, its rather
In 2016, the Leadership Trip went to
Pittsburgh. Again participants were inspired
by what that city had done with its riverfront.
Enthusiasm spread for finally doing
something with the St. Johns River and
At the end of last year, City Council
President Lori Boyer picked up the ball and
found there was already a lot happening.
A group of architects had been meeting for
months to find ways to draw people to the
riverfront and to connect the Northbank
Another group was meeting regularly to
come up with an identity that would tell the
nation what Jacksonville is known for, much
as New Orleans is associated with partying
and Nashville with country music.
Not surprisingly for a city that has the St.
Johns River, its tributaries, the beaches and
the marshes and tidal creeks along the Intracoastal
Waterway, that identity, the group
determined, revolves around water.
Other progress is coming, as can be seen
with the plans and projects described elsewhere
in “J.” All are balls that are up in the
air and being juggled. Hopefully they won’t
fall to the ground and once again roll off into
But one thing having a hard time going
anywhere is perhaps the most critical part of
connecting the St. Johns riverfront to a thriving
Downtown — the Emerald Necklace.
Hogans Creek is still polluted, and the
solid bones of a magnificent greenway envisioned
by architect Henry Klutho wait to be
brought back to life.
McCoys Creek, too, remains but an idea.
It’s along those narrower waterways that
development can include shops, restaurants
and residences — the things that helped
Downtowns thrive in other cities.
It’s not difficult to imagine watercraft
plying those creeks as they do along San
Antonio’s River Walk.
Conversations in Jacksonville about
Downtown’s riverfront usually begin with
San Antonio, the destination of a JAX
Chamber Leadership Trip decades ago.
That city turned a river that’s not much
more than a ditch into a highly successful
tourism and entertainment venue for its
Success didn’t happen overnight. For decades,
civic groups and government leaders
worked to turn the flood-prone river into an
asset. They had the commitment to stick to
it and spent the money to do that, and the
city’s River Walk took off in 1968 when San
Antonio hosted HemisFair ’68.
Since then, hotels, shops and restaurants
have multiplied along the River Walk.
It draws several million tourists a year
and is one of the top travel destinations in
San Antonio was ready and took advantage
of its opportunity that came with the
Jacksonville’s opportunity — the Super
Bowl — just faded away, and the Emerald
Necklace remains locked away in a drawer
waiting for the commitment and the investment
to polish it into reality.
A revitalized Downtown celebrating the
St. Johns won’t happen unless Mayor Lenny
Curry makes it a priority.
And it won’t happen without the same
commitment from future mayors.
And it won’t happen unless business
and civic leaders and groups like the Civic
Council and JAX Chamber do more than
issue reports and flowery statements.
And it won’t happen unless the age-old
excuse of no money is overcome.
Only then will the river become the jewel
So where will the people — the hikers,
the bikers, the joggers, the boaters, the picnickers,
the bench sitters — be then?
Enjoying Downtown and the magnificent
RON LITTLEPAGE has been with the Times-
Union since 1978. He started writing an opinion
column in 1989. He and his wife live in Avondale.
DOWNTOWN’S NATURAL ASSET
BY LISA RINAMAN // THE ST. JOHNS RIVERKEEPER
JACKSONVILLE IS BLESSED to have
the mighty St. Johns River flowing through
the heart of our city.
Envision a mosaic of riverfront
parks, diverse open spaces and
amenities serving as a catalyst for
future downtown projects.
An interconnected network of
trails, parks and blueways would
connect our river to Downtown
and the surrounding neighborhoods while
providing green infrastructure that would
filter runoff, create habitat and provide a
buffer for our waterways.
Imagine kayaking, biking or strolling
from Springfield along the banks of Hogans
Creek to a vibrant Downtown and activated
Connecting the S-line Trail and
McCoys creek to an extended
Riverwalk would create unique
access to the vibrant restaurant
and entertainment districts in
Brooklyn, Five Points, the Southbank
The St. Johns River is Jacksonville’s competitive
advantage. Let’s fully embrace our
greatest natural asset.
44 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
OFFICIAL HOST OF
Become an individual member for FREE at JAXSPORTS.com
WHEN IT COMES TO PARKING IN JACKSONVILLE’S
DOWNTOWN, PERCEPTION MAY BE REALITY. DESPITE
ROUGHLY 43,000 PUBLIC PARKING SPACES ON
THE STREETS AND IN GARAGES, SOME PEOPLE SAY
FINDING A SPOT CAN BE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE.
46 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
BY MIKE CLARK
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF DAVIS
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 47
It’s a bad memory mentioned by Times-
Union readers when it comes to Downtown.
People clearly remember when parking means getting a $25 ticket or a long
search for a space or a big fee at a parking garage.
So I sat down with Jack Shad, formerly head of the city parking
division, and his Downtown business partner, Mike Field, an urban-development
advocate, to talk about parking. A few solutions
were offered along with some surprising comments.
It’s clear that the city’s parking system has failed. It needs to be
totally redesigned and upgraded. This would be a good job for a
special ad hoc committee of City Council. If parking doesn’t work,
then Downtown won’t work, either.
We have a letter from a member of our Email Group, Jack
Knee from Nocatee. He writes, “You cannot solve Downtown
unless parking is free or cheap. I don’t want to return to my car
and find a boot on the wheel and a $75 ticket.”
SHAD: I dealt with this for four years. There is so much parking
Downtown. We have the cheapest parking of any city that bothers
to charge for parking. Paid parking makes Downtown work. People
don’t understand how expensive it is to build and maintain parking
facilities. Somebody’s got to pay for it. Either it’s got to be the city or
private operators. Parking at Publix costs them to build that parking
lot. They roll it into the stuff you buy there. In Downtown, you have
the opportunity to separate that out, which is kind of a cool thing.
You also have the opportunity to pay less if you feel like walking
more. Donald Shoup, who is kind of the economist of parking, said
“The ideal parking spot is the one that balances your greed vs. your
That’s a great line.
SHAD: So our metered parking is so cheap that it’s actually
cost-effective for people who work Downtown to surf the meters
all day. So there is no parking for folks who come into Downtown.
Another side effect is that you have Downtown workers running
downstairs every two hours to feed the meter. It’s a little bit
counter-intuitive, but if you raised the price of the meters, when
you went Downtown, you would find a spot open instead of driving
around for 20 minutes. I ask everybody, “Would you rather
JEFF DAVIS (6)
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“The average cost of parking Downtown is about $80 a month, and
for a lot of folks who work Downtown, $1,000 a year is a big deal.”
FORMER HEAD OF THE CITY’S PARKING DIVISION
save a dollar or 20 minutes?”
And what do they say?
SHAD: They always say they would rather save 20
minutes, and yet we haven’t set up our Downtown
this way. Somebody’s got to pay for that parking. The
city’s not in the position to do it, so the customers
have to do it.
FIELD: If you’re in a suburban location, you’ve got
all this land, so you have a lot of wasted land. Who
pays for that land? Downtown is one of the few places
where market forces are at play at the use of land.
There are places like Greenville or Savannah where
they have two-hour free parking in their peripheral
areas Downtown, but they can do that because
Downtown makes a lot of money for them. Without all
those parking garages, you would have a lot of surface
parking lots and wasted land.
Sharon Snow of Jacksonville, another Email
Group member, writes that if she were mayor she
would make the first hour of parking free, which
is what is done in Eugene, Ore. Does that sound
SHAD: Things like that are practical, but they
depend on a lot of enforcement. The ideal situation
would be the first hour is free, the second hour is $2,
the third hour is $3. If you wanted to pay for it, you
could sit on the street all day, but it would cost you 30
or 40 bucks. Let the market decide how long people
are staying on meters. The average cost of parking
Downtown is about $80 a month, and for a lot of folks
who work Downtown, $1,000 a year is a big deal. What
would you do for $1,000?
Are there better meters or better metering systems
than the ones we have now? For instance, we
have a few meters that allow credit cards.
SHAD: About one-third of the meters allow credit
cards. We tested the parking meter sensors on Laura
Street. The sensors in the street tells us if a car is there.
You can know how long someone has been there, so
you have the technical ability to give the first hour
free. When the enforcement guys are chalking tires,
that is not super effective because people go back and
wipe the chalk off.
SHAD: You’re shocked to hear that. So there are
some technical solutions that have big advantages.
Savannah and St. Augustine use pay stations, a
Public parking spaces
in Jacksonville, which
include garage parking,
metered street parking
and peripheral parking.
Metered parking spaces
located on Downtown
The cost of parking
for 30 minutes at a
Parking fines –
citations dating back to
1980 – the city wrote
off in 2016.
Annual revenue the
City of Jacksonville
couple per block.
So you put money in a machine and you put the
receipt in your dashboard window.
SHAD: A lot of them don’t need a receipt anymore.
A lot of them are wireless. Those credit card
meters are essentially tiny cell phones and so those
transactions get run in real time. I could look from
my desk and tell you how many nickels were in each
machine. You can set it up so you type in your license
plate number, put money on your credit card and that
sends it up to the Internet, and then it is sent down to
the enforcement guy with his hand-held ticket-writing
machine. There is a pay-by-cell app. It knows your
credit card number and your license plate number,
and it knows what block you’re on. A lot of them will
send you an alert that, hey, “you have 15 minutes left
on your meter, what do you want to do?”
So you would never get a ticket that way.
SHAD: The issue there is you have to get the pricing
right. Otherwise, if I’m going to work, I’ll just park
there and let it charge me unless the pricing is such
that I don’t want to do that.
So it all gets back to price.
SHAD: Like any product, if you run out of stuff,
you’re not charged enough. We have a shortage of
metered spaces, but we have a real surplus of spaces
around the edge of Downtown, around the convention
center. If you price it properly, people will fill
those in, and there will be spaces in the core.
Getting a ticket and encountering a panhandler
are the two things people never forget about
FIELD: I think that speaks to why we need to have
more stuff Downtown so your experience is more
memorable. I get panhandled in Five Points almost
every day, not as much as Downtown, but it’s not
my chief memory of Five Points. Recently I was on a
rooftop bar with friends in Five Points and having a
great time. That’s the challenge of Downtown, making
it a more memorable experience.
MIKE CLARK has been reporting and editing for The Florida
Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal since 1973. He has
been Editorial Page Editor for the last 12 years following 15
years as Reader Advocate.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 51
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CHECKING THE PULSE
J MAGAZINE POLL:
LACK OF AMENITIES
TOP SURVEY RESULTS
ON WHY PEOPLE
BY FRANK DENTON
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF DAVIS
hree years ago,
a woman in St.
told a Times-
comes Downtown because
“there’s nothing there except
drunks and bums.”
She may still be sequestered
in her suburb, but a lot of other
people around Northeast Florida
are finding more in the heart
of the city — and expecting still
Downtown Jacksonville is finally
on the ascent, though with
a lot more progress needed, and
people around Northeast Florida
are ready to take advantage
of its growing — and, especially,
anticipated — list of amenities
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 53
What they need are more reasons to
make the trek — and to feel safe while
Those are the major conclusions of a
University of North Florida poll of people in
Duval and contiguous counties for “J” and
The poll findings offer strong support
for recent progress on Downtown but,
more important, powerful demand for the
right mixture and concentration of venues,
events and activities to pull people into the
heart and achieve real, permanent civic
Thirty-seven percent of Northeast
Floridians believe Downtown is improving,
including 42 percent of Duval residents.
About one-third aren’t seeing it yet, and
almost one-fifth actually think Downtown is
The optimists tend to be higher-income:
49 percent of people whose income is
$75,000-$100,000 see improvement, and
43 percent of people who make more than
Almost half — 48 percent in Duval,
47 percent in the contiguous counties —
already come Downtown a couple of times
a year for leisure or entertainment — 38
percent for concerts, 30 percent for dining,
28 percent for sports events and 27 percent
for other events like Art Walk, fireworks, Jazz
Festival or home, boat or gun shows.
Very few come Downtown for the museums
(7 percent) or Jacksonville Landing
(4 percent), despite the latter’s regular free
entertainment on the river.
More than one-fourth of respondents
“never” come Downtown for leisure or
entertainment — 23 percent in Duval and
32 percent in the other three counties.
These “nevers” are heavily weighted older,
42 percent of those 55-64 and 51 percent of
Asked why they don’t come Downtown
more frequently, about one-third said they
have no reason to come because there’s
nothing to do there — 36 percent in Duval
County and 32 percent in the other counties.
Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision,
said they’re out of touch. “Often outdated or
wrong, these perceptions are typically held
by people who haven’t visited in a while.
Asking those who spend time here every
day paints a clearer picture: Downtown is a
vibrant place with many activities and amenities.
It’s easy to get to and statistically very
safe. What Downtown needs most is more
people living, working and playing here,
which is why we work hard to educate the
community on all Downtown has to offer.”
Aundra Wallace, CEO of the Downtown
Investment Authority, sees the results of the
poll as both “positive” and “constructive
“People are seeing change, and they
want change even faster,” he said. “If you
had asked the same questions in 2012,
the discussion would be vastly worse than
today. There probably would have been a
higher average of people not seeing any
improvement. We know what we’re doing is
working, but the market is saying they want
more. That’s good position to be in.
“There can be more entertainment
attractions for people, and we are trying to
address that as fast as we possibly can.”
Paul Astleford, president and CEO of
Visit Jacksonville, the city’s convention
and visitors bureau, said the poll’s findings
represent not just locals but also the power
of their word of mouth. “Residents are important
because they are the ones inviting
J MAGAZINE POLL
IN GENERAL, DO YOU THINK
DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE IS ...
HOW WOULD YOU IMPROVE
OTHER MENTIONS: 7% – Address the homeless
issue, Make it nicer/Cleaner; 5% – Improve
The Landing, More kids/Family friendly; 4% –
More business; 2% – More residential/liveable;
1% Better public transit, More accessible.
54 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
friends and relatives to visit Jacksonville.”
Astleford, who has been in Jacksonville
only 4½ years, said the respondents who
think there’s nothing to do Downtown just
aren’t looking for it. “When I look at the
list of thing on our website, or the Downtown
Vision website, there’s no end to the
amount of stuff. There are always things
The second major reason that some
people never come, for 21 percent of
respondents, is the belief that Downtown is
Police statistics show that Downtown
is one of the safest parts of the city, but the
problem is the public perception, likely reinforced
in January by a shooting on Laura
Street during the monthly Art Walk and a
probably related shooting two weeks later.
“Here’s the challenge with that perception,”
Wallace said. “You have an event that’s
been going on over a decade, in excess of
150 Art Walks, and we’ve had two incidents
in that time frame that happen to be unrelated
to Art Walk itself but shine a negative
light on Art Walk and Downtown because
they took place there.
“Statistics don’t matter when someone
has a perception, and we have to work on
how to address the perception.”
Parking (10 percent) and traffic and road
construction (8 percent) were slightly bigger
deterrents than panhandlers, at 5 percent.
Duval respondents said the single
biggest thing to improve Downtown would
be more attractions and things to do (20
percent), with 16 percent wanting more
police and 14 percent better parking.
Clay, St. Johns and Nassau residents
called for improved traffic and highways
(15 percent), better parking (13 percent)
and more safety (15 percent).
“We have to do a better job of identifying
parking for people,” Wallace said, “because
we have a plethora of parking.” (See
the related story on page 48.)
Astleford, a veteran of 30 years in tourism
and convention marketing, 20 of them
with the convention and visitors bureaus
in Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, said the
special sauce for Downtown synergy is not
just more events and venues but also “creating
connecting experiences. Instead of
individual restaurants and attractions, start
to create an experience realm. How can we
connect these attractions?”
He suggested this “experiential tourism”
would connect different reasons for coming
Downtown, not just to see a concert
or baseball game then leave, but also have
dinner and a stroll along an attractive and
engaging riverfront. “How we can create
these luring kinds of linked experiences
takes some time and effort.”
The survey’s results indicate that, while
Downtown’s image is improving, the challenge
seems clear: create a compelling and
connected collection of entertainment,
activities and events in the heart of Downtown
and along the river, and the people
will come, swarming over the old negative
The random-sample telephone survey of 643
residents of Duval and surrounding counties (Nassau,
Clay, St. Johns) was conducted in early May
by the University of North Florida Public Opinion
Research Laboratory. Margin of error: around 5
FRANK DENTON was editor of The Florida-Times
Union in 2008-2016 and now is editor
at large. He lives in Avondale.
J MAGAZINE POLL
WHY HAVE YOU NOT COME DOWNTOWN MORE OFTEN IN THE PAST YEAR?
IN THE PAST YEAR,
HOW MANY TIMES
HAVE YOU GONE
IN THE PAST YEAR,
HOW MANY TIMES
HAVE YOU GONE
18% NEVER DAILY
Poll results from a J MAGAZINE random-sample telephone survey of 643 Northeast Florida residents in Duval, Nassau, Clay and St. Johns
counties, conducted in early May by the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory. Margin of error: +/- 3.9 percent.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 55
By Roger Brown
It is disorienting and even distressing
for the people targeted for
They are the citizens and visitors
who are sometimes unable to walk to
jobs, homes, appointments, restaurants,
concerts or other destinations
in Downtown Jacksonville without
having their personal space invaded
It is a scourge of Downtown Jacksonville.
It is dehumanizing and demeaning
for the actual panhandlers: the people
who regularly roam Downtown block
after block, asking for money.
by people asking for money. Without
having their heartstrings constantly
tugged and manipulated for coins.
So when you raise the issue of
panhandling with Jake Gordon, the animated
CEO of Downtown Vision Inc.,
you understand why his first reaction
is an audible sigh.
“Panhandling may be a nuisance
crime, but it’s one we take very seriously,”
Gordon says. “It’s a bad experience
for the people who are subjected to
it. It’s not helping the people who
are doing it. And it’s not helping our
Downtown in any way.”
That stark appraisal gets no
argument from Jacksonville Sheriff’s
Office Zone 1 Chief Jackson Short, who
oversees the department’s Downtown
enforcement efforts. “It is definitely
an issue that can impact the quality of
living and working in the Downtown
area,” Short says.
“It is a criminal offense. And we
address it as such.”
THERE OUGHTA BE
A LAW – AND THERE IS
And, yes, in case you’re wondering:
FLORIDA TIMES-UNION ARCHIVE
56 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
There IS a law that bans panhandling in
And that law DOES have tough language
It deems panhandling to be a misdemeanor
offense that can lead up to as much
as a $500 fine — and as many as 90 days in
jail — for repeated offenses.
Section 614.138 of the city’s Code of
Ordinances states that is unlawful for anyone
within Jacksonville’s “Central Core Enhancement
Area” — in other words, its Downtown
section — to: “Solicit or beg on any sidewalk,
highway, street, roadway, right-of-way,
parking lot, park or picnic grounds or other
public or semi-public area, or in any building
lobby, entranceway, plaza or common
area without the permission of the owner
The numbers suggest the JSO’s Downtown
patrol is making a genuine effort to carry
out that law. From January 2016 through
April of this year, nearly 500 transients in
Downtown Jacksonville were ticketed for
panhandling or similar, nuisance-oriented
“Panhandling can be difficult to enforce
because from a distance it looks like an
interaction between two people,” Short says.
“But it is not impossible to enforce, and we
do intervene when possible.”
That balancing act, however, is why
Downtown panhandling remains a stubborn
“If an officer is patrolling the Downtown
area and observes two people in a conversation,
it can be difficult to know if the
conversation is consensual or an unwanted
solicitation,” Short says. “We have to balance
enforcing the laws without violating citizens’
right to not be illegally stopped.”
That obstacle aside, however, it’s clear
that the JSO isn’t ignoring Downtown panhandling.
Indeed, it is keen to reduce it.
And both Short and Gordon suggest
the city has other arrows in its enforcement
quiver to address panhandling.
Short says Zone 1’s work to tackle panhandling
is sure to benefit as it adds some
new officers to its Downtown ranks.
Gordon says Downtown Vision Inc. —
one of the city’s lead advocates for living and
working Downtown — is exploring another
way to discourage panhandling.
He said the nonprofit may have its dozen
or so “Downtown ambassadors” provide
information to visitors that encourages them
to bypass panhandlers and instead donate
to one of the numerous nearby social service
agencies that directly help people with
“People have to
learn to say, ‘No’
to panhandlers –
and to keep saying
that to them.”
CEO OF DOWNTOWN VISION INC.
legitimate needs — from those who need
food and shelter to others battling mental
Gordon says that soft yet proactive approach
could snatch away the strongest card
that Downtown panhandlers play in begging
others for money: the guilt card.
“It would allow the person (being targeted)
to say, ‘No,’ without feeling guilty about
saying it,” Gordon says.
CUT OFF THE DEMAND
Now take a moment and re-read Gordon’s
And focus on the word “No.”
Because it’s the single word that both
Gordon and Short believe holds the most
power in attacking Downtown panhandling.
Noting that just within Downtown Jacksonville,
there are more than 10 social service
agencies that daily provide assistance to the
needy, Gordon maintains that saying “no” to
panhandlers isn’t harsh or heartless at all.
“I truly believe that there is no one panhandling
in Downtown Jacksonville who’s
genuinely in need,” Gordon says. “It’s not like
the panhandlers are unaware that there are
services available for them Downtown —
they are totally aware of that.
“But what they’re really aware of is that
you may have some money in your pocket.
And they want it. It’s not much more complicated
So the answer, Gordon says, should hardly
be a mystery.
“People have to learn to say, ‘No’ to
panhandlers — and to keep saying that to
them,” Gordon says. “If you cut off the supply
for Downtown panhandlers, you cut off the
demand. And if you cut off the ability of panhandlers
to demand money, you can start to
reduce their presence. It’s that simple.”
Short agrees there is no legitimate reason
for people to panhandle. “There are plenty of
opportunities for those who are hungry to get
food,” Short says.
THE TWO TRUTHS
Look, here are the two truths we must
face regarding the presence of panhandling
in Downtown Jacksonville:
Truth No. 1:
Downtown Jacksonville isn’t some
privately controlled area — an amusement
park, a shopping center — where people
who might make others feel a bit uneasy can
be kept out.
Or thrown out.
Downtown Jacksonville opens its arms to
And panhandlers will always be among
the people running into those outstretched
So if you’re going to be in Downtown
Jacksonville, you must embrace that — and
the fact that you won’t ever be in an antiseptic
bubble — free of smells, sounds and
people who may make you uncomfortable.
Accept it. Deal with it. Put on your grownup
clothes and go with it.
We’re in a big, sprawling American city,
and people and discomfort, from time to
time, is part of the admission ticket.
Besides, are you really going to give
panhandlers so much power over your life
that the mere thought of running into them
discourages you from coming Downtown?
Or from enjoying the rich, organic and
wonderful experiences Downtown has to
After all, Gordon pretty much nails it
when he says this:
“One of the best ways to make panhandlers
less of a problem Downtown is to have
lots more people in general Downtown.
Now here’s Truth No. 2:
No, it’s not realistic to think that our city
can get to a point where no one panhandles
in Downtown Jacksonville.
But, yes, it is realistic to strive for a day
when fewer people are panhandling in
Before that day can ever become reality,
one simple word must be transformed into
one powerful mantra.
It’s the word “No.”
ROGER BROWN has been a Times-Union
editorial writer since 2013. He lives in Downtown
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 57
12 HOURS IN DOWNTOWN
By Tony Allegretti
Visitors to MOCA at 333 N. Laura St., take in
“Multiverse,” a painting by American muralist
Maya Hayuk on display in a gallery featuring
work from the museum’s permanent collection.
Exploring Downtown with
a day of art, coffee & culture
’ve spent 10 or 12 hours a day Downtown,
most days, for almost two
decades. There have been amazing
things that have come and gone, and there are
always copious choices of fun things to do and
see. To recreate this day, you’ll need to do it on a
weekday, perhaps a Friday.
I’m suggesting arriving in casual clothes with
comfortable shoes for this excursion.
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 59
LEFT: Under the Main Street Bridge along the Southbank Riverwalk, you’ll find “Mirrored River,” a 60-foot mosaic art piece reflecting the downtown skyline.
RIGHT: One of the popular lunchtime items at Super Food and Brew, at 11 E. Forsyth St., is the Pretzelwich with spicy garlic Dijon mustard.
1 10 AM | PUBLIC HOUSE
It is always good to give a bit of energy
to a new adventure, so let’s start at the
new Public House Coffee at the Jacksonville
Landing. Public House has all
of today’s concoctions, but I always just
go for a strong Americano. The coffee is
fresh and strong, and a tasty pastry will
hold us over until a late lunch. Since we
are talking about 12 hours of exploration,
let’s make it a large Americano.
Water Street is buzzing with Jacksonville
Symphony Orchestra musicians
checking in and the technical crew from
the FSCJ artist series unloading massive
trucks of the latest in performing arts.
2 10:30 AM | OMNI SHOESHINE
I like to make my way to the Skyway
through the Omni Hotel. Our Northbank
hotels (Omni and Hyatt) have both been
recently refurbished and offer excellent
accommodations for a fraction of what
you’d spend in most downtowns. Since
I have on nice, comfortable shoes and
because it’s Friday, I stop and get a shine
from Perry, who mans the shoe shine in
the Omni on Thursdays and Fridays.
You can see Central Station from
your shine. Let’s jump on the Skyway
there. But before we do, let us take a look
at the strolling gallery under the Skyway
on the columns that hold up our peoplemover
from Central to Hemming. New
colorful works from Andrew Reid and
Cecilia Lueza transform and energize the
strolls at Bay and Hogan.
3 11 AM | REDDI-ARTS
Let’s hop on an every-seven-minute
ride to the Southbank and head all the
way to Kings Avenue Station. You can’t
help but hold on as your car climbs out
of a spaghetti maze up the incline and
across the St. Johns, an American Heritage
River. The river is always majestic at
this time of day, and you can see clearly
from the Acosta Bridge, the Fuller Warren
to your right and Main Street, Hart,
Mathews and even Dames Point to your
Upon arriving at Kings Avenue
station, we skip over a block to the west
and pop in to Reddi-Arts, a full-service
art-supply store and gallery. For a good
price, let’s pick up some pastels and
sketch pad to memorialize our day, shall
From Reddi-Arts, we walk north toward
the residential waterfront condos.
See if you can find the public access
between the Peninsula and Strand. It’s
a beautiful shady stroll that ends at our
new Southbank Riverwalk. The Riverwalk
is always alive with joggers and
strollers, and you can take great photos
of our river and Downtown from multiple
4 NOON | MIRRORED RIVER
We pay homage to our Navy roots
with our sailor sculpture, and farther
down, under the Main Street Bridge,
you’ll see the latest piece in our city’s
permanent public art collection. “Mirrored
River” was commissioned in 2015
and completed by Roux Arts and dozens
of citizen artists. It could be the most
beautiful mosaic under a bridge in the
world. Take plenty of photos using the
trickery of the mirrors and the excellent
5 1 PM | MOSH
As you emerge from under the
bridge enjoy Friendship Fountain and
its new furnishings and pergola on the
way to MOSH. It’s Friday, which means
$5 Friday! MOSH is worth it at any price.
Soak up the often maritime, science
and history exhibits that rotate in this
Ok, I’m getting hungry. Let us jump
on the Water Taxi at Friendship Fountain
and ride across to the Landing where
we can cut through the parking lot
and the JAX Chamber lot to get a quick
sketch in of Aisling Millar McDonald’s
triumphant sculpture, “Harmonious
JEFF DAVIS (4); JEFF DAVIS (MAP)
60 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
LEFT: Chamblin’s Bookmine at 215 N. Laura St., features hundreds of thousands of books including this 1943 copy of “The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities.”
RIGHT: Murals featuring the art of Andrew Reid and Cecilia Lueza adorn the pillars supporting Jacksonville’s Skyway near Bay and Hogan Streets.
6 2 PM | SUPER FOOD & BREW
Just a block or so north, we finally
arrive for a late lunch at Super Food
and Brew. Super Food has the best tuna
poke this side of Japan. They’ve got
other options, including lobster, and the
prices are as good as the food is fresh.
Since we’ve clearly taken the day off, I
recommend washing it all down with a
local pint, which is always on tap and
After lunch, we head west again, but
up Adams Street. We can see progress in
the making as the old Lerner Building is
buzzing with construction, soon to feature
FSCJ student housing and a culinary
test kitchen and restaurant.
7 3 PM | ART & LITERATURE
Take a right on Laura and pop into
the Wolf & Cub, a hipsters’ retail refuge
with local art and vintage fashion. Now
that you bought some things for the
list you didn’t know you had, complete
your shopping at Chamblin’s Bookmine,
which is an endless labyrinth of the
Let’s enjoy a nice soda water outside
Chamblin’s and sketch the beautiful
Snyder Memorial Church, Greenleaf
& Crosby Building, Jacob’s Clock and
bustling Hemming Park across the street.
You’ll love the new iconic sculpture by
Rafael Consuegra in front of Snyder as
well as the innovative sculptures as bike
racks and street furniture, all part of the
12 HOURS IN DOWNTOWN
Downtown Investment Authority’s Urban
Arts Projects (phase one).
8 6 PM | MOCA
As the sun sets, let’s duck into the
Museum of Contemporary Art and take
in the atrium installation and three
floors of some of the most acclaimed
contemporary art on the planet. We’ll
have to come back to properly take it all
in because we need to hustle toward the
Florida Theatre to catch the early show.
9 7 PM | FLORIDA THEATRE
One of two tonight. The Florida
Theatre has had a great run of booking
ultra-hot trending comedians who can
sell out two shows in one night.
10 10 PM | 1904 MUSIC HALL
Another cold pint of local beer is in order
after our laughs, so we duck into 1904
Music Hall around the corner and catch
some live music. This music hall has been
recognized as one of the best places to
watch a performance in our state. But my
favorite pastime here is to sit in the back
patio which is a 360-degree gallery of local
graffiti and reflect on the day that was.
TONY ALLEGRETTI, a Jacksonville resident
since 1997, is executive director of the Cultural
Council of Greater Jacksonville.
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 61
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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
By Mike Clark
Creating energy in
the urban core
Mike Field is more than an observer
of the successes and failures of
Downtown Jacksonville, he’s also
rolled up his sleeves to become
a catalyst for ideas and growth
ike Field, 38, proudly calls himself a
“dumpster baby.” He was born in Riverside
Hospital to a woman from North Carolina,
was taken in by Catholic Charities and later adopted
by his mother and father.
Senior analyst at JPMorgan
Chase, cofounder of
cofounder of Transform
Jax, founder of Jaxsons
Night Market, founder of
He graduated from Bishop
Kenny and earned
a bachelor’s degree in
economics from Florida
State. He has spent the
past 15 years in banking
and helped start Jax
Truckies, Jaxsons Night
Market (which worked
better than he thought)
and Moderncities.com, a
website about urban life
and innovations. In his latest venture, he and Jack
Shad opened a food truck park Downtown.
On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being a ghost town and 10 being a
tourist destination, what score would you give Downtown
I’d give Downtown a 4. Not to be negative, but I think you
have to be honest about the challenges that Downtown faces
before you can agree on a way forward. Around the Super
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 63
Bowl in 2005 it was a 2, so the trend is
The main thing that’s apparent when
comparing Jacksonville to urban centers
around the Southeast is that we’ve now
missed out on two multifamily construction
booms, first condos and now apartments.
The number of residents surrounding
the urban core is probably the biggest
separating point between a score of a 3 and
The population of the urban neighborhoods
surrounding what we consider
the Central Business District have all but
vanished. It’s interesting to note that the
CBD has a larger residential population
today than what existed in 1960, but since
1960 the population in the “urban core”
has decreased by about 60 percent.
Neighborhoods like Sugar Hill, LaVilla,
Oakland, Fairfield and Brooklyn have been
wiped off the map. Even Riverside is less
dense today than it was 30 years ago. The
density of those urban neighborhoods is
what made Downtown thrive. Whereas
LaVilla would be comparable to South End
in Charlotte, today LaVilla doesn’t even
In South End, you have roughly 7,000
people there, which is equivalent to the
density of LaVilla at its peak. They may not
live “Downtown,” but they live within an
eight- to 10-block walk of Downtown.
When Vestcor’s 120-unit affordable
housing complex and Beneficial Communities’
72-unit senior housing complex
opens later this year, that will have been
the first new housing units added to LaVilla
since the neighborhood was demolished in
We’re being left out of that multifamily
construction bubble again for the second
time in a row. As a person who is passionate
about Downtown and sees the upward
trend, that is a big concern.
Six years ago, we never had all the businesses
that are Downtown now, and that’s
reason for optimism.
I have friends in from out of town this
weekend, and the first place we will go is
the rooftop deck at Intuition. That wasn’t
even here a year ago. Then, we’ll go to Dos
Gatos and have a great cocktail and then
slide on over to Sweet Pete’s to get his kids
some candy. Those are all some really cool
places to show off to outsiders. There are
just not enough of them within a compact
How far away are we from having that
You look at Greenville, S.C. They focused
on that one main strip, and that is truly
a great place. People from surrounding
neighborhoods, that’s their destination
because that’s where all the great places
to eat are. They can walk up and down the
street because there’s a large concentration
of complementary uses in an attractive
You can copy that model in Jacksonville,
and that will at least get you a walkable
corridor Downtown that you’d be proud to
bring out of town visitors to.
So Laura Street all the way to the
Landing is supposed to be ours?
Laura and Adams is ground zero,
because that is where you have a density of
existing building stock that have some sort
of ground-level retail space. Bay Street is
nice, but there is nothing on the other side
of the street.
Somebody asked me, “How do you define
a place.” And I said you don’t define it,
you just know it. I was in Chicago once and
I turned the corner and I smelled some pizza
and heard some live music being played
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62 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
at a bar next door that spilled out onto the
street. So there are great places, but that
concentration, that corridor is not there.
The Downtown Investment Authority,
the mayor, City Council, real estate brokers
and property owners all really need to sit
down with everybody at the table and start
a highly specific, strategic effort to create
two great corridors. Let’s understand exactly
how much street-level retail exists, what
it will cost to make these spaces habitable,
where are the gaps in walkability and then
make a concerted effort to make Adams
and Laura Streets truly vibrant places, and
go from there.
Does Brooklyn feel like Downtown to
Brooklyn has been its own neighborhood
for nearly 150 years. We have to
respect that history and appreciate that
context. That said, I think Brooklyn is going
to be the next great Southeastern urban
neighborhood. There are two developers
that have assembled some land along Park
and Forrest that are going to really accelerate
The city has hired a consultant to look
at redesigning Park Street to make it more
people-friendly, because it’s junk right now.
If that gets completed, Park Street could
be every bit as fantastic as Gaines Street in
The booming health of Midtown in
Atlanta, The Gulch in Nashville and Uptown
in Charlotte are all crucial to the success
of their respective CBD’s, and our own
Brooklyn has a chance to be better than all
If you were mayor what would you do?
There is a block of vacant land that the
state attorney uses as a parking lot now
along Adams Street, which used to be the
George Washington Hotel. Give it away, immediately.
You could build a parking garage
on that site and wrap apartments around it.
By giving the land away, the city is
essentially acting as an equity partner that
a private developer can use to finance
market-rate residential. Same thing with
the land the city owns on Main Street that
is used for a sculpture park. That could
be used for a two-to-three-story block of
row homes. Give those away to encourage
market rate rentals, and you’ll have maybe
110-150 units pop up within a three-block
radius along Adams Street. Again, it’s all
about clustering complementary uses in a
It’s like a good home inspector, only for
Exactly. As a business owner, you make
really good sandwiches, but you don’t know
anything about electrical work. You don’t
know how to build a trench for your grease
trap. You know how to run a business and
provide good customer service.
Another aspect of that program is that
they act as a liaison for small business
owners as they go through a clearly defined
path in order to open their doors. Here in
Jax, if you have the cash to hire a land use
attorney, great, they can do it all for you. But
there’s nothing on the city’s website that
helps you walk through the process.
Let’s say you’re a marketing firm and
try to open in a place that used to be an
accountant’s office, then a year later you
get someone from the planning department
asking where is your certificate of
use? Then, the fire marshal shows up a few
months later and starts asking you about
the sprinkler system or fire alarm system.
All you know is that you went to the Tax
Collector’s office, got your business license,
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and you thought that was it. If you need to rezone your property,
then you’re really lost if you can’t afford an attorney. That small
business department gives you a clear path to open, so that you can
focus on being the best florist you can be instead of worrying about
whether you’ve inadvertently broken some law in the code. The
DIA has been good with being a liaison to business owners looking
to open up shop Downtown, given the limitations inherent with a
small staff and no budget.
There are a lot of a great people with great ideas about Downtown,
but there is no unified vision. Putting assets into action, both
from activating underutilized land and enhancing public infrastructure
to meet today’s needs, as well as fixing the broken processes,
are some thing that need to be done to make Downtown thrive. That
gives the private sector the confidence to invest.
So that is what the mayor should do or somebody equivalent?
There needs to be some champion to bring everyone together
rather than just wishing for good things. We’ll see what City Council
President Lori Boyer wants to do with the riverfront.
Which is linking 12 nodes together, kind of like what you’re
talking about Downtown. But she’s talking about creating a
new organization, someone to champion the river. Do we need
What I found with the Riverwalk, it’s two separate linear parks.
On the Northbank there are all sorts of separate easements across
properties. So you do need some kind of liaison, someone who
focuses just on those maintenance issues. To me, that’s probably a
position that is housed within the city, because the Riverwalk could
and should stretch far beyond the borders of what the DIA or DVI is
responsible for. I think there is a role for a “Friends of Riverwalk” organization,
but in a complementary way that could be leveraged for
fundraising efforts that are outside of what a municipal government
can do. In Chattanooga, which has an amazing riverfront with clusters
of activities and businesses within a compact setting surrounding
pristine waterfront public spaces, the city leveraged a not-forprofit
corporation called RiverValley Partners which was able to raise
money through foundations and enter into development agreements
that were outside of the purview of the city’s traditional role.
What do we need to do to make Downtown more pedestrian-friendly?
We worked with Downtown Vision on a new parklet program,
where you replace a parking space with outdoor seating. There are
a lot of streets Downtown, especially Adams, with small sidewalk
width. So you need to add areas to encourage a cafe culture. Again,
that means focusing on a three- to four-block area. So you don’t
have gaps like you do now.
Right now if you’re at Hemming Park and want to walk to Bay
Street, it’s not a very pleasant walk because you walk past a lot of
dead space. Walkability is as much about perception as infrastructure.
If you were at the Avenues Mall and saw nothing but empty
storefronts and dead space, you’d turn around and go home. Downtown
is no different.
When San Marco Square got redesigned, they narrowed the
lanes which slowed down traffic and actually added parking, put in
more green space, better crosswalk markings. Neighborhood leaders
leveraged what was scheduled to be a routine roadway re-striping
to positively shape the future of San Marco Square and improve
walkability throughout the commercial district.
And you have no choice but so slow down.
People bellyache about it, but you’re not supposed to speed
through there. And private businesses and individuals raised the
money for the Balis expansion to supplement the taxpayer-funded
roadway improvements. That’s a perfect example.
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Are you hopeful about the future, do you see some positive
momentum? Having Brooklyn pop up from nowhere was kind of
a shock to us at the Times-Union as neighbors.
I’m still very worried about the lack of market-rate residential
construction. We’re on the tail end of a boom in urban, multifamily
construction, and we’re going to be left out of the bubble again for
the second time in a row.
That said, I’m very optimistic about the future. There are a lot
of people in my age group who are investing Downtown and in the
urban core. You have locally grown developers like Paul and Farley
Grainger that are stepping up and making it happen, that makes me
hopeful. Then you have people like David Cohen, Ben Davis and Jay
Albertelli who are bringing life to spaces in the urban core.
I’m in the real estate industry, and people that are my dad’s age
who remember when Downtown was great, have lost hope. The older
generation who have been through 30 years of rah-rah speeches with
no results are jaded. That’s understandable. Seeing people my age
investing their own money now and making things happen through
sheer determination and grit is a really positive thing.
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last 12 years following 15 years as Reader Advocate.
66 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
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DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE: IT’S TIME TO FIX IT!
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 20
whole begins to suffer: People who ought to
get together, by means of central activities that
are failing, fail to get together. Ideas and money
that ought to meet, and do so often only by
happenstance in a place of central vitality, fail
to meet. The networks of city public life develop
gaps they cannot afford.”
“Without a strong and inclusive central
heart (emphasis hers), a city tends to become
a collection of interests isolated from one
another. It falters at producing something
greater, socially, culturally and economically,
than the sum of its separated parts.”
A half century later, city planner Jeff Speck
wrote “Walkable City: How Downtown Can
Save America, One Step at a Time.” While
suburbs were invented to isolate people, he
said, “Cities were created to bring things together.
They better they do this job, the more
successful they become.”
“The Downtown is the only part of the city
that belongs to everybody,” Speck pointed out.
“It doesn’t matter where you may find your
home; the Downtown is yours too. Investing in
the Downtown of a city is the only place-based
way to benefit all of its citizens at once.”
This critical concept of Downtown as a
diverse, active, human community hasn’t
fit well in Jacksonville because our definition
of Downtown is necessarily so big. It’s
more than two miles from EverBank Field to
Prime Osborn and a mile from State Street
down to the river, and the Southbank adds
still more territory. Our major investments
have been scattered all over that roughly
three-square-mile area, so there’s no
synergy among, for example, the updates at
EverBank, the new Duval County Courthouse,
Hemming Park, the T-U Center and
the Elbow, much less the Southbank.
Planner Davis said a successful Downtown
will have these three C’s:
CLUSTERING of different developments
and amenities, something shopping malls
figured out long ago with their anchor-store
and food-court arrangements.
COMPLEMENTING uses, so users of one
are drawn to other components as well.
Convention-goers like to seek out food and
drink; symphony-goers want to have dinner
first; residents like to walk places.
COMPACT setting, so the human activity
doesn’t get diluted across parking lots and
That concept would focus on the central
core, from the Hyatt Regency on the east to
Broad Street on the west and from State Street
south to the river, with the epicenter being
Laura Street, between Hemming Park and
Jacksonville Landing — where some of the current
planning is targeted. That’s ground zero.
Now is the time to stop muttering, blaming,
dreaming and planning. This year should
be the year of commitment and action — and
Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Visit
Jacksonville, has long argued that Downtown
doesn’t need more unconnected projects but
rather a vision for itself. “It’s not about what
we want to have or what we want to build; it’s
what we want to be.”
Now he sees energy shifting toward a common
vision around which projects will emerge:
“For the first time, leaders are understanding
the difference between vision and strategy.
“Transformation is happening, and it’s
exciting — from silo-driven projects by developers
to a collaborative, visionary approach
to who we want to be, how we want to present
Jacksonville to the world with a unified
voice. It’s happening. That transformation is
Four powerful forces — four M’s, if you
will — are now at work to push Downtown to
blossom faster: the market, the magnate, the
master plan and the mayor.
FORCE OF THE MARKET
If Downtown doesn’t discover itself, it
may be swept over by encroachments from
its fringes, with market forces providing the
energy. Millennials, and some retiring Baby
Boomers, shunning commutes and the car
culture, want to live in an urban environment
and enjoy the arts, culture and entertainment
of greater Downtown.
If you haven’t driven up Riverside Avenue
in a few years, you’ll be amazed. The Brooklyn
area has added 604 new apartments in the
past two years and filled them, and another
10-story, 300-apartment tower called Vista
Brooklyn is planned for this year.
The developments include retail and
restaurants, and a little farther south, new
restaurants and bars are popping up all over
Riverside and Avondale, leading to parking
skirmishes with nearby residents.
As the force moves northeast, The Florida
Times-Union is actively exploring sale or
redevelopment of its prime site between the
river and Riverside Avenue, just off the Acosta
From the east, the Sports Complex has
added the new Daily’s Place amphitheater
and Intuition Ale Works, and the city is
working with Shad Khan’s Iguana Investments
to develop Metropolitan Park and the
Shipyards, which stretch all the way west to
... the Elbow, the relatively new and popular
entertainment district soon to be anchored
by the Cowford Chop House. And suddenly
you’re overlapping with the Florida Theatre
a block away and verging on ground zero.
And from the south, across the river, Peter
Rummell is moving ahead with his plans
for The District, the development originally
referred to as “Healthy Town.” Nearby, also
along the river, a 300-unit apartment complex
called Broadstone River House is under construction.
A river-taxi ride away from ground
In fact, the list of projects actively planned
or underway in the greater Downtown area
is much longer: the Southbank Apartment
Ventures, the Lofts at LaVilla, Houston Street
Manor, the newly uncovered inlet between
Liberty and Market next to the Hyatt, the
USS Adams museum ship, the planned
River & Post restaurant catty-corner from
the Cummer, new docks on the St. Johns, the
new Baptist/M.D. Anderson building, various
infrastructure improvements ...
Of course, the tired Jacksonville Landing
stands out, at ground zero, as an, uh, opportunity
to be explored when the lawsuit between
the city and the owners is resolved.
The proposed expansions of the riverwalks
on both banks, the river taxi and the Skyway
would tie together all of the above.
Downtown advocates point out that
Downtown may be very close to an inflection
point for private investment. No one wants the
risk of being the heroic pioneer investor, this
thinking goes, but when critical mass develops,
there is plenty of money that wants in.
Jim Bailey said every major building Downtown
has been sold within the past five years,
and there’s a reason — presumably not out of
frustration or desperation but rather as patient
investment. “You can see something there.”
THE MOJO OF
Since he purchased the Jaguars in 2011,
JUNE 2017 | J MAGAZINE 69
illionaire Shad Khan has captivated Jacksonville,
with his personal story, his style, his
internationalism, his wealth and his 308-foot,
$200 million yacht often docked Downtown.
While his football team has been disappointing
on the field, Khan has been consistently
clear on his commitment to Jacksonville
and its Downtown, to the tune of more
than $100 million. He has ponied up almost
$82 million to join city money in upgrades
to EverBank Field, including the new Daily’s
Place amphitheater, and another $19 million
in philanthropic donations and start-up loans
for local business projects.
The Downtown Investment Authority has
selected Khan’s Iguana Investments to be
the master developer for the Shipyards and
Metropolitan Park area. His plan includes
shopping, parks, marinas, food and entertainment,
a luxury hotel and spa and docking for
the USS Adams museum ship.
Khan’s proposal was chosen over two
others in part, no doubt, because of his record
here, his commitment, his resources, his
relationship with the city — and frankly the
synergy that would be created between this
Downtown development and the Jaguars.
“Whatever is good for Jacksonville is good
for the Jaguars,” Khan said in announcing his
plan. “That is the connection here. You can’t
have a viable city without a vibrant Downtown.
I think everybody gets that. That’s a
simple point. In the five years I’ve been here,
it’s, well, Downtown is dying. ... This should
be real change, and this is going to bring
Jacksonville back to life Downtown.”
“As goes Downtown Jacksonville, so goes
the Jacksonville Jaguars,” Khan said. “We are
One intriguing prospect is the possibility
of Khan bringing a Four Seasons hotel to the
city. Last fall, he bought the five-star Four
Seasons Hotel Toronto, spawning speculation
here, so the Times-Union asked him if the
Shipyards hotel might be that iconic brand.
Read his response carefully:
“I think we need to be aspirational,” Khan
said. “There’s nothing like that in Jacksonville.
I think you are defined by the highest
experience you have. To me, that would be
the logical brand for us. I don’t know if they
would have an interest. Certainly, we’d want
them involved, and I think with the mix and
the experience they have globally, some of
the best mixed-use projects in Canada, No. 1
is right there, Four Seasons. I think when that
opened, five others opened in Toronto. The
difference between them and the others is
“They have a secret recipe that we want
to learn and tap into. That’s one of the many,
many resources to get Jacksonville Downtown
coming up and living up to its potential.”
THE POWER OF THE
MASTER PLAN ... THIS TIME
The Times-Union’s 2009 reporting project
presented a painfully vivid history of failed
Downtown development, showing lack of
vision, strategy, tactical funding and commitment.
The past four decades have seen a sad
series of committees, city agencies, studies,
proposals and master plans that have evaporated
— 15 of them since 1981.
A Downtown Development Authority was
created in the 1970s, as Hans Tanzler, the first
mayor after consolidation, tried to resuscitate
Downtown with the goal, now clearly naïve,
of competing against the new suburban
malls. The DDA was later made a mere
advisory board within a new Jacksonville
Economic Development Commission, then
was eliminated altogether during another
reorganization in 2006.
Finally, in 2010, Mayor John Peyton and
the private Jacksonville Civic Council agreed
that Downtown deterioration was “a matter
of urgent civic priority” and created the
Northbank Redevelopment Task Force to take
a fresh look at Downtown. Its report, in early
2011, made the case for “a successful, central
Downtown” as “everyone’s neighborhood.”
While it offered specific ideas for a new
convention center, development of the Shipyards
and other Downtown improvements,
perhaps its most important recommendation
was for creation of “a strong, independent,
well-funded but transparent and accountable
implementation agency ... for exclusive focus
upon Downtown development.”
Thus was born the Downtown Investment
Authority. CEO Aundra Wallace came in 2013
and plunged into leading the development
of a new Community Redevelopment Area
Plan, built on a set of consultants, “several
hundred community stakeholders” and 43
public meetings over 2014. The City Council
approved it in February 2015.
The plan, which looks out 30 years, warns
that it “requires consistent support by the
city’s administrations, legislative bodies and
business leaders as it transcends time.” It’s
a 381-page document that, for Downtown
devotees, is worth reading for its descriptions
of issues, solutions and projects and its comparisons
to other cities.
“Many studies offered recommendations
in the past to renew Downtown, but
until now never has an agency had the
decision-making power to create a plan and
execute it without City Council approval,
a streamlined process that was one of the
main reasons behind its creation,” the T-U’s
Christopher Hong wrote. “The authority’s
independence would make it a ‘one-stop
shop’ that could approve projects and attract
businesses with incentives without navigating
through multiple levels of government.
It would also protect the authority from the
changing priorities associated with elected
officials entering and leaving office and allow
it to pursue a plan beyond a single mayoral
City Council gave the DIA $2.5 million
for its first year, meant to include only some
relatively small projects. Subsidies or other
support for large projects, like the Shipyards
and Laura Street Trio, still have to be approved
by the council.
But DIA was out of the gate, and Wallace
points to a sizable list of modest but recommended
projects that are done or in process:
lighting improvements, free Downtown
Wi-Fi, urban art and streetscape, bike racks,
Hemming Park redesign and programming
and a “retail enhancement program” that,
Wallace says, invested in a dozen Downtown
businesses for 125 new jobs and reduced retail
vacancies from 37 percent to 21 percent.
With private and other money invested
in the FSCJ student housing, the Cowford
Chophouse, the Jessie Ball duPont Center
and the Trio, Barnett Bank and an associated
parking building, Wallace said $125 million
has been invested in Downtown in the past
Meanwhile, DIA is working on bigger
Downtown projects, including the Shipyards,
The District (formerly Healthy Town), finalizing
the Trio and Barnett Bank and other,
more market-driven projects.
“We’re right on time with how long it
HOW TOMORROW SUPPLIES
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takes to do those things,” Wallace said. “Real
estate projects take time. . . This is a marathon,
not a sprint.”
Is the Trio/Barnett project really going to
happen this time? Yes, Wallace said, because
the right financial partners are now in place.
“I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Noting that 2017 is “a critical year for us,”
he said the biggest need is for those patient
investors to begin to step up. “We want to
see more entrepreneurs . . . We need some
more risk-takers ... Nothing
breeds more investment like
success, and that’s measured
by building cranes.”
Much of the positivism
around Downtown revitalization
now is how well
the work of the new DIA
is being received by other
Jake Gordon, CEO of
Downtown Vision, the
non-profit supported by
Downtown businesses, said
DIA has made great progress:
“The CRA plan is very,
very smart. It’s the way we need to go forward.
Our board completely supports it.”
Lori Boyer, president of the City Council
and council member representing the Southbank,
is a champion of Downtown, and she
sees the stars in alignment this time. “I was
there at the creation of DIA, and I’m seeing
them come together as a group. They have
jelled and understand their role. They are
OF THE MAYOR
As an accountant by training and a
Republican by temperament, Mayor Lenny
Curry is not one to exaggerate or bloviate.
So listen to the way he talked to the Times-
Union editorial board in October, as he took
a rare break from his intense focus on the
pension-funding issue to set up his next big
“We are also going to transform Downtown.
It’s coming ... This is not going to be
small-time stuff in the next few years. ...
Private-sector dollars where government is
the conduit is the key to do big, bold things
... You will see in the months ahead us rolling
infrastructure work that will speak to an environment
that additional private dollars will
want to invest in Downtown. The District’s
going to happen ...
“You have to set a tone and a culture if you
want to get things done. So what I can share
with you, I ask the private sector folks, every
time I see them: If we get our part done, when
can I see cranes? I want to see them tomorrow.
Because cranes speak to what’s coming.
“By the end of four years you will have
seen real development in and around the
whole area from the Shipyards, Met Park,
down to Berkman. It won’t just be a concept
and a conversation. There will be work done,
and I would like to see some of that work
completed (by the end of his term). Some of
the stuff, because it’s so big and bold, will go
“My approach is that the big projects will
attract the small projects. They all connect,
and they all make for a vibrant area.”
beyond the first four years.
“When you have entrepreneurs, individuals,
with capital liquidity to invest hundreds of
millions of dollars in our city, it’s our job, it’s
my job, to work with them to get the projects
going, to get them moving.
“At the end of the day, what do we want
Downtown? We want people Downtown, we
want arts Downtown, we want entertainment
Downtown. We want them living, we want
them working, we want them playing. If we
get the private sector moving, all that stuff is
going to come.
“Let’s talk about the riverfront. How do
you get the river active in a big way? You
have people living, being entertained, being
around big spaces that they feel good about.
From there with the District on the other side,
it will all fall into place. It’s all about density,
it’s about people. . .
“There are big projects and small projects.
My approach is that the big projects will attract
the small projects. They all connect, and
they all make for a vibrant area. Local dollars
have been willing to invest for years. They just
haven’t had a team in government willing to
sit down and say, let’s map this out, let’s make
a decision and let’s go. For whatever reason
in the past there has been too much debate
about why, where, who is this going to upset.
I am saying we are just going to go, period.
“They now know that they have a government
that is going to facilitate this and go.
And we’re not going to worry about ... you
can’t please everybody. If you try to please everybody
you’re not going to get things done,
and, I think maybe that has been part of the
issue with Downtown in the past.”
Those four M’s are why Downtown Jacksonville
is about to bloom and boom.
I don’t say that lightly because I’ve been
burned before. In my column Sept. 1, 2013,
I wrote confidently that the old Bostwick
Building, also known for its Jaguar stripes,
was about to be turned into a classy anchor
for the Elbow district: “If
all goes as planned, the
building will be sold to a
partnership that plans to
convert it into a ‘fine-dining
steak and seafood restaurant,’
with a rooftop patio for
al fresco dining overlooking
the Main Street bridge. It’s
to open in November 2014.”
The purchase happened,
but all didn’t go as
planned. November 2014
came and went, and so
did November 2015, and
the Bostwick Building just
sat there at Ocean and Bay, deteriorating.
Another Downtown disappointment. Finally,
some work began, but at one point, it looked
like just a couple of walls being propped up to
Now I know why. The bricks in the other
walls had been removed and numbered,
one by one, then restored, the architect says,
within two feet of where they were placed
when the building was built about 1902. The
reconstruction topped out in November 2016.
I recently toured the building and
watched it being transformed into what
finally will be the Cowford Chophouse. Those
walls are enclosed now, and workers are
finishing wiring, plumbing, the interiors. You
can see where the kitchens and bars will be.
The owners, perhaps burned themselves
back in November 2014, won’t give an opening
date. Construction is to be completed
But it will open. Businesspeople don’t
invest $10 million in restoring an old building
and not open it. Yes, $10 million invested on
one corner of Downtown for a restaurant.
On its first night, I am going up to the
rooftop terrace bar overlooking the Main
Street Bridge over the St. Johns River, order a
martini and toast the new Jacksonville.
FRANK DENTON was editor of The Florida-Times
Union in 2008-2016 and now is editor at large. He
lives in Avondale.
72 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
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THE FINAL WORD
‘Lack of identity’
one factor hindering
owntown is on the verge of
D transformation, and it will
change the image of our city and
the attitude of our residents about our
urban core. Five years from now, we will
be the new Austin or Nashville.
Jacksonville is blessed with a wonderful Florida
climate, friendly and hard-working residents and a
Downtown bisected by the majestic St. Johns River,
an American National Heritage gateway. Downtown
is home to the Jaguars, the Jumbo Shrimp and
a wide array of sporting events that cater to our
passion for sports. We have great museums, top
chefs and a vibrant craft brewing scene. We love
the Navy and our country. And we have a pretty
amazing history — of people, events and places.
But Jacksonville has long suffered from a lack of
clear identity and strong sense of community pride.
We were the tourist capital of Florida at the turn
of the last century, the heart of the movie industry
before Hollywood and the banking and insurance
headquarters of the South. But since the 1990s, our
identity has been adrift.
Now is the time to acknowledge our natural
assets — like the magnificent river — and recognize
that our true and everlasting identity is built around
them. And our Downtown, straddling the banks
of the St. Johns, is the perfect place to make the
statement that we LOVE Jacksonville and believe in
This is not just something about to happen — it is
a process that is already well underway and gaining
momentum with each passing day.
If you look closely, you can see the small pieces
coming together and big ones lined up in queue.
Between residential projects under construction
like the Broadstone on the Southbank and the
Lofts at LaVilla, to restored historic buildings
like the Cowford Chophouse, to the Daily’s
Place amphitheater, Downtown is on the move.
The restoration of the Laura Street Trio and the
development of The District and the Shipyards
should all commence within a year.
Private investment and the energy that more
residents bring to the urban core are critical to
Downtown’s success, and Mayor Lenny Curry is
committed to make these developments a reality.
New entertainment venues are opening, including
the amphitheater, Intuition Ale Works and Manifest
Distilling, and at least one new hotel is proposed.
While these developments are key, they alone are
not enough. The highly desirable Peninsula and
Strand on the Southbank are full of residents, but
their presence is barely felt Downtown.
Imagine a riverfront, accessible to everyone,
bustling with joggers, families on a stroll and
tourists exploring the waterfront. The sounds of
music are muffled by the splashing fountains, and
lush gardens provide relief from the heat of the
paved walkways. Water taxis and boats crisscross
the river providing tours and transit options to those
who prefer not to walk the series of pedestrianfriendly
bridges. Storyboards educate and entertain
visitors and residents alike about our unique
history, culture and character. A dramatic light show
provides nightly feature entertainment. Signs direct
you to the water and to parking, and each stop on
the Riverwalk is as unique and interesting as the
Downtown neighborhood behind it.
This vision of our Downtown waterfront is not
just for tourists and not just for those who live near
or in Downtown, but for everyone to enjoy and
celebrate. Downtown should be worth a visit not
just for the Jazz Festival, a concert or football game
— but every day.
Those public waterfront improvements are also
underway. Downtown will be THE place to be in the
very near future! Join the effort by volunteering to
help, promoting the vision and sharing your love of
Jacksonville and its heart, Downtown.
LORI BOYER, who represents the Southside, including the
Southbank and San Marco, is president of the City Council
and a leading advocate and activist for Downtown.
74 J MAGAZINE | JUNE 2017
Formed to revitalize and preserve downtown property values
and prevent deterioration in the downtown business district.
The Downtown Investment Authority was created to revitalize
Downtown Jacksonville by utilizing Community Redevelopment
Area resources to spur economic development. The Downtown
Investment Authority is the governing body for the Downtown
Community Redevelopment Areas established by the City
Council of Jacksonville. The DIA offers a variety of incentives for
businesses to locate Downtown, including expedited permitting
and economic development incentives.