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J Magazine Fall 2017

The magazine of the rebirth of Jacksonville's downtown

he motto of the Downtown

he motto of the Downtown Dwellers Association is simple enough: T “Let the river unite us. Let the bridges bring us together.” And its mission statement is also a straight shot of prose — with no poetic chaser. ‘The Jacksonville Downtown Dwellers are north and south Riverbank residents actively participating in the ongoing development of the riverfront as an inviting, culturally rich place to live.” But don’t let the no-frills, low-hyperbole language fool you. The fact is the Downtown Dwellers Association — a 100-plus strong collection of residents living in various apartments and condominiums across the city center — has become an under-the-radar powerhouse in its genuine quest to enhance and elevate Downtown Jacksonville. It has worked with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to strengthen Jacksonville’s waterfront, including successful collaborations that have led to dramatic improvements to the Lone Sailor fountain area and other sites along the riverwalks. It has taken on its own beautification projects — with some Downtown Dwellers members even taking to regularly strolling the riverwalks and picking up carelessly discarded trash. And it is actively helping to drive the local dialogue on how Jacksonville can truly fulfill the promise of the Southbank and Northbank. “Jacksonville is a growing mixture of ideas, wants and opportunities,” said Sandra Fradd, Downtown Dwellers’ feisty, witty and charming president, in an email. “We Downtown Dwellers are ... in places where we can watch, see what’s happening and in small ways maybe even influence it.” Eric Smith — a beloved civic figure and former city councilman who has his law office Downtown and is playing a lead role in helping Downtown Dwellers officially incorporate as an organization — said one reason Downtown still holds so much ap- Downtown Dwellers members Sonia Vivian (seated, from left) and Sandra Fradd, with Gianni Vivian (standing from left), Thomas Dumas and Howard Taylor, pose on the pool deck of the Peninsula. 54 J MAGAZINE | FALL 2017

peal is because each day, it’s easy to discover another of the “individual pearls” that strung together, one by one, are making the city center a much underrated work of art. “I mean, Chamblin’s Book Store is a Downtown pearl,” Smith said. “Our library. Our river. Heck, the Desert Rider (on Hogan Street) is a pearl — it’s got the best cheesy grits you will eat in a restaurant.” Added Smith: “There’s an untold number of these kinds of pearls all across Downtown. And, to me, Downtown Dwellers is one of those pearls because it‘s helping to unite the voice of the residents who live in Downtown Jacksonville. And believe in it.” It’s a voice that’s being heard in the corridors frequented by Jacksonville’s leaders, decision-makers and influence-shapers. For example, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Daryl Joseph meets every month with Fradd and other Downtown Dwellers members. And they don’t travel to his turf for the sessions. Rather, it’s Joseph who comes to the Peninsula of Jacksonville, the Southbank luxury condominium complex where Fradd and many other Downtown Dwellers live, for the meetings. And he’s not the only one to make the monthly pilgrimage. During a recent monthly meeting, Downtown Vision Inc. CEO Jake Gordon also popped over to the Peninsula’s meeting room to sit at a table with Fradd, Joseph and Tom Dumas, the Downtown Dwellers’ treasurer. “The best Downtown is one that has residents who love living in it and want to make it a place that encourages others to live there,” Gordon said. “That’s exactly what the Downtown Dwellers Association is doing. It really plays a valuable role.” And when I reached out to City Hall for a statement or comment on the work Downtown Dwellers is doing, it’s Mayor Lenny Curry himself who provided an email response. “Community partners like the Downtown Dwellers volunteer their time supporting efforts at the Riverwalk, Hemming Park and other downtown areas through a wide variety of roles,” Curry said in his email. “They not only help maintain the downtown area, but also promote the vibrancy, strength and values of our city overall,” added Curry, noting that he “truly (appreciates) the contributions the Downtown Dwellers make to our city.” Such glowing remarks — from Jacksonville’s most powerful elected official — may explain why the Downtown Dwellers Association doesn’t have a flowery motto or an extravagant mission statement. It doesn’t need them. Its work and its growing status speak quite eloquently on their own. And it should and must inspire others who love Downtown Jacksonville but question how they can make a footprint in improving it to get up, get organized and get active. GRADUAL STEPS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE Downtown Dwellers’ influence has been particularly impressive given its low-profile origin and the gradual transformation into a sizable group. Its seeds were sown some four years ago when Fradd — who had recently retired, relocated to Jacksonville and settled in the Peninsula after years as a distinguished professor and researcher at two Florida universities — attended a Downtown Vision Inc. FALL 2017 | J MAGAZINE 55