THE MAGAZINE OF THE REBIRTH OF JACKSONVILLE’S DOWNTOWN
I S S U E
CRIME IN THE CORE
JUST HOW SAFE IS
WE FOUND OUT
PUSH TO BUILD
HOW A LOCALLY
PANNED SLOGAN IS
SELLING THE CITY
CAN THE CHURCH
BE A CATALYST FOR
DISPLAY THROUGH FEBRUARY 2019
An ABUNDANCE OF PUBLIC ART
IS BRIGHTENING DOWNTOWN
CSX is proud to honor the men and
women who selflessly serve their
country and communities – veterans,
active military and first responders.
In support of these heroes, CSX
has launched the Pride in Service
community investment program.
Together, CSX, its employees and
partners will help connect those who
serve with the resources and support
they need to thrive.
THE MAGAZINE OF THE REBIRTH
OF JACKSONVILLE’S DOWNTOWN
THE MAGAZINE OF
THE REBIRTH OF
Michael P. Clark
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Issue 4 // Volume 2 // WINTER 2018-19
BY THE RIVER
BY ROGER BROWN
18 28 44 54
BY MIKE CLARK
IS THE CORE?
BY MARILYN YOUNG
BY ROGER BROWN
BY FRANK DENTON
66 72 78 82
BY LILLA ROSS
BY LILLA ROSS
BY LARRY HANNAN
WHY WE DON’T
FEED THE METER
BY CAROLE HAWKINS
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
9 FROM THE PUBLISHER
12 PROGRESS REPORT
14 RATING DOWNTOWN
50 CORE EYESORE
60 12 HOURS DOWNTOWN
86 THE BIG PICTURE
93 QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
98 THE FINAL WORD
THE MAGAZINE OF THE REBIRTH OF JACKSONVILLE’S DOWNTOWN
I S S U E
DISPLAY THROUGH FEBRUARY 2019
CRIME IN THE CORE
JUST HOW SAFE IS
WE FOUND OUT
PUSH TO BUILD
HOW A LOCALLY
PANNED SLOGAN IS
SELLING THE CITY
CAN THE CHURCH
BE A CATALYST FOR
AN ABUNDANCE OF PUBLIC ART
IS BRIGHTENING DOWNTOWN
ON THE COVER
The past several years have
seen a tremendous increase in
public art Downtown, including
this large mural painted by
Spanish artist Dourone on
the side of a parking garage at
111 N. Julia St. as part of Art
Republic. // SEE PAGE 54
STORY BY FRANK DENTON
PHOTO BY JEFF DAVIS
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.
FROM THE PUBLISHER
I’m moving on,
as our Downtown
is moving ahead
y the time this iteration of J magazine
is published, my tenure as
president and publisher of The
Florida Times-Union will be complete, as my
retirement was Dec. 1.
Much is in the rear-view mirror for me now, but with all
my heart, I believe: Jacksonville’s best days lie ahead.
A lot happened in the nearly seven years I served as the
T-U’s leader. Among the more creative, I believe, was the
launch of J magazine in mid-2017.
The impetus for the launch was Jacksonville’s finding
sound financial footing by solving the challenging public-pension
funding shortfall, thanks to some extraordinary
collaboration, led by the Mayor’s Office and culminating
in the 65 percent vote to extend the sales tax.
With the pension problem solved, Jax could move forward
without the financial shackles of previous years.
We at the T-U believed that revitalization of our decaying
Downtown should be the focus. Other like-sized
downtowns across the country were on the move. Jax was
We launched J in June 2017 to be an unabashed
champion of Downtown redevelopment. We didn’t make
apologies. If you were against Downtown redevelopment,
then you shouldn’t bother to read it. Not a problem.
But we believed the great majority of the people of
Jacksonville wanted to see progress Downtown.
Fortunately, we had a group of partners to help sponsor
J — 20 Premium Partners, as we call them, ranging
from the Jaguars to The Haskell Company to 121 Credit
Union. (Please take a look at the sponsors’ ads in this
issue. I can never thank these folks enough for helping us
embark on this journey.)
J was designed to be an extension of our editorial page
— our “voice,’’ if you will. We did not ask the newsroom to
We relied on longtime T-U associate Frank Denton
(editor of J) and the editorial staff, including Editorial
Page Editor Mike Clark and editorial writer Roger Brown,
as well as knowledgeable freelancers. Together, they
examined Downtown’s opportunities, challenges and
eyesores — as well as the movers, shakers, dynamics and
politics of it all.
You have in your hands J #7. We think it’s been a
smashing success, extremely well received by readers
and tremendously supported by sponsors.
More importantly, we think J has played a role in setting
the table for an extraordinary few years Downtown.
As I wrap up my career and head into retirement (and
my role as Grandpa), I look forward to watching very
closely Jacksonville’s progress over the next few years.
It’s happening, folks.
My wife and I moved Downtown about a year ago.
We’ve seen more living quarters, restaurants, bars, entertainment
venues, etc., popping up every day. I have yacked
at the mayor, probably too many times, that the Berkman II
situation was a major downer, that it ruined my coffee every
day on my little balcony perch at the Berkman Plaza I.
Lo and behold, the city made a deal for a new development
at Berkman II.
And you can bet the sounds of construction are welcome
each morning as the sun rises beautifully from the
eastern edge of the St. Johns River.
At the same time, to my west, workers are frantically
preparing the old county courthouse and city hall for demolition.
Sometimes a good old wrecking ball tells you that
you are on the move. The city has considered this beautiful
piece of property for a convention center. If that works,
fine. But if not, you can bet this land can be better utilized
to showcase our Downtown in future years.
The big gun, of course, resides at TIAA Field. Shad
Khan, one of the best things that ever happened to this
city, is working on a planned $2.5 billion development
that will begin next to TIAA and eventually stretch to the
Shipyards. This is likely to provide the window to all our
dreams — and a flourishing Downtown all along the
beautiful St. Johns.
As I ride into the sunset, I wish Jacksonville only the
J plans to keep advocating — nudging, creating
dialogue, offering constructive criticism and continually
working toward firming up that forward-looking
coalition that delivered 65 percent approval of the sales
I want to say this: Beware of partisanship. I’m not in favor
of the divisive rhetoric that seems to be in vogue these
days. I don’t believe it works long-term, and I certainly
don’t think it’s in the best interest of a city that dreams big.
I believe Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration and
our City Council can pull this off in the next few years. I
know it’s cool these days to dis everybody in sight. But I
think current governance in Jacksonville has done a pretty
darned good job over the past seven years, and I believe it
will continue to function at a very high level in the future.
I look forward to checking out Jax’s progress in the
months and years to come.
Thanks for your support of J magazine and, of
course, the Times-Union. It’s been fun.
Mark Nusbaum was president of The Florida Times-Union
in 2012-18 and publisher of J. He lives Downtown.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 9
PROUDLY SERVING JACKSONVILLE SINCE 1977
351 BLANDING BOULEVARD
VISIT US AT WWW.CARPETONE.ME
8956 PHILIPS HIGHWAY
3670 US HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH
14333 BEACH BOULEVARD
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
number of public
this year’s annual
at TIAA Bank
By The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board
Thumbs up to the
Place, the nine-story,
128-room hotel set to
be built at Hogan and
Water streets; construction
should begin in
early 2019. It will be an
eye-catching addition to
the Downtown skyline.
Thumbs down to the
poor curb appeal
too many areas are
plagued with strewn
cigarette butts and other
nasty-looking stuff. It’s
so bad that Vestcor
founder John Rood, tired
of waiting for the city
to act, has launched his
own beautification project
for two Downtown
apartment properties he
owns — 11 E and The
Carling. Why should it
come to that?
Thumbs up to Downtown
for assigning some of
its popular Downtown
Ambassadors staff to
and clean the small park
and outdoor exercise
gym under the Acosta
Bridge. The spot has
become wildly popular,
so it’s great that Downtown
Vision is intent on
keeping it that way.
HITS & MISSES
Thumbs up again to
Vision for doubling
down on its popular
“Lights on Laura Street”
Downtown holiday lights
display, which was a huge
hit when it debuted the
2017 festive season. Last
year there were more
than 50,000 lights on
display; there will be
even more this year.
Thumbs down to
John Q. Cynic, the
stubborn naysayer in
our city who — like
an annoying mynah bird
— constantly utters
“that can’t be done” and
“that shouldn’t be done”
in response to any great
idea to develop Downtown.
Thumbs up to the
consistently great work
being done by board
members of the
Thumbs up to the developers
of a planned Residence
Inn by Marriott
in Riverside for listening
to concerns raised by
residents, adjusting their
plan and eventually
winning approval for the
project to proceed
Thumbs up to the
Greyhound Bus Station
on West Forsyth Street,
which was an eyesore
even when it was still
Thumbs down to the
lack of public
Downtown. Yes, basic
things like these are
needed to have a great
Thumbs up to the iconic
which is not only a
Downtown treasure but
a veritable “rock star”
in the entertainment
venues industry. Pollstar,
a trade publication for
the concert industry,
named the Florida
Theatre as one of
the top 100 venues
worldwide — that’s
A big thumbs up to
MARK NUSBAUM, the
retiring publisher of
The Florida Times-Union
and founder of this
magazine. Two years
ago, Mark launched
J magazine with the goal
of amplifying the conversation
“To me, an aquarium is one of the most solid capital
investments you can make in Downtown Jacksonville.”
Dan Maloney, The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (PAGE 36)
WINTER 2018-19 | | J J MAGAZINE XX 11
A St. Augustine development firm plans to restore
the historic Ambassador Hotel and, on the rest of
the block, build 200 apartments and retail space.
STATUS: The DIA has approved a development agreement, and
the project now is in permitting. Work, starting with the hotel,
should begin this year.
MLG AND SWEET PETE’S
Quickly after Candy Apple Café
closed in August, Marcus Lemonis,
who owns the building across from
City Hall that also houses Sweet Pete’s candy shop,
announced he would open a new restaurant called
MLG in the space after renovations.
STATUS: MLG opened the day after Thanksgiving.
HYATT PLACE hOTEL
Main Street LLC, developer of
the parking garage at Hogan and
Independent Drive, bought the parcel
at Hogan and Water and plans to build a nine-story
hotel with 128 rooms and a rooftop restaurant.
STATUS: The Downtown Development Review
Board has approved the design.
Laura Street Trio
& Barnett Bank
A $79 million renovation of
the iconic buildings into residences, offices, a
Courtyard by Marriott, commercial/retail and
a UNF campus.
STATUS: Barnett renovation is proceeding
apace. UNF classes start in January. Next is
construction of the nearby parking deck. The
Trio renovation has started ahead of schedule.
The city’s capital improvement
plan calls for $15 million
over five years to restore
and improve 2.8 miles of the creek ending
at the St. Johns, with greenways, kayak
launches and a new pedestrian bridge.
Groundwork Jacksonville has $200,000 to
begin a “natural channel” design.
STATUS: Planners are contemplating a
partnership to include the site now housing
the Times-Union at the mouth of the creek.
FSCJ CAFE &
This project to
give FSCJ a presence Downtown
includes 20 apartments for
58 students and a café named
20West as part of the school’s
STATUS: Café is open for
breakfast and lunch weekdays, and
the students have moved in.
The city owns the site but has leased it long-term to Sleiman
Enterprises, and the two sides have long sparred over its value to
Downtown and its future.
STATUS: Both have sued, and the city, which wants a major park on the site, sent an
eviction letter. The video-game-tournament shootings fed into the legal proceedings.
Sleiman said it is withholding rent payments to pay for repairs the city has neglected.
SAN MARCO BLVD.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
FULLER WARREN BRIDGE
An $11 million adaptive
reuse of the historic building
would bring 28 apartments plus retail and
office space to a block of Hogan Street.
STATUS: The DIA has approved almost $2.4
million in city assistance, and City Council
approved the development agreement. The
developer is seeking permits.
St. John’s Cathedral District-Jax
created a master plan to build
a diverse community of people
who want to live, work and play Downtown,
including a school and retail.
STATUS: DIA is reviewing the plan to see how it
can integrate into the overall Downtown master
plan. Next: the design phase.
Parking Lot J/
Shad Khan’s proposed
development will begin on Lot J next to
the stadium and Daily’s Place, with an
entertainment complex, two office towers and
a hotel that could have some residences.
STATUS: Funding of $38 million to take down
Hart Expressway ramps is coming together,
and work should begin next summer. Lot J
construction also should begin by then, if not
before. City Council is working on rezoning.
structure has been
an eyesore since it collapsed
under construction in 2007.
The new owners plan a $150
million 312-room hotel, 500-car
parking garage and a “family
STATUS: DIA has approved the
broad concept and $37 million in
incentives. Next: planning between
the new owners, the city and
UNF, which already has
MOCA Downtown, is
planning a Center for Entrepreneurship of
the Coggin College of Business, with about
25 faculty and staff and 150 students using
the satellite campus on two floors of the
Barnett Bank building.
STATUS: Classes will start Jan. 7, and the
center will open later that month.
Old city hall & county courthouse
The city is spending $8 million to raze the empty buildings and
clear the site for a possible new convention center.
STATUS: Demolition has begun. The old City Hall will be imploded
early in 2019, then the old courthouse will be dismantled floor by floor.
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH
S T . J O H N S R I V E R
GATOR BOWL BLVD.
The Adams, a retired U.S. Navy guidedmissile
destroyer, is to be anchored as a
museum ship in the St. Johns off Berkman II,
connected to the proposed family entertainment center.
STATUS: The Adams proponents and Berkman II developers
have a deal, but the ship is still stuck at the Philadelphia Navy
Yard, as the Navy and the DIA quibble over paperwork.
will have up to 1,170
residences, 200 Marriott hotel
rooms and 285,500 square feet
of office space, with a marina and
public spaces along an extended
STATUS City Council approved the
Community Development District
to issue bonds to pay for the
infrastructure. The contractor hired a
project manager. The hotel is in design.
Developers are studying options for
retailers and housing. Construction
should begin in late spring or early
Lofts at Monroe
Lofts at Jefferson Station
Houston Street Manor
Broadstone River House
TRACKING DEVELOPMENT IN THE URBAN CORE
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 13
By The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board
Construction and development
fueling Downtown momentum
Serious crime remains so low this
should be higher, but perceptions
will linger until all those new
apartments are filled and the
growing number of residents
and visitors greatly outnumber
transients and panhandlers.
No one has dropped the ball,
but the departure of DIA CEO
Aundra Wallace is a setback for
Downtown. Mayor Curry showed
his proper priority by having his
chief of staff, Brian Hughes, as
interim. Now, recruit well!
Apartment buildings are shooting
up all around Downtown
— credibly planned, under
construction or open. When they
are finished and filled, we’ll be
closing in on the critical mass of
10,000 people we need.
Downtown leaders have long
said investors were out there but
cautious. Now they’re taking the
plunge, with money for Berkman II,
the Ambassador Hotel, the Hyatt
Place Hotel and Jones Bros., joining
the Barnett Bank and the Trio.
EVENTS & CULTURE
A revitalized major city’s
Downtown shouldn’t have all
those ugly, vacant buildings.
Jones Bros. Furniture and
Ambassador Hotel are big
steps, and we need much more.
Genovar’s Hall is a sore thumb.
Top acts still fill Downtown
venues. Lot J, the USS Adams
and the family entertainment
center planned for the Berkman
II rebirth will push this up to
where it should be.
And an aquarium?
JTA is progressing on its
Regional Transportation Center
and actively seeking $25 million
from the feds for the first phase
of its 21st century Ultimate
Urban Circulator. Where are the
planned street improvements?
Demolition of the old city hall
and courthouse site has begun,
and proposals are on the table.
Shad Khan has his own plan
for his Shipyards project.
Either way, Downtown wins.
A symbol of growing momentum is the beehive of
construction/renovation in the middle of Downtown: the
Barnett Bank and Laura Street Trio. A spade in the ground
for Lot J, The District or, dare we say it, a re-envisioned
Landing would supercharge the momentum.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Brian Wolfburg, President
& CEO of VyStar Credit Union
VyStar Credit Union
J PARTNER PROFILE
By Barbara Gavan
President/CEO impressed with diversity,
options of Downtown Jacksonville
lthough he has lived in Jacksonville for only
A one year, Brian Wolfburg, President & CEO of
VyStar Credit Union, already has made a significant
contribution to Downtown
Jacksonville. By purchasing the
SunTrust Tower for use as VyStar’s
headquarters, Wolfburg affirmed
his and the credit union’s commitment
to the city. The move should
bring between 700 and 800 employees Downtown.
“I’m impressed with Jacksonville’s diversity and
options,” he said. “It’s an amazing city with a variety of
options as to where to live, work, shop or eat. It flies under
the radar in many ways, then you see the beauty of
the beaches, the river and the surrounding country. We
get all this plus several Fortune 500 companies, major
league sports, the PGA, and more. Also, the development
that is coming shows commitment to and pride in
Wolfburg sees Downtown Jacksonville as moving
rapidly in the right direction with new housing
projects, businesses relocating Downtown and people
moving to the city’s center.
“In five years, the city will
look very different,” he said. “The
projects already in the works
or proposed for Downtown are
amazing — Peter Rummell’s and
Shad Khan’s developments, a new
convention center, the Berkman II sale and the Laura
Street Trio’s renovation.”
Wolfburg acknowledges that there may be challenges
as Jacksonville moves forward but is confident that
the city can meet them head-on.
“We have some really good new housing developments
of both rental and condominium properties, but
it’s still short of what is needed for a 24/7 Downtown,”
he said. “But if we continue down the path toward larger
housing developments, while pulling in smaller infill
projects, we’ll arrive at a viable, livable Downtown.”
how inclusive and
engaging the people
are. The mix of
those who have
grown up here
and the influx of
people from other
areas brings new
ideas that will spur
growth in every
“I love this area’s
systems. With St.
Vincent’s and Mayo
Clinic, with Baptist
in MD Anderson,
and their leaders
have shown a real
commitment to the
region and to the
well-being of the
Downtown was the
best decision we
could have made
for our employees,
of our credit
union and our
members. It shows
the community we
began in over 65
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
WE’RE MAKING A GREAT PLACE TO WORK
Better Wages. Better Benefits. Better Work-Life Balance.
We value our employees and appreciate all that they do for our members. And we believe that our employees deserve the very
best when it comes to workplace satisfaction and personal benefits.
In addition to being eligible for excellent medical, dental, vision, life, disability and best-in-class company-matched 401(k)
benefits shortly after the first day of employment, our employees will now enjoy brand new benefits, including:
• Increased minimum wage of $15 per hour
• Childbirth and Family Care Leave
• Child adoption assistance
• Student loan payoff stipends
• A day off to celebrate your birthday
• Enhanced, up-front tuition reimbursement
• A day off to volunteer and a donation to the organization
• Free medical insurance options
• Fitness membership reimbursement
• New waterfront workspace with employee lounge, gym and more
If you have a passion for helping others and the desire to provide outstanding service
to the community, we encourage you to browse through our current career offerings
at vystarcu.org and consider joining our team.
Programs, services, rates, terms and conditions are subject
to change without notice. ©2018 VyStar Credit Union.
From the Stadium
District to Brooklyn
and both banks of
the St. Johns, it’s
hard NOT to see the
BY MIKE CLARK
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 19
Activity has replaced potential
Don’t believe it? Well, read
on. We may not convince eternal
pessimist John Q. Cynic of the
progress, but the evidence is as
clear as the sunlight shining on
the St. Johns River.
Cranes are popping up while
ground-level improvements are taking
place along the riverfront. Meanwhile,
a series of urban trails looks both
exciting and affordable.
From Brooklyn to TIAA Bank Field,
from State Street to the Southbank,
Downtown doesn’t look too big
anymore. It looks like a boom.
Besides activity, developers with
proven track records are planning
expansions. This is important because
development Downtown is not simple
or easy. It takes skill.
But Vestcor knows how to finance
and build affordable housing, Hallmark
Partners knows how to develop
market-rate housing and the St. John’s
Cathedral has already developed
housing in the Cathedral District.
Now outside investors are coming
to Jacksonville, as evidenced by the
Molasky Group from Las Vegas, the
developers of the Barnett Bank building.
There are announcements for
seven new hotels: one at Berkman
II, the Ambassador Hotel, a Marriott
Residence Inn in Brooklyn, a Marriott
AC Hotel in the District, a Marriott
Courtyard at the Laura Street Trio, the
Hotel Indigo at Bay and Laura streets
and a Hyatt Place at Water and Hogan
One key, as always, is the St.
Johns River and its two Downtown
tributaries, Hogans Creek and McCoys
Creek. The river can be seen as a
divider or as a showpiece.
The waterfront activation plans led
by City Council Member Lori Boyer are
already moving to reality with funds for
McCoys Creek in the city’s budget for
the next three years.
One cool example of activating
the riverfront is the modernistic
playground on the Northbank near the
corkscrew ramp over the FEC railroad
tracks. Kids and adults can be seen
relaxing and exercising in the shade
The St. Johns River Taxi is an
indicator of Downtown’s rebirth. The
river taxi offers an enjoyable way to
travel the Southbank and Northbank.
Its twilight cruises are spectacular. And
as Downtown activities increase, the
taxi’s services and hours are bound to
Let’s take a tour of six Downtown
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
BROOKLYN DISTRICT HOT, HOT, HOT
What Hallmark Partners started with its market-rate
apartments at 220 Riverside — John Q. Cynic said
nobody would pay the rents — has turned into
a hot spot in Brooklyn. And another market-rate
apartment building is on the way next door.
A Fresh Market is exactly the sort of grocery store that Downtown
has lacked. Retail is still following.
Park Street property is being snatched up. Drab industrial
buildings are being transformed into chic retail and service spots like
the new doggie daycare, Bark at Park. Also, 15,000 square feet of retail
space is planned for Riverside Avenue and Leila Street.
Grand plans for Brooklyn include the restoration of McCoys Creek.
Money has been budgeted by the city of Jacksonville to turn the creek
into something special in the long-neglected neighborhood.
The creek empties into the St. Johns River under the Times-Union
building, which is a classic case of shining your light in a barrel. The
newspaper staff will be moving from the building in early 2019, and
the hope is that the Morris family owners will open the creek to the
sky as part of its redevelopment.
Meanwhile, a Marriott Residence Inn is on the way at the corner
of Magnolia and Forest streets. Initial complaints about its suburban
design eventually were resolved.
Fears of gentrification from the residents of Brooklyn should be
eased by plans by Vestcor for affordable and workplace housing, the
Lofts at Brooklyn.
Groundwork Jacksonville’s exciting urban trail project is expected
to begin in Brooklyn. Park Street at the viaduct would be split in two
with one side devoted to pedestrians and bicyclists. That urban trail
would extend north for about 2 miles.
There also are big plans to use a “road diet” in Brooklyn, which
means narrowing roads while providing more space for bicycles and
At the far end of Brooklyn will be a separate pedestrian bridge as
part of the Fuller Warren Bridge expansion project. It will connect
Northbank and Southbank and offer stunning views of the St.
STADIUM DISTRICT BIG-TIME PLANS
Any mention of the stadium
district has to include Jacksonville
Jaguars owner Shad Khan and
his development group, Iguana
Khan’s public-private partnerships with
the city have turned the football stadium, now
TIAA Bank Field, into one of the most enjoyable
venues in the National Football League. The
huge scoreboard, the pool and the dog park are
part of the fan-friendly scene.
In the works is an entertainment zone on
Lot J that will use the expertise of the Cordish
Companies, a group that has set up such services
in other NFL and major league baseball cities.
Once the Hart Bridge ramp is removed, the
Shipyards development will have a riverfront
view. And in answer to John Q. Cynic, taking
down the ramp actually will improve traffic,
especially to the Talleyrand docks as well as into
Intuition Ale Works and Manifest Distilling
are already in the nearby Doro district, and there
is talk of more retail and entertainment venues.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 21
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT MOMENTUM ON STEROIDS
Many of the vacant buildings Downtown are owned
by city government and located in the Central
Business District. While much remains to be done,
there already is meaningful activity.
VyStar has purchased the SunTrust Tower and will be moving
its offices there.
The Hanania auto group is moving its corporate offices to the
Dyal-Upchurch Building on Bay Street.
Renovation work is underway at the Barnett Bank building and
Laura Street Trio.
FSCJ’s apartments and its student-run café are open on
Across the street from City Hall, the Jones Bros. furniture
store and an old Western Union building next door will have
apartments, retail and office space. The Jones Bros. building has
been vacant for about 30 years, which shows how long residents
have become used to seeing empty spaces Downtown.
A Hyatt Place hotel at Water and Hogan streets could have its
groundbreaking in early 2019. That’s more progress.
On the Northbank, a series of eyesores are about to be
removed. The former city hall and courthouse are being
Plans of more than $100 million are in the works for
Berkman II, which will include a hotel, parking garage, a family
entertainment center and a 200-foot ferris wheel. The USS Adams,
a naval museum and tourist attraction, is planned to be docked
near the Berkman II.
The Jacksonville Landing remains an eyesore, but hope springs
eternal that the Sleiman family operators and city officials can get
out of court and arrange a buyout so the land becomes something
like Fisherman’s Wharf or a central park.
Meanwhile, Downtown is being spruced up with art on such
mundane items as bicycle racks and concrete columns holding up
the Skyway. A second phase of urban art will brighten the Elbow
area around Bay Street.
Nevertheless, more urgency is needed on the many small,
vacant buildings Downtown.
Before we get too excited about the future, let’s pay tribute
to the early arrivals Downtown, like the law offices of Farah &
Farah, the Police and Fire Pension Fund, the Bedell Firm in
the former Carnegie library, the Jessie Ball duPont building
and Vestcor’s market-rate apartments at the Carling and 11 E.
CATHEDRAL DISTRICT TRANSFORMATION UNDERWAY
JONES BROS. FURNITURE
Thanks to the St. John’s Cathedral, we
know that plans can turn into reality
for both senior housing and affordable
housing. The Cathedral District
currently includes 600 senior apartments, 51
market-rate townhomes, a nursing home, a grocery
store and a few offices.
Plans call for 120 more apartments, a K-8
charter school and public art to brand the 36-block
The idea is to build housing for a mix of
incomes to create a diverse community and avoid
Dean Kate Moorehead is on record as saying
that the Episcopal Church plans to provide a mix of
housing options, not just focused on low-income
Vestcor has the development rights to the
large piece of property once run by Community
Connections, formerly the YWCA. And Vestcor has
a track record of success.
The Cathedral District will be a self-contained
community of different income levels.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
SOUTHBANK THE BOOM CONTINUES
The District has the funding and the approval to move
forward at the former Southside Generating Station site THE DISTRICT
next to the Duval County School Board building. The
development is slated to include apartments, townhomes
and condos, an office building and retail, such as a boutique grocer
and a drug store.
Developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz say their plans
are receiving worldwide notice. Their emphasis on healthy living is
replacing golf courses as the new development attractions. In fact, a
university research team will follow residents to document how they
The development will be open to the public with an extension
of the Southbank Riverwalk that even wraps around the back of the
Nearby, next to the School Board building, are new apartments
called the Broadstone River House with 263 units set to open early next
A few blocks away, on Home Street, is SoBa, a 147-unit apartment
development well underway with first resident move-ins expected
in summer 2019, according to the developer’s website, Catalyst
As for the School Board moving from its riverfront administration
building, that will require a good purchase price to make it affordable.
The building is paid for. So far, School Board members and
administrators have taken a passive approach.
The Museum of Science and History is quietly planning for
a dramatic redevelopment on its Southbank location, including
expansion and renovation of its building and opening it to the St. Johns
River Park around Friendship Fountain.
Meanwhile, there will be a new apartment tower along the
Southbank on a slice of land just west of the Acosta Bridge.
Controversy and legal action over the height of the building have held
back plans, but it looks like a compromise has been worked out for a
tower of 85 feet, not 150 feet. City Council approved a tax rebate for the
Road improvements along Prudential Drive should make the
Placemaking is a big trend in
LOFTS AT LAVILLA
America’s downtowns. When
it comes to LaVilla, the place
is already here; we just need to
24 J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
LAVILLA DISTRICT HISTORY COMES ALIVE
Once a victim of urban renewal,
LaVilla is on the rebound with hundreds
of apartment units for the working class
developed by Vestcor.
Though many of its historic buildings
have been lost, enough remain — Old
Stanton is an example — that LaVilla should
be a center of authentic Jacksonville history.
The Ritz is an anchor.
Transportation is big in LaVilla
with a modernistic new design for the
Greyhound station across the street from
the new JTA Regional Transportation
Southbank more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. Now if only
more parking can be provided.
Once the Southbank Riverwalk is extended by 2020 in front of
Baptist Medical Center, connecting to the new pedestrian bridge along
the Fuller Warren, Downtown will have a spectacular riverfront trail.
That trail can serve as a link to other urban trails being designed by
This list of Downtown developments has one feature in common.
Most of them are well on their way with either funding in order or
construction underway. The cranes are proof.
So John Q. Cynic, all the critics of Downtown development can turn
their negativity on something else. Downtown is back!
Center now under construction.
Brewster Hospital, which once treated
African-Americans during the days
of segregation, is being turned into a
headquarters for the North Florida Land
Trust along with space marking its history
in training nurses.
The former Lee & Cates building at 905
W. Forest St. will be turned into living units
with possibly an upscale convenience store
on the ground floor. The developer proposes
unique educational activities there, which
could even include beekeeping.
And the urban trail from Groundwork
Jacksonville that begins on Park Street will
run through LaVilla.
LaVilla is no longer a desolate place but
a neighborhood with a future.
architecture ◆ engineering ◆ construction ◆ consulting
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Redundancy sewer line serving 55,000 JEA customers.
Installed under the St. Johns River. Design-build by Haskell.
1,355 architects, engineers, constructors and administrative professionals.
20 offices across the US, Latin America and Asia. $1B annually for
local and global clients in commercial and industrial markets.
Headquartered in Jacksonville, FL since 1965.
Let’s build this together.
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Debbie Buckland, 2019 Chair of
the JAX Chamber Board of Directors
Incoming Chamber chair sees a
different Downtown emerging
ong before she was named 2019 Chair of the
L JAX Chamber Board of Directors, Debbie
Buckland, BB&T Jacksonville market
president, was a strong advocate for Downtown
Jacksonville. Serving on the Board of
Directors of Downtown Vision since
2009, with two years as president,
has given her a unique insight into
the future of the city’s core.
“We must take full advantage
of our greatest asset, that beautiful
body of water that runs through Downtown — the St.
Johns River,” she said. “Other cities, like San Antonio,
have done it — so can we. Downtown Jacksonville
flanks the river on both sides. The location is ideal.”
Buckland cited the 2017 Chamber leadership trip to
Toronto as both a model and a cautionary tale.
“Toronto is an awesome city with a thriving downtown
and lots of residential housing,” she said. “But
J PARTNER PROFILE
By Barbara Gavan
where they failed was in not paying attention on the
front-end to parks and transit, things that make life
easier and more enjoyable for residents. I’m happy
to say Jacksonville is doing a great job in both areas,
especially what Nat Ford is doing
at JTA, revamping the Skyway and
looking into a system of autonomous
Buckland also pointed with
pride to growth in Downtown’s
housing market that includes both
workforce and market-priced residences.
“Kudos to the DIA and city leaders — we already
have 4,000 to 5,000 units Downtown and many more
projects in the pipeline,” she said. “With sufficient
housing, a new convention center, the new hotels being
planned, in six to 12 months, Downtown Jacksonville
will have a whole new profile and mood. It will be
so different in such a positive way.”
IT IS TIME
FOR A FRESH
“A big part of my
role is to fight the
if they are not
don’t seem to
one of the safest
the city and offers
so many residential
Education is the
“We still need
will be more
want to attract
are drawn to
and an active,
vibrant city center.
on a regular basis,
engaging in life.”
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 27
Despite public perception,
Jacksonville crime statistics
continue to show that
Downtown is one of the
safest areas of the city
BY MARILYN YOUNG
PHOTOS BY BOB SELF
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had an
extensive security presence the length
of Laura Street from Hemming Park
to the Jacksonville Landing during a
recent Downtown Art Walk.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 29
You can have a low crime rate.
You can spend more money on better street lights.
You can chase the vagrants and the disruptive from Hemming Park.
You can add more Downtown Vision ambassadors to focus on keeping the
urban core clean and safe.
And you can have several signature projects underway and in the pipeline.
You can do all of those things and more — which Jacksonville is doing
successfully at one level or another — and it still may not be enough to
convince many that Downtown is safe and has the crime stats to prove it.
It may only take one highly publicized
crime or the longstanding concerns about
the panhandlers to hear the choir of the
uninformed sing, “We told you Downtown
J magazine’s 2017 poll by the UNF
Public Opinion Research Laboratory found
that, among people who say they never go
Downtown, 21 percent cited “dangerous/too
much crime” as the reason they don’t go —
the second most cited reason. Five percent
said they don’t go because they’re afraid of
being hassled by panhandlers or homeless
“If you’ve lived in Jacksonville for a long
time and haven’t been Downtown very
much, you probably wouldn’t have a great
perception,” said Oliver Barakat, senior vice
president at CBRE and an original member
of the Downtown Investment Authority
But despite all the progress that has been
made in Jacksonville in the past couple of
years, the financial commitment to address
the problem here still lags behind other
communities where the public and private
sectors are making substantially higher
contributions to address issues that impact
the perception of safety.
Charlotte has a collaboration of
nonprofits, corporations and public agencies
that have made major strides in decreasing
In Atlanta, police officers are being
recruited to move into troubled downtown
neighborhoods in an effort funded by Pulte
Homes and a foundation that bears the
name of Arthur M. Blank, who owns the
city’s NFL team and Home Depot.
Over the past five years in downtown
Denver (the host city for the JAX Chamber’s
recent annual trip), 83 projects have been
completed or are in progress. Even with
commitments that are substantial, changing
perception can still move at a glacial pace.
“Changing reality is easier,” said Kate
Barton, vice president of the executive office
and special projects for Downtown Denver
Partnership, a nonprofit that has been
working to build the city’s urban core for
more than 60 years.
Jacksonville officials and business owners
certainly realize that as crime statistics show
that Downtown actually is one of the safest
areas of the city.
The primary responsibility for the
perception of feeling safe often falls at the
feet of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. The
more officers you see, the safer you likely
Downtown is part of the department’s
Zone 1, which stretches from the urban
core to the Trout River. The 12-square-mile
zone has several areas with high violent
crime rates, though the three subsectors
that comprise the urban core are not
Assistant Chief Jimmy Judge said 88
officers handle traditional patrol duties
in cars, on bikes and on foot in the zone.
That group is supplemented by sergeants,
lieutenants and community service
officers to bring the total count to 115.
When there are events in the zone, such as
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Art Walk, a task force comes in to increase
police presence, said Lt. Jimmy Ricks, who’s
been assigned to Zone 1 for about five years.
Several factors are considered when
allocating officers, such as calls for service
and peak times. Judge said the department
allocates “quite a bit” of resources to the
core, which is filled during the day with
employees going to and from work and
spilling out into the streets for lunch.
“Our goal is anytime you leave a building
Downtown to go to another building, that
you see a police officer,” Judge said. “I think
we’re doing it.”
One way to increase presence is through
bike and walking patrols, as well as Sheriff’s
Watch meetings where officers talk with
residents and try to get them to partner
with the department, Judge said. There are
about 3,400 members in the Sheriff’s Watch
program, which the department works to
get involved and provide feedback.
The department wants the members to
be “our eyes and ears because a lot of things
are unreported,” he said.
Ricks said Judge has emphasized to the
officers, particularly those on the bike and
walking patrols, the importance of building
partnerships with businesses. “What we’re
trying to drive home to them is to get
out there, engage them, give them your
numbers, know their names, let them know
your name,” he said.
The department’s push to increase its
presence Downtown has been noticed by
many, including Jason Hunnicutt, owner
of 1904 Music Hall and Spliff’s Gastropub,
both on Ocean Street in The Elbow district.
He said the officers occasionally come in
during their walking patrol, and he regularly
sees them on bicycles during the day. Plus,
he sees a police car every five to 10 minutes,
he said, though he’s not sure how much of
that is because they may be heading to the
department’s headquarters on Bay Street.
Either way, though, it makes for a consistent
“You see tons of cop cars,” Hunnicutt
Judge said he thinks the biggest
misperception about crime in Zone 1 is that
violent crime is on the rise when it’s actually
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Bike Patrol officers make
the rounds near the Jacksonville Landing during a
recent Wednesday evening Downtown Art Walk.
declining. But high-profile shootings like
one last year during Art Walk and at a
video game tournament in August at the
Jacksonville Landing drive the fear that
Downtown is dangerous.
Barakat said the shooting at the
tournament should be “irrelevant” in
the discussion about Downtown safety.
“Most people intuitively know that was an
aberration that did not have anything to do
with Jacksonville, Florida,” he said.
Judge said he consistently pushes the
message that Downtown is safe. However,
he added, “I can say that all day long, but
if somebody doesn’t feel safe, then they’re
The safety perception can be skewed
by homeless people, panhandlers and
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 31
ST. JOHNS RIVER
IN THE CORE
A PHILIP RANDOLPH
2013 41 9
2014 73 18
2015 44 14
2016 57 11
2017 45 12
2013 372 47
2014 353 59
2015 358 58
2016 349 71
2017 292 57
2013 352 55
2014 426 77
2015 377 64
2016 359 85
2017 346 91
SOURCE: Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office
vagrants, some of whom have mental
health issues. Many urban cores have
similar populations, but they are less
obvious in bustling downtowns.
Barakat said the DIA’s strategy has been
to activate Downtown as much as possible.
“You know, 18 hours (of activity) a day will
dilute that perception,” he said. “We’re still
working on it. I don’t think it’s holding us
back that much.”
Activating Downtown will be greatly
assisted by projects that already have
been approved, such as the Barnett Bank
building, the Laura Street Trio, Berkman
Plaza II and the District, as well as potential
development of the Shipyards by Jaguars
owner Shad Khan.
Hunnicutt believes panhandling,
particularly when it’s aggressive, is the
biggest issue for Downtown. But he’s also
concerned about the property crimes,
such as cars being broken into. Oftentimes,
he said, people leave their cars unlocked
or leave valuables in plain sight, leading to
what he called a “crime of opportunity.”
Debbie Buckland, market president for
BB&T and a member of Downtown Vision’s
board, has worked in the urban core since
2001. She said she has been approached
many times by people, including once
by a homeless woman who apparently
had mental problems and took a swing at
“It didn’t hurt me,” she said of the
incident that occurred more than five years
Since then, she learned more about
the woman’s story and the importance of
reporting issues like that, Buckland said.
“We potentially are missing an
opportunity to get her the help she needs,”
Ron Chamblin opened Chamblin’s
Uptown cattycorner from Hemming Park
about 10 years ago. Ever since the seating in
the park was removed (except during lunch
on weekdays and at special events), many
of the vagrants and others who loitered
around in the park use the tables and chairs
outside Chamblin’s book store and café.
He’s OK with that, he said, as long as
they’re quiet and there aren’t a lot of them
that might drive away customers from his
popular business. He has a two-hour time
limit for sitting at the tables.
Chamblin said he occasionally has to
call the Sheriff’s Office when people refuse
to leave. He said he has to get trespass
orders about every other week to keep
people from returning. Most of the time the
people don’t return, he said, likely because
they fear they will be arrested.
The crowd that once dominated
Hemming Park has drifted over to not only
Chamblin’s store but also to Main Street
Park and other nearby facilities. However,
the changes were necessary to provide a
safe and inviting atmosphere to those who
visit the park outside City Hall’s front door.
Bill Prescott, executive director of the
Friends of Hemming Park, said two key
changes in city ordinances helped make
that transition successful.
Originally, the sidewalks around
Hemming weren’t considered part of the
park, so if a person was ordered to leave,
they could just move to the sidewalk and
continue to cause trouble. The ordinance
was changed to make the sidewalks part of
Hemming, so now someone who is ordered
to leave can’t hang out on the sidewalks.
The second change dealt with the
parameters required to issue a trespass
citation. Originally, a person had to
commit a violent crime, Prescott said. Now
a citation can be issued to people who
violate the park’s posted rules.
“We finally got in front of the city,
and they realized the problems we were
having,” Prescott said. “Their expectation
JEFF DAVIS (MAP)
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
was they wanted the park welcoming. We
told them we wanted the same thing, but
here’s how our hands are tied.”
In addition, Friends of Hemming Park
has hired armed security guards who are
required under the group’s management
contract with the city to be on duty every
day from sunrise to sunset. That, too, has
made a dramatic difference in the park’s
Prescott said before the security officers
were hired, the Sheriff’s Office was probably
called to the park about a problem 70 times
per month. That’s now down to about a
half-dozen, he said.
Some of the “bad characters” have
moved on, Prescott said, causing a dramatic
drop in what used to be about 30 monthly
instances of drugs and alcohol in the park.
“If we have one or two instances, it’s a lot,”
Friends of Hemming Park also hired
five ambassadors, whose duties are
similar to those of their Downtown Vision
counterparts: keeping their respective areas
clean and safe. (Downtown Vision CEO
Jake Gordon said his agency has been able
to increase the number of ambassadors it
has from 11 in 2014-15 to 17 for 2018-19, in
part because of a decision by Mayor Lenny
“If you can’t see
you and the next
block, that creates
the sense that,
‘Oh boy, is
that the street
that I want
to walk on?’”
interim CEO of the DIA
Curry’s administration to increase the city’s
Prescott said the Friends of Hemming
Park receives $480,000 a year from the
city for operating expenses. Any expenses
related to programming must be paid for
through private dollars, a change that came
after the group under a different executive
director was lambasted by city officials
for how it spent some of the $1 million in
taxpayer funds it received. Prescott was
board treasurer at the time, then became
interim executive director. The interim part
of his title has disappeared.
Prescott said one of the areas he’d like
to address with part of the group’s $175,000
capital-expenses budget is improving
the lighting in the park. Better lighting is
important for two reasons, he said: Most
of the group’s big events are in the evening,
and improved lighting will add an extra
layer of security, perhaps curbing the
vandalism that occurs after dark.
Prescott believes brighter lighting will
make it easier for the Sheriff’s Office to see
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Bike Patrol officers make
the rounds during a recent Wednesday evening Art
Walk in Downtown Jacksonville.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 33
in the park as they’re doing patrols in the
evening and overnight.
Better lighting is also something to
which the Downtown Investment Authority
is committed for the urban core. The
authority launched a two-phase program
this year to replace the old lights with LED
technology, which is considerably brighter.
Brighter lighting can help alleviate the
perception that Downtown isn’t safe, said
Brian Hughes, who is temporarily pulling
double duty as Curry’s chief of staff and as
interim CEO of the DIA.
If a person looks down a dimly lit street
with little activity, it may have a threatening
feel to it, Hughes said.
“If you can’t see what’s between you
and the next block, that creates the sense
that, ‘Oh boy, is that the street that I want to
walk on?’” Hughes said.
However, if that same street is well lit, it
shows it’s just an empty street. And, Hughes
said, you can plainly see a restaurant or a
bar on the next corner, or an open parking
“So, I think it’s important to the overall
sense of security,” he said.
Phase 1 of the lighting plan, which
included replacing 88 historic lights and
eight Cobra lights, has been completed.
Phase 2 is underway. The effort is a
collaboration between the DIA, the city’s
Public Works Department and JEA, which
is installing the lights.
Hunnicutt said he didn’t know in
advance that the light outside 1904 Music
Hall was being upgraded, but it was
immediate to him as darkness fell on that
“I thought it was still daylight outside,”
HELP FOR THE
Even with all the changes, the perception
of safety in Downtown is still strongly linked
to homeless people, panhandlers and
Judge, of the Sheriff’s Office, said such
people are responsible for many of the
violent crimes committed in Downtown,
often on each other.
But Cindy Funkhouser, president
and CEO of the Sulzbacher Center, said
homeless people are more often victims of
crimes, particularly hate crimes.
“They’re vulnerable people,” she said. “A
lot are mentally ill and very ill physically.”
She estimated there are about 400
homeless people in the area around City
to talk about
But they need
to put their
their mouth is
and step up to
president and CEO of
the Sulzbacher Center
When the Sulzbacher Center moved 200
women and children from the Downtown
shelter to a recently opened facility on the
Northside, that left only about 160 men
there. The men moved to the side of the
shelter that once housed the women and
children because it was in better condition.
That left one side of the campus open,
Funkhouser said, and it is being renovated
thanks to a contribution from the city.
The Mental Health Resource Center is
moving into that space, which Funkhouser
called an urban rest stop. The agency serves
as the intake point for homeless people
who want to get into the system where they
can get assistance. People are rated on a
scale of 1-17 based on vulnerability with
17 meaning a person could soon die on the
streets and needs housing immediately.
The Sulzbacher Center already
serves two meals a day there and offers
medical programs. In addition, there are
15 showers, 12 bathrooms and laundry
facilities. Funkhouser said the city
provided funds to hire a security officer to
work 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
She realizes a lot of homeless people
are arrested Downtown for misdemeanors,
such as urinating in public or trespassing.
“But they have no place to go, no place to
sleep,” she said.
The Sulzbacher Center, the Sheriff’s
Office and the court system have been
working together for about four years on a
program that provides homeless people an
alternative to living on the streets.
Police identified those with the most
arrests for non-violent crimes in a threeyear
period. Those who were deemed most
vulnerable were flagged so the Sulzbacher
Center would be contacted when they were
The homeless person was given the
choice of serving time in jail or taking part
in the program, which allows them to live
for free in a furnished apartment as long as
they commit to not being arrested again or
becoming homeless again.
Most accept the offer, which gives them
access to case management, the center’s
health clinics and addiction treatment. The
program has been successful, Funkhouser
said, with 85 percent staying in housing.
But that’s only 30 people.
Solving the city’s homeless will take a
widespread commitment beyond nonprofits
In other cities, corporations and
developers have made substantial
contributions to help provide affordable
housing. That could work in Jacksonville,
Developers can help by offering deep
discounts on units they set aside in projects
around the city, Funkhouser said.
“Developers and everyone can continue
to talk about it. But they need to put their
money where their mouth is and step up to
the plate,” she said.
Funkhouser said she has shared her
thoughts with many groups, including the
“I’m not shy. I say it to anyone who will
listen to me. That’s the answer,” she said.
“We need everybody stepping up and
building affordable housing.”
Everyone working together can fix the
problem, Funkhouser said, and put her out
of a job. Which is just fine with her.
Marilyn Young has been an editor at The Florida
Times-Union and the Financial News & Daily Record.
She lives in north St. Johns County.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
coming fall 2019
AquaJax, the local nonprofit
that wowed the crowd at
One Spark in 2014, hasn’t
given up its push to bring
a world-class aquarium
BY ROGER BROWN
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
An artist’s rendering of the
AquaJax has been working
to develop in Downtown
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 37
would be a great
way to jumpstart all
of the other things
that everyone wants
to see in Downtown.”
president of AquaJax
To Sharon Piltz, the president
of AquaJax — the nonprofit
group tirelessly working to
bring a world-class aquarium
to Downtown Jacksonville
— the case for having such a
facility is pretty clear.
Indeed, it is as clear as a
transparent jellyfish (one of
the creatures you might see
in a Downtown Jacksonville
“An aquarium would be a great way to jumpstart all of the
other things that everyone wants to see in Downtown,” Piltz
said. “We’re surrounded by water in this city. It just makes
To Dan Maloney, deputy director of animal care and
conservation at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens — which
would run and manage a Downtown aquarium as a zoo sister
facility — the benefits of a marquee aquarium in Jacksonville’s
center are numerous.
38 J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Visitors from around the world
flock to the River Scout exhibit at
the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 39
“The aquarium has really been the
catalyst for economic development
in our downtown. It has been the
cornerstone that we’ve built on to
bring so many other things into
CEO of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau
Indeed, they are numerous as the teeth
in a blacktip reef shark (which, yes, is also
a creature you might see in a Downtown
“It would create so much dynamic
momentum in our Downtown,” Maloney
said. “It would be a marquee attraction on
our riverfront. And the fact is an aquarium
is really something that we can make
happen in this city.”
Maloney paused to let those words sink
“This isn’t,” he said, “a far-fetched dream.”
It’s not pipe
There is no doubt that putting an
aquarium in the downtown of a major
American city isn’t just pipe-dream stuff.
And Piltz is right.
There’s plenty of evidence that
an aquarium can serve to ignite
massive improvements and dramatic
transformations in a major American city’s
Just ask Baltimore, where the popular
National Aquarium has been an engine
driving massive urban renewal in the
downtown Inner Harbor area — and has
had an annual $360 million-plus economic
impact on the city, according to a 2017
report done by the Sage Policy Group, a
Maryland-based economic consulting firm.
In an email response to J magazine,
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh hailed the
role of the National Aquarium as a catalyst
for downtown economic growth and job
“The National Aquarium is a tremendous
asset to Baltimore,” Pugh stated.
“(It) supports almost 4,000 jobs,
contributes $30 million in annual tax
revenue to the city and the state and
engages thousands of students each
year through its environmental literacy
Or just look at Atlanta, where the
Georgia Aquarium — the largest aquarium
in America with more than 100,000 animals
and various tanks containing a total of
more than 100 million gallons of water —
has served as an economic bedrock that
has done these things (and more) since
opening in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial
Olympic Park area in 2005:
n Attracted nearly 30 million visitors in
less than 15 years.
n Attracted 2.44 million visitors —
67 percent of them from outside metro
Atlanta — during 2017 alone.
n Spurred $1.7 billion in new investment
around Centennial Olympic Park since its
2005 opening — and another $417 million
worth of projects under construction or
n Lit the fuse on an explosion of familyoriented
museums and attractions that
have been built in Centennial Olympic
Park in the wake of the Georgia Aquarium’s
popularity — all within walking distance
of the aquarium (including the Center
for Civil and Human Rights, the World
of Coca-Cola Museum and the College
Football Hall of Fame).
n Increased Georgia’s gross domestic
product by $4.4 billion over 12 years.
In a phone interview with J magazine,
William Pate, CEO of the Atlanta
Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the
Georgia Aquarium has been the “anchor
for tourism in downtown Atlanta.”
“The aquarium has really been the
catalyst for economic development in our
downtown — there’s absolutely no doubt
about that,” Pate said. “It has been the
cornerstone that we’ve built on to bring
so many other things into downtown
And that’s been huge, according to Pate.
“Atlanta is a convention city,” he said.
“What the Georgia Aquarium does is far
more than just bring millions of people
to our city. It also gives people attending
conventions a reason to bring their
families, too — and maybe stay an extra
day to see all the other family attractions
that the aquarium has led to us having.”
Keep in mind that cities like Baltimore
and Atlanta don’t have city identities
strongly linked to the water, certainly not
anywhere nearly as deep as the ties that
Jacksonville has to the St. Johns River and
the Atlantic Ocean.
There is a reason, after all, why the
declaration “Jacksonville is the water life
center of America” — a phrase coined by
truJax, a nonprofit working to promote our
city’s connection to the waterscape — has
It’s because it’s true.
Shouldn’t that alone be a compelling
reason to actually build an aquarium in our
Shouldn’t that be enough motivation to
make it a reality?
Clearly, plenty of people in our city
“People may talk or debate how we go
about getting an aquarium in Downtown
Jacksonville,” Maloney said, “but I don’t
know anyone who doesn’t like the idea of
an aquarium in Downtown Jacksonville.”
It’s an idea that took life several years
ago when local community figures J.J.
Hammond and George Harrell cofounded
The nonprofit quickly drew an
expanding list of supporters, volunteers
and contributors — including Piltz, a
marine biologist who previously worked
for the state before taking her current
position as a JEA environmental scientist.
And with that growing base of advocates
in place, AquaJax publicly began to push
its vision for a Downtown aquarium in
venues and forums all across the city.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
The apex of those efforts came during
the 2014 One Spark crowd-funding festival
when spectators loved AquaJax’s concept
for a Downtown aquarium so much that
they voted it No.1 in the science category
— which earned Aquajax more than
$13,000 in award money to pursue the
“That was the moment we realized that,
‘Hey we all know we need an aquarium in
our Downtown, but everyone else in this
city knows we need it, too,’” Piltz said of
AquaJax’s One Spark victory.
The winning vote was a sign that, as
Hammond aptly declared in a letter to
The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board
earlier this year, many in the city realized
that a “world class aquarium will provide
the numbers of people necessary to start
the revitalization so desperately needed
Or “serve as a beacon to … (create) a
success story in our Downtown,” as Harrell
put it in his own Times-Union letter of
several months ago.
The One Spark victory led AquaJax to
commission a June 2015 feasibility study
by ConsultEcon Inc., a Massachusettsbased
“People may talk or debate how
we go about getting an aquarium
in Downtown Jacksonville, but I
don’t know anyone who doesn’t
like the idea of an aquarium in
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
The study determined that if built at a
budget of $100 million in the Shipyards
district, a 150,000-square-foot, 1 milliongallon
aquarium in Downtown Jacksonville
n Draw an average of up to 1.062
million visitors a year.
n Bring in as much as $14.6 million in
total revenues during an average, stable
year of operation.
An artist’s rendering of the world-class aquarium
that AquaJax has been to trying to develop in
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 41
n Have a total estimated impact of $101.1
million a year on Duval County’s economy
alone while generating nearly 1,000 jobs.
That’s an impressive windfall for
a potential aquarium in Downtown
And here’s a compelling conclusion
about the potential impact of that possible
“The Jacksonville Aquarium will
support the expansion of the regional
tourism economy and infrastructure,”
declared ConsultEcon, “and … create a
new, high-quality destination attraction
in Duval County that will bring additional
tourists to the community, thereby
enhancing the City of Jacksonville and the
region as a visitor destination.”
The alluring thing about these
numbers, Maloney said, is that they’re
not projections about an undertaking
that hasn’t been done before — or done
successfully before in big city downtowns.
Before joining the Jacksonville Zoo
and Gardens, Maloney worked at the
Bronx Zoo in New York and the Audubon
Nature Institute in New Orleans —
two institutions that simultaneously
operate both a zoo and aquarium, just as
Jacksonville’s zoo would do if a Downtown
aquarium is built.
“They’re both huge successes,”
Maloney said of the zoo/aquarium setups
in the Bronx and New Orleans.
“We’d be able to take the same
vision that we’ve brought to making the
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens so popular,”
Maloney said, “and bring that same vision
to making an aquarium a hit, too.”
OK, so thousands of people
enthusiastically voted more than four
years ago to support the idea of a
And a feasibility study done more than
three years ago by a respected national
economic consulting firm objectively
found a Downtown aquarium to be a
highly promising and lucrative plan.
So why as 2019 approaches ever closer
in the windshield is there no sign that
a Downtown aquarium will be greenlighted,
much less actually built anytime
The challenges remain clear — and
Here’s the top three:
n There isn’t — yet — a solid
base of funding to raise the estimated
Top 5 Must-See
Early this year, Attractions of America
ranked the country’s best aquariums.
1. Georgia Aquarium
Opened in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium (above)
is one of the biggest of its kind in the entire world.
The aquarium holds more than 500 different kinds
of sea life, including fascinating creatures like groupers,
whale sharks and beluga whales.
2. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Founded in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is
situated on the site of what used to be a sardine
cannery. Nearly two million people come here
every year to see more than 600 different species
of animals and plants.
3. Shedd Aquarium
Opened in 1930, the Shedd Aquarium houses more
than 25,000 fish, with its 5 million gallons of water.
Shedd is the first inland facility to have its own
permanent display of saltwater fish. More than 2
million people visit every year.
4. National Aquarium
Opened in 1981, the National Aquarium sees more
than 1.5 million visitors every year. The aquarium
tanks hold over 2 million gallons of water, and
more than 17,000 creatures that represent more
than 700 different species.
5. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Ripley’s Aquarium has more than 10,000 sea
creatures. Some of its exhibits include a tropical
rainforest, a shark lagoon and a coral reef, as well
as giant octopus, sea anemones, jellyfish, penguins,
sharks and rays.
$1002million to build a Downtown
In the years since AquaJax’s heady,
victorious coming-out moment at the
2014 One Spark festival, the nonprofit
and other aquarium backers have had no
shortage of conversations with influential
figures and power brokers in the private
sector about creating a pathway to fund a
“We’d prefer for an aquarium to
be funded primarily through private
donations,” Piltz said, adding that most
of the backers’ conversations with the
city about the aquarium have centered
on land since the preferred site — the
Shipyards — is city-owned.
But Piltz acknowledged that effort has
been slow to get the city’s moneyed sector
to pen big checks or pull out thick wads of
money for an aquarium.
And the bottom line is that a prominent
funder is needed to prime the funding
pump for a Downtown aquarium — and
take it from popular proposal to tangible
“I think that if we get that one first
person to say, ‘You know what, here’s X
amount of dollars,’” Piltz said, “it’s not
going to be that hard to raise the private
money to build this.
“But,” added Piltz, “getting that first
person with the largest amount of money
is the hardest to get.”
Maloney said he has always assumed
it would “take a decade anyway” to get
a Downtown aquarium from its early
proposal stage to actual constructed
He said one key is for aquarium
backers to keep making the case for why
an aquarium makes such economic
“To me, an aquarium is one of the most
solid capital investments you can make in
Downtown Jacksonville,” he added.
“Just look across the country —
Baltimore, Atlanta, Chattanooga, New
Orleans, the list goes on. If you set a
realistic budget and stick close to it
throughout the process of building an
aquarium, you’re going to be successful.”
n There is no defined location — yet
— that is a surefire certainty to be the site
of a possible Downtown aquarium.
Clearly, the site that aquarium
backers would most prefer as the home
of a Downtown aquarium is the nowvacant
Shipyards because it’s a sprawling
property that could comfortably fit a huge
facility and is flush against the majestic St.
Johns River and Jacksonville’s waterfront.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
“I mean, it’s a great piece of property,”
Piltz said of the Shipyards. “It’s in a prime
location. And it would really be a great spot
to easily join together what we’d plan for
the aquarium with what is taking place at
But what’s going to happen with the
Shipyards rests largely on the vision and
efforts of Jaguars owner Shad Khan and
his Iguana Investments development firm,
which has unveiled an ambitious plan
to transform the area with a convention
center, hotel and other amenities
Could an aquarium actually find a spot
amid all that?
It’s possible; in the past, Khan has lent
an open and receptive ear to AquaJax’s
proposal for a Downtown aquarium.
But there’s a long path that must
be traveled before an aquarium in the
Shipyards is a realistic prospect, much less
a dead-set certainty.
n There is no prominent, major,
influential, powerful figure or group in the
community that has emerged — yet — as
a relentless champion for a Downtown
aquarium, to make a “by God, we’re going to
get this thing done” commitment to helping
break through any obstacles standing in the
By initial appearances, that champion
won’t be Mayor Lenny Curry. When the
mayor’s office was asked by J magazine
for a comment on the campaign for a
Downtown aquarium, the response was
a politely worded pass on making any
comment at all.
And during an interview with Times-
Union Editorial Board, Visit Jacksonville
CEO Michael Corrigan’s response was
measured when asked about a Downtown
“I think an aquarium would be a great
asset to us,” Corrigan said. “But I would
think you would see (proposed major
Downtown development project) Berkman
II arrive before an aquarium would arrive.
And the conversation seems to be that Lot
J (another planned Downtown project)
would happen faster than an aquarium,
In reality, Maloney may have hit it on the
money by calculating a 10-year time frame
for an actual aquarium in the city center.
But while a Downtown aquarium is
likely still four to five years away — under
a best-case scenario — it doesn’t mean
our community has to meekly accept that
is the case.
People in cities like Baltimore, Atlanta,
Chattanooga — and more — didn’t do
They raised the money to have
They found the locations for them.
They had influential people stand up
and champion them.
And all of those cities now have
popular aquariums that are vacuuming
up dollars and tourists in their downtown
areas — and serving as transformative
economic drivers for their communities.
Why not Jacksonville, too?
Let’s find the money for the Downtown
Let’s decide on the land.
Let’s have some of our community
heavyweights step up and say, “This is
something that needs to happen.”
Let’s replace the empty excuses with
tanks full of jellyfish, sharks and more.
Let’s just get it done.
Roger Brown is a Times-Union
editorial writer and member of the
editorial board. He lives Downtown.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 43
Everyone, it seems, has an
opinion on Visit Jacksonville’s
slogan, ‘It’s Easier Here,’ but
the new CEO says the phrase is
effective at marketing the city
BY ROGER BROWN
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF DAVIS
ust six months into his new gig as CEO of
Visit Jacksonville, Michael Corrigan can already
point to the moment when he realized just how
crazy passionate he is about the job of selling and
marketing Jacksonville to the nation.
“I went out and saw one of those Spartan
races that’s put on at the Diamond D ranch (on
Jacksonville’s Westside),” Corrigan said during an
interview with the Times-Union Editorial Board.
“It draws people from all around the country
to do this intense race that involves diving into
mud puddles and crawling up this dirt wall.”
“So I was watching all this going on, and one
thought kept going through my mind,” Corrigan
Jsaid. “I kept wishing that I would have brought
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
PHOTOS: VISIT JACKSONVILLE
Michael Corrigan has been CEO of Visit Jacksonville for six months. “What visitors do when they are actually in Jacksonville is critical to our future,” he said.
a suit with me. I could have jumped into a
mud puddle and had a picture taken of me
coming out of it with a Visit Jacksonville logo
and a caption that read, ‘We’re not afraid
to get our hands dirty to get you to come to
Clearly, then, our city can rest assured
that in Corrigan — along with a 22-person
Visit Jacksonville staff that he effusively
praises as “absolutely fantastic, absolutely
great” — we have a creative mind that’s
relentlessly racing with “let’s color outside
the lines” ideas to promote the joys and
That’s a good thing.
Visit Jacksonville is funded by bed-tax
dollars. The 6 percent levy is placed on all
hotel rooms in Duval County. One-third
of that bed-tax money goes to the Tourist
Development Council of Duval County,
which uses a portion of it to fund Visit
Jacksonville, and requires Visit Jacksonville
to meet a series of performance metrics to
show the funding is being efficiently used
and making an impact in drawing visitors to
That means the organization must put a
“For right now,
‘JAX: It’s Easier
Here’ is still
trending up and
up for us. It’s
still a massively
CEO of Visit Jacksonville
high priority on having a focused, disciplined
approach in its efforts to shine a bright light
on Jacksonville’s assets — and turn that light
into a beacon that draws tourists and visitors
into our city.
Indeed, in an interview with the
Jacksonville Business Journal, one of
Corrigan’s key staffers, Visit Jacksonville
vice president of marketing Katie Mitura
listed a multi-point plan of things the
organization is doing to market the city,
including the development of guided audio
tours of Downtown and a cutting-edge Visit
So the work that Visit Jacksonville is
doing really is tireless — and here are some
of Corrigan insights on some of the major
questions regarding that effort:
What are the biggest challenges at work
in promoting Jacksonville as a place to
Corrigan said “there are a ton of
challenges” in that task, but also myriad
opportunities. “There are three areas of work
we do,” he said.
“We have the convention sales and
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
services focus, which is obvious. We have
the marketing arm to promote Jacksonville
both nationally and around the world, but
realistically that’s primarily around the
country at this point. And our third job is to
manage the tourist bureaus — the three visitor
centers we operate: one in our Downtown
building, another in the
Beaches museum and
the third at Jacksonville
right near the baggage
In turn, Corrigan
said, Visit Jacksonville
uses these three areas
of responsibilities as
blueprints for creating
strategies and goals to
propel the city’s image
and attractiveness as a
place to see.
say that anywhere
that’s a direct flight
JAX, that’s a city that
we are marketing
— and heavily,”
A vintage Jacksonville postcard.
Why has Visit Jacksonville’s slogan
“It’s Easier Here” become a hit that’s
connected with tourists and other visitors
to Jacksonville — even though it’s been
widely panned, mocked and derided by
folks who actually live in Jacksonville?
Corrigan said it’s extremely important
to have not only an identifiable slogan in
marketing Jacksonville to others but one
that can be used in an effective way for an
extended period — and that despite the
eye-rolling reaction it’s drawn from some
inside the city, “It’s Easier Here” continues
to meet both goals in great fashion.
“Inside the city, it’s probably the least
popular Visit Jacksonville slogan in local
history — and I’ve been here all of my life,”
Corrigan said with a laugh.
“But the reality about ‘JAX: It’s Easier
Here’ is that it is working really well
around the country. I mean, what is our
goal with that slogan? It’s to bring people
to Jacksonville. The market that we’re
trying to reach is primarily made up of
people who fly to Jacksonville; they fly
into JAX (the airline code for Jacksonville
International Airport).” Corrigan said.
“And when they arrive at JAX, so many
of these visitors are just floored at how
amazingly easy it is compared to other
cities they visit: to get through our airport,
get to their rental car and get to where
Added Corrigan: “So if we can market to
(potential visitors) that it’s easier here, that
someone’s first 15 minutes of experience in
Jacksonville will be a great one, it’s not too
hard to then get them to buy into coming
“And that’s what been happening with
‘JAX: It’s Easier Here,’” Corrigan said.
“The people around the country that we
are marketing that slogan to are hearing
it, believing it and coming here because
of it. (Visitors) are buying into it because
it matches their actual experience when
they’re in Jacksonville.”
(OK, the eye-rolling segment of our city,
admit it: The slogan does make a whole lot
more sense now, doesn’t it?)
Corrigan said that “JAX: It’s Easier Here”
won’t be around as a slogan forever and
that Visit Jacksonville and its marketing
partner — the Dalton Agency, a local
public relations firm — are “constantly
monitoring” the tagline’s effectiveness.
“We’re not just sitting around with our
arms folded just waiting to see when the
slogan starts to decline (in effectiveness).
When it starts to turn, we’ll have another
plan in place,” Corrigan said.
“But for right now, ‘JAX: It’s Easier Here’
is still trending up and up for us. It’s still a
massively effective slogan for us.”
How do we fully capitalize on promoting
and highlighting the St. Johns River
and Jacksonville’s other waterways and
natural attractions as reasons to visit the
“What I’ve realized is that we cannot
continue to stop at the water’s edge when
we promote Jacksonville,” Corrigan said.
“We have to immerse ourselves. We have
to get people into our water. That’s where
all the great work that Councilwoman
Lori Boyer has
been doing to
activate our river
has really been so
got to get as many
people as we can
to touch the water
and to actually get
on the water.”
C o r r i g a n
said that getting
people who visit
jump in and on
our waterways —
rather than just
them from the sand
and the beach chair
— is vital for us to
fully maximize our
water identity as
some other water-based big cities have
“You go to a lot of these communities
that have been able to effectively (sell) how
they have rivers that go through their cities
— and the reality is all they really have is
some creek running through. Nobody has
what we have here in Jacksonville with the
St. Johns and our other waterways.”
But what sets those cities apart from
Jacksonville, Corrigan added, is that “we
are not the most accessible city with the
most number of places to enjoy the water,
to sit on the water, to eat on the water and
to just get on the water.”
“That’s the difference,” Corrigan said.
“If we can start to add those amenities,
the opportunities to fully enjoy our water, it
will be even easier to promote Jacksonville
and get people here.”
How does Jacksonville meet the needs of
visitors who come to the city — and do
it well enough to convince them to come
back again and again?
Getting the right answers to these two
intertwined questions, Corrigan said,
should be behind every major plan, every
project and every proposal that is being
conceived, pursued and constructed in our
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 47
Jacksonville has a long history as one of
the leading commercial centers in Florida.
Holland & Knight is proud of the contributions our
lawyers have made in promoting the business and
community interests of Downtown Jacksonville.
“It’s so critical to have
amenities here that
will make their trip
great, and make them
come back again.”
CEO of Visit Jacksonville
city — and especially in our Downtown.
“What visitors do when they are actually in Jacksonville is critical to
our future,” Corrigan said.
“We get feedback from every convention or visitors group that comes
to town, and much of the feedback is very similar: There’s nothing to do,
there’s nobody Downtown.
“With all of our large hotels Downtown,” Corrigan added, “that adds
904.353.2000 | Jacksonville, FL
up to a lot of people, a lot of visitors looking for something to do. Because
we have this great resource in the middle of the city — the St. Johns River
Copyright © 2018 Holland & Knight LLP All Rights Reserved
— a lot of them go toward that first. But they run out of ideas after that,
and that’s where we need to fill in the ‘things to do’ list for them.”
To Corrigan, that means providing lots of Downtown attractions and
amenities that are within walking distance of each other, more places
that naturally draw people together.
And it’s not like there aren’t plenty of Downtown developments in
the works that could fill that bill, including the Lot J project, The District
complex on the Southbank, the possible transformation of the vacant
Berkman II site into a massive entertainment center and Jaguars owner
Shad Khan’s vision for revitalizing the Shipyards into a multi-use tourist
“But really a lot of it is just gets down to doing the basic ‘blocking and
tackling’ stuff,” Corrigan said.
“It’s about having tables and chairs in places. It’s about having
places to sit and relax on the water. A visitor wants to be able to step
out of their hotel, go a short distance, start relaxing and then start going
toward something that’s attracting their attention. It’s so critical to have
amenities here that will make their trip great and make them come back
Corrigan’s view echoes that of Paul Astleford, his predecessor as
Visit Jacksonville CEO. In a Q-and-A interview for the summer 2018
edition of J magazine, Astleford declared that while vision and plans are
necessary to build downtown areas, “great downtowns always do start
with (drawing) people.”
FREE, SELF-GUIDED TOUR | 5-9 P.M.
These are the type of challenges, Corrigan added, “that we have to
meet to get more people to Jacksonville. But we’re making great progress
Explore Downtown’s musuems and theatres, galleries and I’m excited about the direction we’re going as Visit Jacksonville.”
and shops, murals, restaurants and bars on the
And if you soon see a billboard display around town with a photo
first Wednesday of the month.
of a man in a mud-covered business suit — and a Visit Jacksonville
logo prominently displayed on the muddy jacket’s lapel — don’t be
Roger Brown is a Times-Union editorial writer and member
of the editorial board. He lives Downtown.
DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE ART WALK
48 J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Welcome the First Coast Flyer Red Line!
Fly to the Beaches
Bus Rapid Transit Service
JTA has expanded the First Coast Flyer to reach
the Beaches. The East Corridor Red Line connects
the Beaches to downtown and the Flyer’s Blue
and Green lines, providing access to FSCJ
South Campus, healthcare, job opportunities,
entertainment, restaurants and more.
A Frequent, Limited Stop, Easy and Reliable Way to Travel Around Town
HIGH FREQUENCY &
COMPLIMENTARY WI-FI &
Learn more at
644 W. Ashley St.
BY MIKE CLARK
Thousands of drivers Downtown
pass the forlorn building on Jefferson
Street across from LaVilla School of
Actually, calling it a building is an
exaggeration. On the ground floor, just
a few posts are left, propped up for
You have to be a historian to know
much about Genovar’s Hall. But history
is the reason it hasn’t been demolished
like so much of LaVilla.
It was built about 1895 as a grocery
store. That’s right, it survived the Great
Fire of 1901.
In 1902 it became a saloon, then
later it was a performance venue that
included such legends as Ray Charles,
Billee Holiday, Louis Armstrong and
But after its heyday in the 1940s,
LaVilla declined. And by the 1990s,
bulldozing many of the LaVilla buildings
seemed to city leaders like the
The River City Renaissance
produced nothing for LaVilla except
As a result, 80 buildings, mostly old
homes, were bulldozed.
Genovar’s Hall survived despite its
The last four mayoral administrations
have struggled with the Genovar’s
renovation. A reading of news
stories is a Who’s Who of city leaders.
In 1996, a fraternity suggested that
PHOTO: BOB SELF
Spot a Downtown eyesore and want
to know why it’s there or when it
will be improved? Submit suggestions
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Built around 1895 as a grocery
store, Genovar’s Hall in Downtown’s
LaVilla District is little more than a
historic reminder of what was
once a bustling corner.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 51
Genovar’s Hall be rehabilitated,
could be obtained.
In 2000, the city
gave the property to the
fraternity at no cost. The
project was supposed
to be completed in two
A series of extensions
By 2005, more than
$700,000 in city and state
money had been spent on
Genovar’s Hall, and still it
was described as “decrepit”
in a news story.
By 2006, a Times-Union
editorial put it this way: “It
is past time for the city to think outside the
empty box known as Genovar’s Hall.”
The Editorial Board called for a public
workshop to find a good use for the building.
Rehabilitating an old building requires
a great deal of expertise, which clearly had
not been the case.
A lack of vision for the entire LaVilla
neighborhood was a major factor. In recent
years it has become clear that LaVilla’s
authentic history could serve as a stimulus
Genovar’s Hall in 1948.
At the time, though, LaVilla seemed
like a blank page to an author with writer’s
That editorial remains a template that
should be used.
Yet, years passed with no action.
By 2009, $900,000 of government money
had been spent on the empty shell. The
building had been returned to city control.
One idea at the time was to turn Genovar’s
Hall into office space
due to its proximity to the
new Duval County Courthouse.
But the massive
courthouse hasn’t spurred
And still we wait.
We wait for Jacksonville
to embrace its proud
history, including that
of its African-American
residents who lived and
played in LaVilla.
We wait for the eyesore
that is Genovar’s Hall
to become one of several
historic structures given a
new life Downtown.
And we wait for city leaders to show a
sense of urgency.
The empty shell of Genovar’s Hall is
symbolic of Jacksonville’s empty embrace
of its history.
And people wonder why Jacksonville
has no sense of itself.
Mike Clark has been a reporter and editor
for The Florida Times-Union and its predecessors
since 1973 and editorial page editor since 2005.
He lives in Nocatee.
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From giant murals
to historic statues,
is quickly becoming an
evolving canvas of art
BY FRANK DENTON
PHOTO BY JEFF DAVIS
During Art Republic in 2017, Spanish
artist Dourone painted La Verdad
No Tiene Forma (the truth doesn’t have
shape), a 90-foot tall mural on the side
of a parking garage at 111 N. Julia St.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 55
You may be at your
most vulnerable, and
most irritated and
exhausted, when you
disembark from a
long airplane flight.
You’ve had to put up with flight delays,
tight connections, competitive boarding,
jammed overheads, shrinking seats and
certain people with whom you’d rather
not have been stuck in a metal tube for
several hours. And now you’re rolling your
eyes and tapping your toes impatiently
while waiting, hoping, for your luggage to
emerge on the carousel.
Next time that’s you at Jacksonville International
Airport, chill for a moment and
scan the wall from which that empty carousel
You’ll see something you never noticed
before: a remarkable piece of art, a
500-foot-long mural of irregular shapes
that turn out to be six great rivers — the
Nile, Amazon, Mississippi, Ganges and our
own St. Johns.
The airport Arts Commission says the
metaphor parallels a traveler’s viewpoint:
“From the air a traveler sees the geographic
elements that change the course of a river.
And so it is true with the mosaic. With
the distance of time, the elements that
have shaped world culture become more
evident. Upon landing the traveler sees the
details of the landscape.”
You move closer and see that it indeed
is a mosaic — of 300,000 postage stamps
from all over the world, again a rich metaphor
for the stream of world culture on
56 J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
the ground. “Countries tend to use postage
stamps to mark time, places, people and
events. Combining these elements together
calls to mind the forces that have shaped
the world — directly and indirectly.”
Imagine, that artist gathered and glued
all those stamps from all over to make this
beautiful art and thoughtful statement.
You try to see where the most colorful
stamps are from …
Oh, by the way, your suitcase is rolling
by on the carousel waiting patiently for you
to retrieve it.
Now you’re in debt to the “public” for
those few moments of mental health counseling.
Maybe now you’ll pay more attention to
the public art movement that has reached
Jacksonville, particularly greater Downtown,
with murals and sculptures and
painted utility boxes and other structures
showing up on seemingly every block.
Two or three more went up last month,
as a non-profit called Art Republic held its
annual Art Week and brought in artists to
create artistic statements meaningful to
Public art is defined as art in any medium
that has been planned and executed
to be out in public, usually outdoors and
accessible to everyone.
“Public art is not an art ‘form,’” says the
Association for Public Art. “Its size can be
huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or
call attention to the paving beneath your
feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic
(or both), and it may be cast, carved, built,
assembled, or painted…
“What distinguishes public art is the
unique association of how it is made,
where it is, and what it means. Public art
can express community values, enhance
our environment, transform a landscape,
heighten our awareness, or question our
assumptions. Placed in public sites, this
art is there for everyone, a form of collective
community expression. Public art is a
reflection of how we see the world — the
artist’s response to our time and place
combined with our own sense of who we
Americans for the Arts says the work
tends to be intensely local: “Public art is
often site-specific, meaning it is created in
response to the place and community in
which it resides. It often interprets the history
of the place, its people, and perhaps
addresses a social or environmental issue.
JEFF DAVIS (6)
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 57
58 J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
JEFF DAVIS (6)
The work may be created in collaboration
with the community, reflecting the ideas
and values of those for whom it’s created.”
Alastair Sooke, an English art critic, has
written that, in a broad sense, public art has
existed for centuries. “Think of the statues
of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The four
colossal-seated sculptures of Ramesses II
hewn out of the sandstone facade of his
rock temple at Abu Simbel in southern
Egypt were designed with a very specific
public in mind — his Nubian enemies. A
blunt display of imperial chest-thumping,
this is art that bludgeons the viewer into
“Millennia later, Michelangelo’s marble
statue of David offered another example of
the symbiotic relationship between art and
the state: Positioned outside in the Piazza
della Signoria, it became a public symbol
of the independence of the Florentine Republic.”
Not that what you see in Downtown
Jacksonville necessarily evokes Michelangelo.
You may like it or hate it, but you have
to admit that it makes you think about it, if
only for a moment.
Ann Carey, chair of the Cultural Council
of Greater Jacksonville, said, “Public
art does matter, and cities gain value in a
number of ways by having robust public
art programs. You don’t have to be an artist
to appreciate them. It’s creating a sense
of place and identity and ownership of our
community. Public art brings beauty to an
environment, so there are these intangibles
when you’re walking down the street and
anyone can enjoy and experience beauty,
that environment improved by public art.
It’s very accessible to everyone.
“Businesses look at a city’s cultural climate
when determining whether they want
to expand to that city. Public art plays into
Public Art is generally controversial, and
not just because beauty is, as always, in the
eye of the beholder but also because some
people just don’t like the whole concept.
We asked Times-Union readers to comment
on Downtown public art, and among
the diverse reactions were these:
“Painting on buildings reminds me
of graffiti. The buildings are an art form
themselves and don’t need a mustache.
Let’s leave art in the galleries.” Jeff Cooper,
“The art you are talking about is trash.
If we want to be something, let’s at least be
classy. If you feel strongly about letting the
freaks have a venue to amuse themselves,
let them go to the suburbs with their crap.”
Bob Heywood, Argyle.
“Public art does
matter ... It’s creating
a sense of place
and identity and
ownership of our
“It reminds of New York City and the
graffiti that appeared on all of the subway
cars. If I was in charge, I would put an immediate
stop to it before it gets totally out of
control.” Peter Baci.
Other reader responses were more supportive
and even glowing, using words like
“wonderful” and “beautiful.” Jerry Silves
said, “Public art defines and beautifies a
Public & private
Public art Downtown is generally sponsored
by one of two organizations, the
City’s Art in Public Places project of the
Cultural Council and the 3-year-old private,
non-profit Art Republic. Both have
been enmeshed in their own, non-artistic
City Council and Mayor John Delaney
in 1997 created the Art in Public Places
program and allocated a percent-for-art as
part of most city building construction and
renovation projects. In 2006, Art in Public
Places became part of the Cultural Council.
“We essentially are the public art experts
for works on city property and commission
and maintain them,” said Christie Holechek,
director of Art in Public Places.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 88
chair of the Cultural
Council of Greater
DOWNTOWN PUBLIC ART
Tour the public artworks produced by the
three major projects via these online guides:
The city’s Art in Public Places program:
The Urban Arts project of DIA and
the Art in Public Places program:
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 59
The Ott family, (from left)
Dave with son Zephan, 8,
Kat with daughters Peyton, 13, Ava,
15 and Lorelai, 2 on the Southbank
Riverwalk under the Main Street Bridge.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
A PLACE FOR
By Kat and Dave Ott
We are a family of six. Our kids are 15,
13, 8 and 2. Yes, that was on purpose; don’t
feel bad for wondering, we are asked about
it all the time. We moved to Jacksonville
about 15 years ago and have lived in
various neighborhoods from Murray Hill
to the Southside, and in between.
We now reside in Springfield, an urban
core neighborhood just a few blocks north
of Downtown. Of the neighborhoods we’ve
lived in here, this is by far our favorite
because of its proximity to Downtown and
all it has to offer — from the museums
and public library, to events at the Florida
Theatre, to some of our favorite restaurants
in nearby neighborhoods. We consider
urban core living an adventure and a way
of life that provides plenty of options for
While Downtown Jacksonville has a
lot to offer, it is still lacking in a few key
areas. The development that is occurring
Downtown seems directed primarily to an
older generation or single millennials. As
a family with kids of various ages, we’d like
to see more done to appeal to families like
ours that appreciate the importance of a
Ideally, we could do most of what
we need in the urban core, but we
often have to venture out of Downtown
to eat out or find a good playground.
There are restaurants and playgrounds
in surrounding neighborhoods like
PHOTO BY BOB SELF
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 61
Riverside, San Marco and Springfield, but
until Downtown has more options, we won’t
be wholly satisfied with what’s between the
Southbank and State Street.
That said, there are gems Downtown, and
if you are looking to spend the day, or a few
days there, here’s what we recommend for
time for toddlers. I normally go when my
husband can go with us, so we can split
up and let the older kids check out books
that interest them while the little kids hang
out in the kids section and listen to the
stories. The library also has a makerspace
that offers all kinds of activities and classes
from virtual reality to guitar lessons. There
are calendars online for all of the events
that are happening for kids of all ages.
the Northbank Riverwalk is the Cummer
Museum of Art and Gardens. On Tuesday
evenings, admission is free. It’s great because
it is a nice place to get the kids out of the
house. The older kids really like to walk
around and look at the art while the younger
kids enjoy spending hours playing in the
The two older kids have gone to the
Cummer summer camp for the last several
years and love to share with us all they
learned about the different pieces on exhibit
as we walk through. All the kids enjoy
walking though the garden on the river.
We were so excited this month to see the
gardens were reopened from the hurricane
damage that kept them closed for so long.
The kids can run around, smell the
flowers (the 2-year-old’s favorite part) or
grab a “create” box and draw. You can get a
coffee or drink or have dinner at the cafe as
well. It really is a great weeknight stop for our
One thing our three older kids enjoy
doing Downtown is hitting Chamblin’s
Uptown for breakfast or a snack before
book shopping. Chamblin’s is by far the
best book store in town, and I’ll go out on a
limb and say maybe in Florida. You could
literally spend hours wandering the store.
If your kids are older and are at the point
of reading chapter books, then I highly
suggest going. The books are mostly used
and super affordable. The cafe is great and
has options for vegetarians or vegans.
If you haven’t gotten your fill of reading
material, or you want something that is
a little friendlier to younger children, the
Main Library location is on the block next
to Chamblin’s. If you’ve never been, this
location is huge. They have a great story
Across the street from the library is
Hemming Park. We think the park itself is
better suited for smaller kids. They have a
kids’ zone in the park with giant Legos and
foam building blocks. It’s pretty cool, and
our young kids would have played there all
morning on our last visit. There are also food
trucks daily at the park, so I can grab a coffee
while the older kids read a book and the
younger kids play in the kids’ zone. As cool as
my kids think the kids’ zone is, I would love
if it were a playground with equipment that
would keep them engaged longer, and that
could be a destination for other families to
bring their children to play together.
Just outside of Downtown at the end of
The Museum of
Science & History
The Museum of Science and History
(MOSH) is a great place for us because it
has something to offer all of the kids. The
2-year-old loves the toddler area and the
small exhibit of live reptiles and birds. The
older kids look forward to whatever traveling
exhibit is currently set up, and never get tired
of the “walk through Jacksonville history”
exhibit. I love the variety of planetarium
shows as well. They offer a daily show for
toddlers, but I occasionally sneak out with
the older kids to see one of the shows that
are geared towards older audiences.
On our most recent visit, the temporary
exhibit was a superhero-themed setup
called “Hall of Heroes.” A model of an old
bat car and Dr. Who’s Tardis were huge hits
with our kids. There were a ton of interactive
stations that managed to engage all four kids,
and we ended up spending about an hour in
J MAGAZINE (5)
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
J MAGAZINE (3)
the superhero hall alone.
Because our kids are home-schooled, we
are pass holders and often go on weekday
afternoons just to get out of the house. We
ended up going back to see the “Hall of
Heroes” exhibit a few days later because the
kids liked it so much.
After leaving MOSH, another fun stop
for kids is Treaty Oak Park. It’s just a block
away so you can walk from the museum.
It’s a massive old live oak whose branches
extend to the ground. You can walk under it
on the boardwalk. It’s a nice shady spot on
a warm day for a picnic with the kids after
a museum trip. Our kids enjoy just running
around the tree and taking pictures, and on
our last trip they even found a few painted
rocks! It’s a really cool spot for any age kid or
Downtown has two great areas to walk
along the river on the Northbank and
Southbank. It’s pretty easy to hop on the
Northbank Riverwalk just up from the
Cummer or the Southbank Riverwalk from
MOSH. It’s a nice walk, and everyone gets
some exercise. The older kids like to check
out the yachts that sometimes park along
On our second trip to MOSH, we decided
to head outside and walk around Friendship
Fountain because the weather was pretty
nice. None of the kids was too impressed by
the fountain, but it does offer a cool view of
They did, however, really like the mosaic
mural under the Main Street bridge, along
the Riverwalk path right past the fountain.
It’s a cool mirrored mosaic that extends
under the bridge. My kids actually had
an opportunity to work with the mosaic
creators, Roux Art, over the summer
on another mosaic project that will be
installed somewhere in the city. So they got
excited when they recognized the name
of the creator and could make a personal
connection with a piece of public art.
About a half block north of State Street,
between Laura and Pearl, is Klutho Park.
Once a month, Springfield Preservation and
Restoration (SPAR) hosts an event in the
park called Second Sunday. It’s a familyfriendly
occasion with food trucks, vendors
and live music.
Our kids enjoy it because they can get a
snow cone or a snack. The grown-ups can
grab a beer, and we can just hang out in
the park and listen to music. The little kids
can run wild in the wide open space in the
middle of the city. There is a baseball field
in the park, and most of the time someone
brings some gear so the kids can play. Our
8-year-old son looks forward to that.
SPAR uses the proceeds from the annual
Jacksonville PorchFest to fund a new piece
of public art for the park’s sculpture walk.
The first piece installed was a metal giraffe
since Jacksonville’s original zoo was located
in the neighborhood. Our older kids have
enjoyed seeing the new pieces that have
been added over the last few years.
What’S needED for
kids & families
With Jacksonville having the largest urban
parks systems in the country, you would
think they would be better maintained,
especially Downtown. With the exception
of Hemming Park, there is not really a park
Downtown where we can take our kids that
seems clean, well maintained and safe.
There is not a park with a good playground
Downtown to take the younger kids, which
typically has us driving into Riverside or
Avondale for them to play. The public space
off Main Street behind the Downtown library
has really cool public art sculptures, but it’s
often filled with transients.
Walkability is another issue. We do not
often find ourselves strolling the streets of
Downtown. We have lived in Atlanta and
Boston where we could park and wander
the streets of those downtowns, exploring
cool shops, getting a bite to eat or stopping
by a park or playground. We don’t really find
ourselves doing that in this city. That said,
you can park near Hemming Park and walk
around in that area to several destinations.
The problem is just that once you leave
Hemming, everything else is spread out.
Downtown lacks dining choices for
families. There are two restaurants that
we gravitate toward: Burrito Gallery and
Superfood and Brew. Superfood isn’t open
for dinner, and the menu isn’t the friendliest
for children, but if your kids are older, or
they are vegan/vegetarian as ours are, it is
delicious. Burrito Gallery has great food, but
the atmosphere isn’t necessarily great for
kids, depending on your perspective. That
said, when we are Downtown for the day, as
we were recently, we usually eat at Burrito
Gallery, and the entire family enjoys the
food. We’d love to see some more restaurants
Downtown that have patio seating and a
menu that works for all ages.
The Landing should be a huge draw for
families. It’s situated on one of the most
beautiful spots in town. It would make a
great location for a family-friendly restaurant
so a family could enjoy the view. Instead, it
is full of shops and restaurants that do not
appeal to us, such as Hooters, Maverick’s
Live and Fionn MacCool’s. Some folks in the
city would like to see the complex torn down
and replaced with a green space. We don’t
support this idea. While a small playground,
park or other green space there would be
nice, we would like to see it utilized primarily
for more family-friendly eateries and retail.
Kat and Dave Ott and their four children
live in Springfield.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 63
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
First Baptist Church has an almost
mythical status Downtown. Shepherding a
congregation of around 8,000, FBC’s new pastor,
Heath Lambert, has big plans for the future of church.
By LILLA ROSS // PHOTO BY BOB SELF
Pedestrians walk past First Baptist
Church’s Downtown Jacksonville
campus at the intersection of Laura
and Ashley streets.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 65
Can you name
the largest private landowner in Downtown
Jacksonville? Here are some hints:
It owns 11 blocks with 11 buildings, four parking garages and two surface
It runs a school, a counseling service, a music school, a popular dining
spot, a coffee shop, a semi-professional orchestra and an online store.
It broadcasts weekly in five television
markets and on four radio stations.
It has the largest auditorium in
It’s First Baptist Church.
Downtown Jacksonville’s largest
church doesn’t get mentioned much in the
discussions about the redevelopment of
the urban core. That’s odd, considering the
size of its property holdings valued at $55
million, its congregation of about 8,000 and
its considerable influence.
On the city redevelopment map, First
Baptist Church is in the Church District, a
24-block bordered on the west by LaVilla, on
the north by Springfield and on the south by
the civic core.
The Church District is not to be confused
with its neighbor to the east, the Cathedral
District, anchored by St. John’s Episcopal
Cathedral. Under the leadership of Dean
Kate Moorehead, the Cathedral established
Cathedral District-Jax, a nonprofit
spearheading the redevelopment of the
Community Connections property as part of
a residential hub.
No one has a vision yet for the Church
District. The area is dominated by churches
and church-run organizations. Besides
First Baptist, there’s St. Philip’s Episcopal
on Union Street and the House of Prayer on
Beaver Street. The City Rescue Mission and
Trinity Rescue Mission are nearby.
The city owns the Emergency
Preparedness Center on Julia Street and
the JEA building on Ashley Street. JEA is
planning to move and developer Steve
Atkins has some ideas for a new mixed-use
Heath Lambert, 39, assumed the pastorate of
First Baptist Church in May after Max Brunson’s
resignation. The church has a congregation of
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
development, but it could be years away.
There also are two apartment buildings
— the Metropolitan Lofts and City Place —
and a scattering of businesses, but there is
also a lot of vacant property.
The most notable eyesore is Old
Stanton high school. The city’s original
black high school, vacant since 1971, is in
poor condition, but it is protected from
demolition by its listing on the National
Register of Historic Places. It is considered a
daunting restoration project, but then so was
the Laura Street Trio.
Other educational institutions are
nearby: LaVilla School of the Arts, the
Downtown campus of Florida State
College at Jacksonville, a barber school
and a dance studio.
Even with a strong religious and
educational presence in the Church District,
there’s really nothing there. Nothing for a
redevelopment effort to coalesce around.
Not without leadership.
Since it owns almost half of the Church
District, First Baptist is the obvious choice to
be the catalyst for redevelopment efforts. But
will it step up?
A real and
First Baptist has a reputation as a
political powerbroker, an organization that
can make things happen — or not happen.
There’s an urban legend that First
Baptist proxies bought up liquor licenses
to keep bars and restaurants out of
Downtown. The church says it doesn’t
know anything about that, but state law
bans bars or clubs within 1,500 feet of a
church, guaranteeing that the northwest
corner of Downtown will stay dry for the
The church also has the reputation
for going its own way. When the other
Downtown congregations join forces to
host an event or speak out on an issue,
First Baptist isn’t there. When it does speak
up, it’s often against something.
One notable example is the recent
battle over passage of the Human Rights
Ordinance (HRO), which added “sexual
orientation” and “gender identity” to the
city’s anti-discrimination laws.
HRO supporters warned that defeating
the measure would have economic
implications and likened it to the civil
rights movement of an earlier era.
First Baptist’s pastor at the time, Mac
Brunson, led the opposition, campaigning
against it from the pulpit and behind
closed doors, even busing members to
City Hall for meetings. For Brunson, the
issue was simple: The Bible teaches that
homosexuality is a sin, therefore, the HRO
was an attack on Christianity itself.
After months of a long, contentious
debate and a major revision, the HRO
ordinance passed and became law in 2017
without Mayor Lenny Curry’s signature.
It’s not the first time (or the last) the
church has taken a strong public stand,
nor is it the first time it lost the fight. But
the battle highlights the waning influence
of churches in an era of changing cultural
A recent study by the Pew Research
Center found more people identify
their religious affiliation as “none” or
“done.” The reasons vary: disagreement
on religious, political and social issues,
bad experiences and a general feeling
that religion isn’t important, an attitude
common among millennials, the least
religious generation of all time.
And that is reflected in the decline
of membership and attendance of the
Downtown churches, including First
Baptist, which has seen its membership
plunge by two-thirds in the last decade.
Membership, which once numbered
Though its beacon was turned off after
complaints from Springfield residents, First
Baptist Church still has an iconic lighthouse
at the corner of Pearl and Union streets.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 67
Senior pastor Mac Brunson led a Sunday service in the First Baptist Church in 2016. The church’s $16 million sanctuary seats nearly 8,000.
28,000, has dropped to about 8,000, with
about 3,500 to 4,000 in regular attendance
at one of its three campuses.
Now a new, young pastor has taken the
helm of the mega church and is poised to
write the next chapter.
Heath Lambert, 39, assumed the
pastorate in May after Brunson’s abrupt
resignation — not even Lambert knew it was
Brunson recruited Lambert in 2015 to
become associate pastor and expand the
church’s counseling program. Lambert, a
biblical counselor, was associate professor
at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky.,
and executive director of the Association of
Certified Biblical Counselors, a position he
relinquished this fall.
Initially, Lambert and his wife, Lauren,
were intimidated by the size of the
congregation. They were accustomed to
small churches, sometimes with fewer
members than First Baptist has in its choir.
“What appealed to me wasn’t the size. I
loved Mac Brunson and was happy to work
with him as a mentor,” Lambert said. “First
Baptist has a remarkable reputation, it’s had
so much influence on the city and in the
(Southern Baptist) convention. It’s easily in
the top five or 10 most influential Baptist
churches. It’s a church that, while remaining
theologically faithful, has been a pacesetter.
It has a rich legacy.”
of the church
First Baptist’s rich legacy began in
1838 as an interracial congregation called
Bethel Baptist. After the Civil War, the
white members formed a separate church,
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Republican Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence spoke to the First Baptist Church congregation during a visit
to Jacksonville in September 2016, prior to the presidential election.
initially called Tabernacle Baptist and later
First Baptist; the black congregation today
is known as Bethel Baptist Institutional
First Baptist’s sanctuary, like most of
Downtown, was destroyed in the Great Fire
of 1901, and though the church rebuilt, it
was hard-hit by the Depression and heavily
in debt when the Rev. Homer G. Lindsay Sr.
became pastor in 1940. The senior Lindsay
got the church back on financial high
ground, and the congregation grew. In 1969,
his son and namesake became co-pastor
and took over when the elder Lindsay retired
In 1976, to accommodate the growing
congregation, Lindsay Jr. built a 3,500-
seat sanctuary, named the Ruth Lindsay
Auditorium for his mother. He also erected
the iconic lighthouse at Pearl and Union
streets. Its beacon was turned off after
complaints from Springfield residents, but
the structure remains a landmark.
In 1982, the church hired the Rev.
Jerry Vines as co-pastor to help oversee
the congregation that had grown from
2,600 to 14,000. First Baptist had become a
A megachurch is defined as a
congregation with at least 2,000 members in
attendance. While many churches struggle
to keep body and soul with a few hundred
members, a megachurch has a large budget,
a sizable staff and a variety of programs
and ministries that most churches can only
It is a magnet, attracting people from all
over a region with powerful preaching by
a pastor and services often broadcast on
television and more recently the internet.
Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston
is the largest megachurch in the United
States with 52,000 in attendance.
Their influence isn’t lost on political and
government officials, who come to call. Vice
President Mike Pence, for instance, visited
First Baptist during the 2016 campaign.
Vines, who succeeded Lindsay,
continued the church’s expansion, with an
$8 million preschool building, four parking
garages and the 10,000-seat $16 million
sanctuary that was often full for its two
Sunday morning services. (The sanctuary
was downsized in 2011 to 7,800 to allow for
expansion of its audio-visual section.)
The church also grew in stature in the
Southern Baptist Convention. Vines served
two terms (1988-90) as its president. Though
an honorary position, the president is the
face and the voice of the largest evangelical
denomination in the country. In the 1980s,
Vines helped solidify a fundamentalist
takeover of the denomination that resulted
in 1,900 moderate churches leaving the
Southern Baptist Convention to form the
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Vines also founded First Baptist’s Pastors’
Conference, an influential annual meeting
designed to groom the next generation of
leadership. Thousands of ministers from
around the country come to hear the big
names of the day, like Jerry Falwell. Vines will
be one of the speakers at the next conference
Under Vines’ charismatic leadership,
First Baptist developed an evangelical
panache. When Vines retired in 2006, he
noted proudly that during his tenure he had
baptized 18,177 people (yes, he kept count).
Not just anyone could succeed Vines
at First Baptist Jacksonville. The church
wooed Mac Brunson, the pastor of the
denomination’s premiere pulpit, First
Baptist of Dallas, which for over 50 years
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 69
counted evangelist Billy Graham among
its members. This was a shocking
development in Baptist circles. The pastor
of First Baptist Dallas was never “called
away” by another congregation. It just
didn’t happen — until Brunson moved to
When Brunson arrived in 2006, First
Baptist was the third largest Southern
Baptist church in the country. There was
room to grow.
Brunson opened satellite churches in
Ortega and Nocatee, where a new
$7 million sanctuary, now
under construction, will
open next spring. Pastors
with the International
Ministry began separate
services for Burmese,
far and wide.
Its services are
live at 8 a.m.
and 6 p.m.
WTLV-12, and other
times on WJXT-4, WJXX-25 and
over four local radio stations, including
one in St. Augustine. And its services
also are seen in Birmingham, Ala.,
Parkersburg-Vienna, W.Va., Sevierville,
Tenn., The Dalles, Ore., and Reidsville and
The church built a large music ministry
with a 300-member choir and orchestra
to provide professional music for its
broadcasts and special Christmas and
Brunson also reached out to the next
generation with a school, First Baptist
Academy, and a campus ministry at
the University of North Florida. There’s
also an app and social media outreach
via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and
There are lattes, espresso, smoothies
and peppermint mocha hot chocolate at
its 4 Grounds community coffee shop on
the first floor of the Preschool Building.
(All proceeds go to missions.)
And there is a soup and salad bar and
hot buffet at the church’s dining room at
125 W. Ashley St. which has a professional
chef and is open to the public.
Free internet access is available too,
and 40,000 books, videos and DVDs, all
focused on spiritual growth and family
life. Lessons in music, dance, art and
photography are taught at the Worship
Despite the new outreach, membership
began to decline and with it the church’s
budget. In 2013, the church laid off 14 fulltime
and 33 part-time employees from its
220-person staff. The church now has 110
full-time and part-time employees.
But Brunson’s unexpected departure
took the community by surprise. Pastor for
12 years, he had recently said he wanted
to stay another five years, but in May 2018,
he resigned and Lambert was immediately
named his successor. Brunson, 60, is now
pastor of 1,000-member Valleydale Baptist
Church in Birmingham, Ala.
The church is quick to say that
Brunson’s departure had nothing to do
with scandal or impropriety. It might have
been a case of a pastor wearing out his
Inevitably, First Baptist’s pastors have
stirred the pot of controversy. Lindsay
Jr. preached against LGBT rights and in
defense of traditional marriage. Vines
called the Prophet Muhammad a “demonpossessed
Brunson got into it with an anonymous
blogger highly critical of the pastor, mostly
around money. Brunson, who reportedly
was paid $300,000, spent $100,000
remodeling his offices.
Brunson wanted to know the identity
of the anonymous blogger, citing “possible
criminal overtones” of the blog. He
asked a sheriff’s detective, a member
of the church, to find out. The detective
subpoenaed records from Google and
identified the blogger. He was presented
with a list of 16 sins and ordered to repent
or be banished. He refused, and he and his
family are banned from the premises.
The blogger sued. The Sheriff’s Office
settled for $50,000. First Baptist settled
for an undisclosed amount and a public
apology from Brunson.
Parking garage rankled members
raise $1 million
one week after
fund ran short in
the middle of a
project. It was during
the recession, and it
took a while to raise
the money and the
didn’t sit well.
N Lambert downplays the
suddenness of Brunson’s
departure, saying that when
he arrived in January 2016, he
knew he would likely be the next pastor.
“This has always been a faithful church
that wants people to come to know Jesus,
so I saw this as an opportunity for fresh
leadership,” Lambert said.
Lambert said he is still getting his
bearings as the pastor of a megachurch.
He preaches twice on Sundays at Nocatee
and Downtown. He has to be on the road
by 8:15 a.m. to make the 9 a.m. service at
Ponte Vedra High School. “I have to be out
by 10:10 and walk in the door Downtown
by 10:45, or I’m in big trouble,” Lambert
The decline in membership and
revenue will require the church to
prioritize, but its priorities will always
focus on sharing Jesus’ message, he said.
JEFF DAVIS (MAP)
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
“My desire is that we would be fruitful
participants and good neighbors, helping
Downtown be beautiful and vibrant and
safe,” Lambert said. “We want to work
with the city and business owners. We’re
looking for opportunities for partnership.
How can the city be better because of First
First Baptist is a member of Downtown
Vision Inc. Executive pastor John Blount
attends the meetings.
The church also supports the ministry
of Trinity Rescue Mission on Union Street
with funding and volunteers and wants to
increase its involvement. The church also
has a food pantry and clothes closet that
are available when someone comes to the
church for help.
“We need to do a better job Downtown
whether it’s actively caring for the
homeless or reaching out to a millennial
looking for a condo,” Lambert said.
Lambert said he has no ideas for how
redevelopment should proceed in the
Church District. The church will maintain
the 11 blocks the church owns, he said, but
no major changes are envisioned.
The property “represents a stewardship
we need to think through carefully,”
Lambert said. “People made an
investment in the future that we need to
make good on.”
First Baptist Academy is expected to
grow. The church added ninth and 10th
grades this year and plans to add 11th
grade next year and 12th in 2020. The 361
students come from all over the city, but
Lambert expects that as more people move
Downtown, the Academy will have kids
from the neighborhood.
“We have space for short-term growth,
and we’re talking about what do we do
when we exceed our capacity,” Lambert
said. “But we have no hard-and-fast plans.”
Renovating the administration building
on Ashley also is on the to-do list. “It’s just
old,” Lambert said. “It was an insurance
building, and no real work has been done
on it. It’s going to need a lot of work in the
next five to 10 years. We’re in the early
stages of figuring out what to do.”
The Lindsay Memorial Auditorium,
on Hogan Street, which was mainly a
is that we
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
sanctuary in the 1970s and 1980s, has
undergone a $3 million renovation. Next
door is the Hobson Auditorium, the
original sanctuary, with seating for 700. It is
used for weddings and meetings and is the
sanctuary for the International Ministry.
The church recently completed a
multi-million renovation of the preschool
building with new décor and equipment
for infants and toddlers.
“We would love to add green space that
would become a common space,” Lambert
For Lambert, the issue isn’t the church’s
size or influence. It’s about its faithfulness
to the gospel and Jesus’ command to share
After the shooting at The Jacksonville
Landing in August, the church canceled its
Wednesday night service and convened a
prayer vigil at the riverfront courtyard to
show its solidarity with the victims and the
The church also is calling for 1,000
members to share the gospel with one
person every week by the end of the year
— 52,000 people. It calls it the One in a
Thousand campaign, and it is keeping
track. As of the end of September, they had
reached about 8,500 — a long way from the
goal but for Lambert a sign of faithfulness.
“We really want to communicate that
the reason First Baptist is here is to love the
city. We want to love the city well,” Lambert
said. “But nobody should be shocked when
Christians at First Baptist Church act like
“For First Baptist, it’s not about being
against things. It’s a horrifying blasphemy
against the love of God to communicate
and portray hate. Our mission is to
communicate the love of God,” Lambert
said. “We have work to communicate that,
and I’m eager to do that.”
Lilla Ross was as a reporter and editor at The Florida
Times-Union for 35 years. She lives in San Marco.
A one-ton, 38-foot cross began its journey 10 stories
skyward in the heart of downtown Jacksonville in
November 1974 during construction of the First
Baptist Church in Downtown.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 71
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
The Cathedral District has
seen remarkable growth
in housing projects,
but future plans call for
turning the area into a
BY LILLA ROSS
BLUE SKY COMMUNITIES
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 73
More and more apartments and condos have been popping up in the 30-block Cathedral District including the Stevens Duval Apartments at 601 N. Ocean St.
The Cathedral District is envisioned as
Downtown’s residential neighborhood.
While it still lacks a neighborhood
ambiance, it is attracting investment —
$70 million of it.
Downtown’s largest landlord, Aging
True, is investing $50 million. About $30 million is going
to the renovation of its three Cathedral Residences.
Another $20 million is earmarked for a fourth apartment
building, Ashley Square.
A few blocks away, Cathedral District-Jax is working
with Vestcor on a $20 million project to transform the old
Community Connections property into a mixed-income
housing development, Lofts at the Cathedral.
The Cathedral District is home to several historic Jacksonville churches including
St. John’s Cathedral at 256 E. Church St.
JEFF DAVIS (2)
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
“After spending almost $30 million on those
extensive renovations in the high-rises,
building something from the ground up
sounded pretty good to us.”
CEO OF AGING TRUE
JEFF DAVIS (MAP)
The 30-block district already has most
elements of a neighborhood. Close to 800
people live in the Cathedral Residences,
Stevens Duval Apartments and the Parks
at the Cathedral condos. There’s a
grocery store, five churches
and a nursing home. And,
discussions are underway to
bring a charter school to the
What it lacks are all the
businesses typically found
in a neighborhood — drug
stores, dry cleaners,
And a neighborhood
It needs more
parks and trees
and places to walk
dogs, wear out kids,
feed the squirrels.
working on that with
its Emerald Necklace
project, but the whole
district could benefit
from more trees and
And a slower pace.
The two major north-south arteries,
Main and Ocean streets, run through the
district. Crossing them shouldn’t have to be
a life-or-death decision. Both master plans
for the area, one by the city and another
done by Cathedral District-Jax, recommend
making the area more pedestrian friendly
by reconfiguring the traffic patterns,
reducing speed and installing more
But in the world of government and
commerce, none of these things will
happen until they have to. In the next few
years, they might have to.
Aging True is finishing Phase 2 of a
three-phase, $30 million, state-funded
St. John’s Cathedral
Proposed Ashley Square
Parks at the
The 30-block Downtown
at the Cathedral
the high-rise Cathedral
Terrace, Cathedral Towers and Cathedral
Townhouses, known collectively as the
Cathedral Residences, where about 640
The 241-unit Cathedral Terrace, 701
N. Ocean St., was the first to undergo
renovations in 2016 that included new
district is taking shape as
more apartments are
flooring, appliances, windows, plumbing
and electrical. The $12 million project also
included new elevators, lighting, a security
system and a new fitness center.
Similar work, costing $14
million, on the 203-unit
Cathedral Towers, 601 N.
Newnan St., is expected
to be completed by the
end of the year. The
third high-rise, 177-unit
501 N. Ocean St., will get
its make-over next year
with $16.6 million in
buildings that are a
half-century old is no
CEO Teresa Barton
said Aging True froze
rentals until they had
24 vacant apartments.
People on two floors
are moved to the vacant
their apartments are
renovated, a process that
takes about six weeks. The
work progresses two floors
at a time.
“We pack and unpack
them,” Barton said. “The
first time it happened, it was
scary. We have a rhythm now. It
is an inconvenience, but the feedback is
overwhelming. Everything is very nice and
modern and different. They’re happy.”
All the work is being done by Blue
Sky Communities of Tampa, a workforce
housing developer, which also will build
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 75
“This is not a new partnership,” Barton
said. “After spending almost $30 million on
those extensive renovations in the highrises,
building something from the ground
up sounded pretty good to us.”
The three high-rises form a triangle,
and Ashley Square will be built in
the middle on a vacant lot, at Ashley
and Beaver streets. It will blend in
architecturally with the adjacent
senior housing project, Stevens Duval
Apartments, an historic red brick building
that was the city’s first school, Barton said.
The five-story apartment building will
have 110 one- and two-bedroom units for
working adults and seniors, a fitness center
and on-site parking. The seniors will have
access to the nutrition site, wellness center
and service coordinators at the Cathedral
The Downtown Development Review
Board and the Downtown Investment
Authority have signed off on the concept,
and Aging True has applied to the state for
“It’s a highly competitive process,”
Barton said. “The vision is there and the
commitment is there, but it may involve
more than one funding cycle. We’re not
the first in line for those dollars. But it’s a
good use of public dollars and resources,
and it conforms to what they want
Downtown, so we’re optimistic.
“Our goal is to continue to develop
a really robust and quality environment
for seniors to live Downtown,” Barton
said. “We don’t think of the buildings as
buildings but as a community.”
Community-building also is the goal
of Cathedral District-Jax, a nonprofit
established by St. John’s Cathedral to be a
catalyst for development in the district.
It is awaiting state funding for the
property at 325 E. Duval St., now known as
Billy Goat Hill Inc., named for the highest
point Downtown. The $20 million Lofts
at the Cathedral project will transform
the old YWCA into about 115 apartments,
said Ginny Myrick, CEO and president of
Most of the complex will be workforce
housing with 15 percent of the units
reserved for low-income residents
to satisfy deed restrictions. The state
requirement that the property serve the
homeless was just one of the challenges
the project faced.
Back when Community Connections
owned the property, it got state funding
that required that it be used to serve
the homeless. That was a barrier to
redevelopment, so Cathedral District-Jax
“We want to
see people of
all walks of
life, living in a
and are proud
CEO and president of
negotiated with the state to revise the
requirement so that it now has to serve
low-income people, not homeless.
The property, 1.52 acres east of the
Cathedral, also was encumbered by
numerous city, state and private liens,
environmental issues and a designation
as a historic site. It took 18 months to
The property had been vacant for most
of the decade when Cathedral District-
Jax bought it, helped by a loan from the
Episcopal Church Building Fund. The
closing was on Good Friday.
The project is considered a catalyst for
redevelopment in the Cathedral District.
Another is a charter school.
A K-8 charter school needs about 900
students to be financially feasible, Myrick
said. In 2015, the University of North
Florida surveyed the major Downtown
employers and found 5,000 people
interested in having a Downtown school.
Myrick said they have been talking
with several charter school operators,
and she hopes one of them will file an
application for a Downtown campus with
the School Board by the Feb. 1 deadline.
It bears pointing out that the
organizations making this happen —
Aging True and Cathedral District-Jax
— are nonprofits. And they aren’t the
only ones that are making a mark on
St. John’s Cathedral has been a player
in Downtown redevelopment since
1962 when it established the Cathedral
Foundation and built the three high-rises.
It was part of the Cathedral’s mission of
serving an underserved population —
the elderly. The Foundation also built a
120-bed skilled nursing facility, Cathedral
Gerontology Center, 333 E. Ashley St.,
now known as Cathedral Care. In 2011,
it rebranded as Aging True, a name
that better reflects its broad outreach to
seniors that includes nutrition programs,
care coordination and caregiver support.
Elsewhere in Downtown, the Jessie
Ball duPont Fund took on the rescue and
renovation of the Haydon Burns library
into the nonprofit hub, the Jessie Ball
And the newest player is Clara White
Mission, which plans to build a village
of tiny houses for homeless veterans in
In its master plan, the Cathedral
District-Jax envisioned creating a sense of
place in the neighborhood with a diverse
population living along a residential spine
spanning Duval and Church streets and
shopping in a retail district on North
“We want to see people of all walks of
life, living in a neighborhood they cherish
and are proud to boast about,” Myrick
That will take critical mass, she pointed
out. And momentum is building.
“When you see someone walking their
dog in the Cathedral District, you will
know we are moving in the success lane,”
Lilla Ross was as a reporter and editor at The Florida
Times-Union for 35 years. She lives in San Marco.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
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JTA’s Ultimate Urban Circulator includes autonomous vehicles that would run on an expanded Skyway which would allow the cars to go down to street level.
Jacksonville moving ahead
with ‘innovation corridor,’
but how realistic is it?
BY LARRY HANNAN
The lab of a major pharmaceutical company, a
high-tech startup and a university doing cuttingedge
research all clustered together in Downtown
Jacksonville surrounded by restaurants, bars and
other high-end businesses that make Downtown one
of the coolest places to go in Northeast Florida.
That’s not the reality of Downtown Jacksonville now. But city
officials, business leaders and others in the community think it could
be relatively soon, maybe within the next decade.
One of the keys to making this vision come true is something called
an “innovation corridor.” The city wants to create one on Bay Street that
would run from the new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center
to TIAA Bank Field.
John Rood, chairman of Vestcor Companies Inc., is one of the most
vocal business titans in town about the innovation-corridor concept.
He argues that it’s the key to revitalizing Downtown and turning it into
an area where people want to live and work.
The corridor would benefit Vestcor Downtown developments
like the Lofts at LaVilla, which is across the street from the Prime
Osborn Convention Center and the transportation center now under
construction. But Rood said his support goes beyond what’s good for
his business because a vibrant Downtown benefits everyone.
“We’ve got to be looking forward in our community,” Rood said.
“If we do this, we can have people from all over the world coming to
HASKELL DESIGN STUDIOS
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
A paper by the Brookings Institution
defines innovation districts as “dense
enclaves that merge the innovation and
employment potential of research-oriented
anchor institutions, high-growth firms, and
tech and creative start-ups in well-designed,
amenity-rich residential and commercial
Brookings said, “Innovation districts
facilitate the creation and commercialization
of new ideas and support metropolitan
economies by growing jobs in a way that
leverage their distinct economic attributes.
These districts build and revalue the intrinsic
qualities of cities: proximity, density,
authenticity and vibrant spaces.”
An innovation district can attract
businesses into a downtown area and also
make it a more desirable place for people
to live and work. In Jacksonville, it is seen
as something that would help revitalize
Downtown while also making the area safer
and more popular. The hope is that the city
can attract tech businesses and companies
that do cutting-edge research or technology
while attracting mixed-use development like
apartments, restaurants and office space in a
way that would make the Bay Street area one
of the crown jewels of Downtown.
“It fits into everything we’re doing
Downtown,” said Brian Hughes, chief of
staff to Mayor Lenny Curry and interim CEO
of the Downtown Investment Authority.
“An innovation district helps us to build
something new at the Landing, redevelop
the Shipyards and attract a lot of other
cutting-edge businesses to town.”
Hughes said it also would allow the
city to have a really good corridor from the
Prime Osborn Convention Center all the
way to the TIAA Bank Field where people
will want to work, live and visit.
Multiple local organizations are involved
in trying to develop this corridor, including
the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville
Transportation Authority, the North Florida
Transportation Planning Organization, JEA
and JAX Chamber.
The three components of the proposed
innovation corridor are a reworking and
expansion of the Skyway system, a “smart
city” plan and the innovation district itself.
ACTIVATING the Skyway
JTA is pushing an Ultimate Urban
Circulator, or U2C, which involves
autonomous cars that would run on the
current and an expanded Skyway, which
would go down to street level.
“The Bay Street Innovation Corridor will
implement initial elements of the Skyway
conversion and expansion called the
cities find ways
to preserve and
lives. Smart cities
Ultimate Urban Circulator Program,” said
JTA spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler. “The
corridor will incorporate technology and
Smart City innovations to support economic
development and enhance mobility for the
citizens of Jacksonville.”
The area that the Skyway system
travels would increase from 2.5 miles to
about 10 miles, reaching more Downtown
neighborhoods and gradually TIAA Bank
Field, central San Marco, Five Points in
Riverside and beyond.
BECOMING A ‘smart city’
The key to being a “smart city” is
connection, said Jason Pomeroy, an architect,
author, professor and host of Channel
NewsAsia’s “Smart Cities 2.0,” who has built
ecology-friendly houses in Southeast Asia: “It
isn’t all about driverless cars, the Internet of
Things and other buzzwords.
“The most effective smart cities find ways
to preserve and enhance citizens’ lives. Smart
cities have empowered individuals to work
collectively toward common values held
by the city, such as energy efficiency, job
creation, waste management and more. They
often embrace technology and society’s use
(of) and buy-in to these common values as a
“I also believe that truly smart cities
acknowledge and seek to preserve culture,
heritage and tradition … Finally, the notion of
a smart city will only be acceptable as long as
it comes from the bottom up as well as topdown.
The solution to the city’s problems
needs to be provided by a collaboration
between the citizens, private companies,
government and academia, not imposed on
them by elites.”
Smart cities are environmentally friendly
with working public transit and technological
innovation, Pomeroy said.
In Jacksonville, the North Florida
Transportation Planning Organization is
pushing the “smart city master plan.” Sensors
and improved lighting would be deployed on
the street to make the area safer via increased
visibility and the ability to detect things like
gunshots. Those sensors also could detect
pedestrians crossing the street and incoming
trains and switch traffic lights from green to
red to keep people safe.
This only works if a centralized database
collects all the data, which is what the TPO is
TPO executive director Jeff Sheffield
declined to comment for this story and said
through a spokesperson he preferred to wait
until the project was further along to discuss it.
The creation of innovation districts is
relatively new. The first ones occurred in cities
like Boston and Barcelona, and they are now
being done all over the world.
Roughly modeled on Silicon Valley, the
essential idea is that an area will be set up to
cluster entrepreneurs, startup businesses,
business accelerators and incubators in a way
that encourages collaboration and the sharing
of knowledge. The areas are supposed to be
easily reachable by public transit, have Wi-Fi
and be zoned for mixed use development
so that apartments, restaurants and other
amenities exist that attract people to the area.
In a lecture on innovation districts, Bruce
Katz, the Centennial Scholar at the Brookings
Institution, said the geography of innovation
is shifting, and that can benefit cities looking
Until recently, innovation occurred in
places like Silicon Valley or in industrial
districts or isolated corporate campuses that
were accessible only by car and didn’t have
places nearby where people could work or
socialize, Katz said.
But businesses no longer want to be
based in those places, and people want to live
closer to where they work, making downtown
innovation districts appealing for innovative
companies and their employees, Katz said.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 79
Developer John Rood would
like to see a Downtown innovation
corridor attract a local university, but
he’d also like to see whether a research
university like the University of Florida or
Florida State would be interested.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
They are physically compact, transitaccessible
and in mixed-use areas.
“This is a response to really profound and
deep demographic and market dynamics that
are radically altering where businesses want to
locate and people want to live,” Katz said.
Katz pointed to the pharmaceutical
company Pfizer as an example. Pfizer spent
years doing most of its advanced research
in an isolated corporate campus near Ann
Arbor, Michigan. But in 2008 it shuttered that
campus and today is opening new labs in
an innovation district a block away from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the
Jacksonville hopes to attract companies
like Pfizer that find an innovation corridor
in the middle of a city appealing.
Jax Chamber President Daniel Davis
said everything from technology firms to
startup businesses could be attracted to the
“The idea is you create a fertile
environment for people to grow their
business,” Davis said.
The cost of creating the proposed corridor
infrastructure is about $63 million. The local
agencies have requested a $25 million grant
from the U.S Department of Transportation.
The state of Florida will kick in $12.5 million
while JTA and JEA will pay a combined $13.9
million. The federal government would
then pay another $2 million for the smart
technologies, and the private sector would
invest about $9.5 million.
Davis said he has talked to numerous
businesses that are intrigued with coming to
“We have a very pro-business mayor and
City Council,” Davis said. “That’s attractive
for a lot of people.”
The low cost of living compared to other
parts of the country should also be a lure to
tech companies and other businesses, Davis
Maybe a university too?
Rood said he also thought the innovation
corridor could attract a major university to
move some of its operations to Downtown
because of the appeal of being in the same
cities as companies doing research and
other innovative work. He’d be fine with the
University of North Florida or Jacksonville
University expanding Downtown but also
would like to see whether a research university
like the University of Florida or Florida State
would be interested.
“If we could get a college of science and
technology into Downtown, that would
be a game changer,” Rood said. “The area
around Georgia Tech is thriving because their
“If we could
get a college
of science and
would be a game
CHAIRMAN OF THE
graduates are staying in the area.”
Jacksonville has had a problem keeping
young people once they grow up, and this
could change that because there would be job
possibilities in the urban core after students
graduate, Rood said.
Rood said cities like Denver and
Indianapolis have figured this out and
have vibrant downtowns partly because of
innovation corridors that were established.
“When I was in Denver, I got really excited,”
Rood said. “It wasn’t just development,
they’ve gotten a lot more people to live
And getting more people to live Downtown
is one of the keys to economic development,
“If we want a large, vibrant Downtown,
we need people living in it,” Hughes said.
“Everyone who studies this issue will tell you
that downtowns don’t work if people aren’t
willing to live in them.”
Other cities like Miami, Orlando and
Tampa are working on innovation corridors,
and Jacksonville risks falling behind if
something doesn’t happen soon, Hughes
“If this corridor is activated, it creates
opportunities for people in some of the most
challenged communities in our town,” Hughes
said. “It also provides an economic engine for
On the other hand
Not everyone is convinced. Xavier Hughes
(who is not related to Brian Hughes), first chief
technology officer at the International City/
County Management Association (ICMA),
said cities like Jacksonville really need to think
about what they want to accomplish.
“You need to get development downtown
before you do something like an innovation
corridor,” Hughes said. “I worry that cities like
Jacksonville are doing it backward.”
Cities hear that they need to get going
on this, often from vendors who will make
money out of it, he said, but many don’t think
Hughes, who was the chief innovation
officer at the U.S. Department of Labor
during the Obama administration, said
some downtown innovation districts have
struggled because cities don’t have enough
people living and working there.
“The rush to be innovative can be
dangerous if you don’t do it right.” Hughes
However, no two innovation corridors are
alike, so it’s challenging to say Jacksonville
will have the same problems or successes, as
another, Hughes said.
Hughes said he would recommend that
Jacksonville work to bring in both businesses
and residents to Downtown before doing the
“Jacksonville has a really attractive
location and a low cost of living,” Hughes said.
“It has a lot to offer, especially since so many
tech companies really want to get out of the
(San Francisco) Bay area. They’re sick of how
expensive it is.”
But supporters of the project argue that
the city is working hard to get people and
businesses Downtown, and the innovation
corridor dovetails into that. The number of
people and businesses going into Downtown
has increased in the last few years.
“This is exactly what Downtown needs,”
said Downtown Jacksonville CEO Jake
Gordon. “Bay Street is already a prime
transportation corridor, so it’s ideal for
The city has to be forward-thinking, and
this is an idea that moves Jacksonville in a
direction that it hasn’t before, Gordon said.
“It’s important to be five steps ahead,” he
said. “And the pervasive view of our city is that
we haven’t really been thinking ahead.”
Livability improvements like one waystreets
are seen nationally as an impediment
to economic development, and autonomous
cars are coming soon. The city needs to
address these issues now because waiting will
set Jacksonville back, Gordon said.
City officials have said they hope to have
the innovation corridor done within the next
five years if the money comes through from
the federal government.
Larry Hannan was a Florida Times-Union
reporter in 2008-17. He lives in Riverside.
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 81
New parking technology is being
tested Downtown with meters that
know when cars are in a parking
space and can also reset the meter
to no time when a vehicle leaves.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Despite the notion
that Downtown parking
is hard to find, a recent
study shows 37 percent of
available public parking
spaces are vacant
BY CAROLE HAWKINS
PHOTOS BY BOB SELF
Today, it costs 25 cents
to park for a half-hour at a curbside
space Downtown. As far as Jack Shad,
an urban planning consultant and the
former head of Jacksonville’s Office of
Public Parking, can tell, that’s the same
rate it was back in the 1980s.
“I think that was back when you
could buy Coke for something like a
quarter,” he quipped.
The absence of parking-fee inflation
might sound great for customers. But
it’s costing Jacksonville.
Right now, it’s cheaper to park at a
streetside meter than it is to park in a
garage, where rates begin at $1 per hour
and soar to as high as $5 per hour. Since
curbside spots are so much cheaper,
and certainly more convenient, some
Downtown workers park their cars at
meters all day long.
If you’re an infrequent visitor to
Downtown, that means you’ll be hard
pressed to find curbside parking — the
most straightforward type of parking
space. And that creates the impression
that Downtown doesn’t have enough
When Brian Hughes looks at one
number related to Downtown parking,
he doesn’t see much of an issue.
According to a recent consultant study,
only 63 percent of the urban core’s
10,768 parking spaces are occupied
during the busiest part of the work
week. That means 37 percent of the
spaces are vacant.
“Feeling is one thing, but reality is
different,” said Hughes, chief of staff to
Mayor Lenny Curry and interim CEO of
the Downtown Investment Authority.
“The overarching thing the data shows
is there’s a remarkable amount of
But other numbers tell a different
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 83
Archie Fraizer puts money into one of the new
sensor technology parking meters after he parked
outside the Yates building in Downtown Jacksonville.
The city reaches its 37 percent average
only because of the large number of public
spaces open in parking garages. During peak
hours, only 12 percent of curbside parking
spaces are available throughout the entire
urban core, according to the same study.
The lack of curbside spaces registers with
A 2017 Times-Union survey showed
10 percent of people say they don’t come
Downtown more often because they find
it hard to park. Thirteen percent cited
more and better parking as one of the
top things they’d implement to improve
Five years ago Shad, who wrote his
master’s thesis on Downtown Jacksonville
parking, recommended raising fees at
curbside meters. It would drive Downtown
workers who feed the meter all day long into
parking garages, freeing up space for those
who need to get a curbside space to attend
a midday meeting, eat lunch or buy a cup of
But both Democrat and Republican
administrations have been uncomfortable
with increasing any taxes or fees.
Hughes said he wants instead to enforce
the 2-hour time limit — which is on most
parking meters — before he considers raising
“I’d rather we focus on trying to use other
processes and technological innovations to
control space before we increase pricing,” he
Indeed, new technology can help with
did chalking to
track who was
that would send
one guy down to
wipe off all the
parking enforcement. But it can also do
New “smart” parking meters
are equipped with sensors that can
electronically record when a vehicle is
parked in a space and how long it stays. Five
years ago, Shad tested an early version of the
sensors on several of Downtown’s busiest
Last summer Jacksonville’s Office of
Public Parking deployed another test group
of sensors that are more advanced on meters
along a one-block stretch of Forsyth Street
and another block on Market Street.
Depending on what city policymakers
decide, the sensors can help Downtown
drivers with curbside parking in three ways.
Through the magic of the internet, the
sensors can communicate with an app
that tells drivers where the empty parking
spaces are Downtown. That just sounds cool
to a frustrated driver circling along a busy
corridor looking for parking.
The sensors can also verify whether a car
has been at a spot longer than two hours.
Right now, the city relies on enforcement
officers who drive by crowded parking areas
and record license plates and tire positions
The real power of the sensors, though,
is as an aid to city planning. They can track,
down to the level of a single parking space,
how much Downtown parking is being
used and which places are the busiest. That
data could be used to set up a pricing policy
customized down to the block level.
Cities like San Francisco and Seattle
have already done this. There smart
parking meters helped craft a system of
tiered parking fees that keeps 15 percent of
curbside spaces vacant on any given block.
The meters change prices, block by block,
according to their location, time of day and
day of the week.
Whether Jacksonville raises fees at
meters or simply works harder to enforce
the two-hour time limit is a carrot-or-stick
kind of a proposition. Both could work. But
there are reasons to choose the carrot.
Enforcement, the stick, has always been
a tricky play, said Shad.
“People are so creative in avoiding
penalties,” he said. “We did chalking to
track who was overstaying, but it was very
imprecise. You’d have whole offices that
would send one guy down to wipe off all the
It may be politically difficult to raise fees.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
The city of Jacksonville is testing new parking meter
technology along the 200 block of East Forsyth
Street that can tell when cars are parked in a space.
But if the city did, Shad believes people
would be pleased with the result.
“I think if you ask people ‘Would you
rather pay a little more and not have to drive
around for 15 minutes looking for a spot?’
It’s just another way of asking the question
‘What is your time worth?’” he said. “People
often say no, I’d rather pay a dollar and find
a spot now.”
In his thesis, Shad outlined a plan to install
parking sensors citywide. But the proposal
was ahead of its time. The balance sheet at
the Office of Public Parking was working its
way back from the red. Policymakers did
not want to pay for the parking sensors. And
raising a fee — even a parking fee — was
politically indefensible for a mayor who had
run on a pledge of no new taxes.
Today, the parking sensor technology is
back. But city leaders’ thoughts about how
they’ll use it are measured.
“Right now we want to determine the
effectiveness of these sensors,” said Bob
Carle, current head of the Office of Public
Carle said he’s most interested in data like
occupancy and duration. But asked whether
the sensors might eventually be used to
decide where to raise prices, he deferred.
“That’s a policy decision,” he said.
Hughes said the city would study the
sensor performance for about six months
and also monitor for new technology that
might render the current sensors obsolete.
“That’s where the mayor, City Council
and policymakers can take that information
and apply it,” he said.
It would be nice if the vision could be
stronger. The smart meters could become a
powerful ally that could help Jacksonville to
raise meter prices in a way that incentivizes
parking garages and frees up space for the
kind of visitors Jacksonville wants to attract
For the sake of convenient on-street
parking, isn’t a rate hike due?
Carole Hawkins is a freelance writer.
She lives in Murray Hill.
Q&A: DOWNTOWN PARKING GARAGES
Parking garages have public spaces.
But how do you find and use them?
One in three public parking spaces
Downtown is empty during peak
workday hours, according to a recent
consultant study. So why can’t people
easily find them? It’s because about
3,800 of those empty public spaces
are in Downtown garages. Only
about 70 of the spaces can be found
Still, shouldn’t it be easy for an
informed visitor to simply find a
garage? Not really. Most Downtown
garages are privately operated. It’s
not obvious which ones are open
to public parking or how to pay for
Here are answers to some
questions about finding a spot in a
Q: How can I find a garage that
has public parking spaces?
A: First look for a garage that
has a large circle with a “P” inside it.
Some garages will be full, since local
businesses purchase blocks of space
for their employees. A neon “Full”
sign will be lit if this is so.
Q: How do I know how much
I’ll be charged for using a parking
A: By city ordinance, garages with
public parking must post parking
rates at entrances. Rates currently
range from $1 to $5 per hour.
Q: Will my car be towed if my
The Library Parking Garage at 33 W. Duval St.
parking receipt expires before I
return to my car?
A: The private garages have their
own systems for paying and penalties
for violations. Many have manned
pay stations at their exits. But some
require parkers to pre-purchase
parking at an unmanned pay station.
Customers should place the receipt
on their windshield. Violators will
discover their windshield has been
tagged with an invoice that looks
like a ticket. Generally as long as the
invoice is paid, there’s no problem. If
it’s not paid, though, the car might be
towed for a repeat offense.
Q: Are any of the parking
A: There are four of them:
1. Library Garage: 33 W. Duval St.
($2.50 per hour)
2. Yates Garage: 200 E. Adams St.
($1 per hour)
3. Ed Ball Garage: 214 N. Hogan St.
($1 per hour)
4. Water Street Garage: 514 W.
Water St. (monthly parking only)
Q: Is there a place online
where I can see the locations of
Downtown parking garages?
A: A map of garages that have
parking spaces for the public can be
found on Downtown Vision’s website
Click the Getting Around menu and
select the Parking link.
– CAROLE HAWKINS
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 85
PHOTO BY BOB SELF
A crowd of more than
84,000 fans were on
their feet at TIAA Bank
Field as the US Navy
Blue Angels performed
a flyover before the start
of the Florida-Georgia
football game on Oct.
27. The No. 7 Georgia
Bulldogs defeated the
Gators, 36-17, winning
the annual rivalry game
for the second straight
season and the fifth time
in the last eight years.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 87
“I had this whole
inspired thought that
I need to open up an
art gallery and make
Jacksonville a nationally
recognized art city.”
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 59
For Downtown, Art in Public Places
worked with the Downtown Investment
Authority to develop the Urban Arts Project.
DIA’s master plan in 2014 called for
commissioning artists to paint murals,
Skyway walls and utility boxes, install
outdoor sculptures and design bike racks
and other street furnishings. It budgeted
$406,000, with 20 percent for administration
and maintenance and the rest to
In the first of three phases, 38 artworks
were installed around Downtown, and
the Skyway columns got 18 hand-painted
murals. Phase II is now underway, focusing
on “vinyl-wrapped traffic signal cabinets,
sculptural bicycle racks, 2-D art and
outdoor sculpture.” Public art sites are
throughout the entertainment district and
near the river in an area damaged by Hurricane
Irma last year.
The cost of those Urban Arts Project
pieces is pretty small potatoes compared
to some other Art in Public Places projects.
As part of the city requirement that
.75 percent of eligible capital projects be
set aside for public art, the city invested
$35,000 in commissioning two 52-foottall
murals on the Yates Parking Garage on
East Adams Street in 2013. Other projects
from the percent-for-art are at Veterans
Memorial Arena, the Main Library and
the Southbank Riverwalk, under the Main
Now, Art in Public Places is in the final
stages of commissioning art for the Water
Street Parking Garage — with a budget of
$355,000 from the percentage of the renovation.
Three artist finalists are preparing
concept designs, and the winner or winners
should be announced early in 2019.
Artists and designs are chosen on recommendations
from Art Selection panels,
which include an architect or other design
professional, two artists or other art professionals,
community representatives and a
representative of the site of the installation.
The performance of Art in Public Places
has been challenged by City Hall. The
Jacksonville Business Journal reported City
Council members and a representative
from the Mayor’s Office have questioned
slow progress on installing funded art projects,
whether APP is inadequately funded
and whether existing public art is being
maintained and, in some cases, restored as
The criticism could have included
the Water Street Parking Garage project,
which, according to the Cultural Council’s
website, is more than a year late. The artist
was supposed to be selected in April 2017,
then “artwork will be installed in May 2018
with a dedication ceremony tentatively
scheduled for June 2018.” Instead, development
of an artist contract took two
years to get through the Cultural Council
and the City.
Both Carey and Holechek agreed that
Art in Public Places has not been functioning
smoothly under the Cultural Council,
the Journal story said, raising the possibility
that the agency could be moved to another
Interestingly, and importantly, the criticism
was not about the concept of public
art or any artwork.
Art Republic, by contrast, is less organizational
and non-governmental but,
rather, intensely personal, in the person of
Jessica Santiago, its 36-year-old co-founder,
president and curator.
Santiago, who grew up in Mandarin
and went to UNF, says her passion for public
art appeared during a personal health
crisis. Her career path from real estate to
commercial finance to business consulting,
she said, had left her very stressed by
her late 20s. “The deals were big. You have
all these people around you. You work
around the clock. I was so stressed out. At
BOB SELF (2)
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Jessica Santiago and
the organizers of Art
Republic, stand in
front of a Downtown
mural being created
by Cristhian Saravia
from Miami and Keif
Schleifer from Atlanta
on West Ashley near
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 89
“Art Republic has
the ability to get it
out in the art world.
They have a lot of
connections with a lot
one point, I was losing hair, I was losing
weight from the stress alone … It was so
Then, at age 31, she was diagnosed with
uterine cancer. As she healed, she said,
she “went down a very spiritual route.
“I remember feeling like this is about
a paradigm shift in my life. Something is
about to change. It was more about getting
my attention than what it appeared at face
value. My whole life had been very stress,
high intensity, where I had no balance. So
I knew right off the bat that was it. So, pay
close attention, something is happening.
Literally, it was an inspired thought one
day. It was completely something I had
never thought about before.
“I had this whole inspired thought that
I need to open up an art gallery and make
Jacksonville a nationally recognized art
What she did, with fiancé George Georgallis
and after some research in other cities,
was start Art Republic to bring artists
from elsewhere, nationally and internationally,
to create public art in Jacksonville
through sponsors, mostly locally based
“International artists have huge followings,”
Santiago said. “It’s become a
worldwide phenomenon. They tour just
like musicians. They go from city to city,
and people come and travel when they see
them. We really believe we can get people
to come and drive tourism from the arts.”
While it’s important that the artists
have national and international perspectives,
she said they get some local grounding.
“We give them articles on the history
of Jacksonville, particularly females’ influence
on the cultural scene in Jacksonville,
the Harlem Renaissance … the history of
Springfield, the history of LaVilla.
“We’re privately funded so we can
move quickly and so we would have creative
control so we could bring this standard
of excellence in the curation of the
artwork.” As the Art Republic curator, she
said she travels to every major art fair.
Art Republic has sponsors — with names
like Haskell, Chubb, Jaguars, Estee Lauder
and Vystar — to pay for the murals as well
as other digital art and technology exhibits.
Through the project, the artists installed
13 murals the first year and 12 last
year, Santiago said, and seven more were
to be installed during Art Republic’s Art
Week last month.
That was in an interview Oct. 27, but
by the end of Art Week Nov. 11, only two
murals had gone up, on the Church Street
side of 502 N. Hogan and the Ashley side
of 524 N. Hogan. A third, on the west side
of 521 E. Forsyth, was delayed because
the property owner wanted to see different
designs, Santiago said, but would be
painted the following week.
She said the other four artists had
last-minute “schedule changes” and now
will be coming to paint in March. Art Republic
is willing to wait, she said, because
“we wanted very specific artists.”
Chris Clark, the local artist who was
painting the striking cartoon-style mural
on Church, said he was happy to be commissioned
by Art Republic. “It’s good for
exposure,” he said as he stood on the sidewalk,
flipped his paint brush and considered
his work-in-progress. “Art Republic
has the ability to get it out in the art world.
They have a lot of connections with a lot of
organizations and art magazines.”
Santiago said this year is probably Art
Republic’s last round of murals, though
there is some individual demand for pieces.
In future years, she wants to concentrate
on sculpture and digital art and technology
Local art supporter and philanthropist
Preston Haskell, whom Santiago credits
with mentoring her and sponsoring Art
Republic, said he is encouraging her to
commission murals on the Jones Bros.
Furniture Co. building and on the old JEA
building at 223 W. Duval, pending approvals
by the owners. On the latter, he said,
Santiago has the idea of projecting a night-
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
time digital image on the big wall, rather
than painting it.
Haskell praises Santiago for conceiving
and developing Art Republic. “I think
she deserves credit for going out and
raising money and connecting artists
and owners of the buildings and bringing
more art to Downtown. It’s a remarkable
Santiago is pleased with the mural
project. “I think it’s absolutely transformational
for Downtown. We’ve seen time
and time again in other cities that they’ve
experienced revitalization, massive revitalization,
almost singlehandedly from
“The really interesting part is whenever
you put color and creativity and art
into an area, people who are creative and
innovative tend to gravitate to that area.
So it’s really strategic to get people you
want to move there … That is what makes
magic cities what they are.”
Not everyone is a happy citizen of Art
Republic. As might be expected, some
local artists were rankled by the emphasis
on importing artists from elsewhere,
for which Santiago was unapologetic,
though she has involved more local artists
More recently, Folio Weekly wrote of
fund-raising shortfalls and a painful dispute
in which several artists accused Art
Republic of non-payment for their work
in a Techism exhibition of digital technology
merged with art. The muralists
apparently were not involved.
Santiago was firm in her focus and
determination, saying to Folio: “There’s a
changing of the guard, and you can either
get used to it and join — or you can stay
on the sidelines.”
The ultimate test of the value of public
art is, of course, the beholder. Note the
guides listed on page 59 to the many pieces
right out in public around Downtown.
Take a personal tour with an open mind
and decide whether you think Downtown
is better off with the art.
Then brace yourself for the biggest,
boldest public art project yet. That percent-for-art
applied to our new $350 million
courthouse, and when the still-tobe-commissioned
art goes up, probably
in 2021, it has a budget of $866,667.32 as
an investment in Downtown public art,
for which you’ve already paid.
Frank Denton, who was editor of
The Florida Times-Union in 2008-16,
is editor of J. He lives in Riverside.
ART IN PUBLIC PLACES
I love it, at least what I have
seen. I have seen it in other
large cities and think it brightens
the surrounding area if done
I’ve seen some that is interesting,
mostly larger murals on
the sides of buildings. I kind of
miss the jaguar on what is now
the Cowford Chophouse. As
for the smaller stuff, it reminds
me more of graffiti and I don’t
consider that to be “art.” In the
same vein, I don’t see tattoos as
being art, but I’m 67 years old
so I’m conservative. Paint the
concrete on the Skyway columns,
because concrete is boring. But
use one color for them all.
Painting on buildings reminds me
of graffiti. The buildings are to
me an art form themselves and
don’t need a mustache. Let’s
leave art in the galleries.
Yes, we have noticed the
wonderful artwork downtown,
too bad there’s no reason to go
down there to see it. Without
exception, after a symphony
night or another show, everyone
flees downtown as soon as possible.
Jacksonville’s downtown is
light years behind every city core
we’ve visited, deserted and sad.
The Landing should have been
razed long ago; what a waste
of prime real estate. Put some
housing and a Publix down there,
and maybe there’ll be some
people to appreciate the art.
I would like to see much
less of it, i.e. none. It reminds
me of New York City and the
graffiti that appeared on all of the
subway cars. If I was in charge,
I would put an immediate stop
to it before it gets totally out of
control. We have enough negative
things in our downtown.
Public Art defines and beautifies
a city. The only thing I would
ask is that they apply more of
it to the outlying areas of town
where more people can enjoy it.
To be perfectly honest, it has
been several months since I have
been Downtown. At this point in
my life, a good day for me is one
in which I do not have to drive
north of the Julington Creek
bridge on SR 13. I have had a lot
of good days lately.
Yes, I have observed previous
and current downtown
Jacksonville public art, but
without a doubt I think it will
only contribute in continuing
to keep “the public” the
city wants to attract away in
droves. The difference with
“public art” and “art” is as
wide as the proverbial Grand
As a Former New Yorker,
I vividly remember much
“public art” was often deemed
vandalism, desecration and
selectively offensive to the
Many a neighboring building
or business loses value and
appearance points within
these areas. There really is no
comparison between well-kept
maintained “public” areas and
buildings and surrealistic outsized
parcels of “public art.”
I’ve always enjoyed public
art. It removes some of the
sterility of otherwise drab
buildings. Chamblin’s Book
Mine at the corner of Hemming
Park comes to mind. The
decorative columns installed
at the Performing Arts Center
is another nice example,
artistic while providing a nod
to Jacksonville’s past. Many
European cities use trompe
l’oeil, something we should
consider to dress up older
buildings. Night-time should
not be neglected. I would like
to see more decorative and
artistic lighting on buildings
and bridges. San Francisco did
a fabulous job in that regard
with its Bay Bridge. That being
said, the City needs to more
diligently maintain the lighting
and art work we do have,
where missing lights on the
Hart Bridge and others make
the City look neglectful.
Jacksonville purports to want
this to be a go-to metropolis. The
art you are talking about is trash.
If we want to be something,
let’s at least be classy. If you
feel strongly about letting the
freaks have a venue to amuse
themselves, let them go to the
suburbs with their crap. Maybe
the Jaguars owner can hold a
seminar for those of you who
just don’t know what class is.
I taught English-humanities
at FJC/FCCJ/FSCJ for 38.5 years
before retiring. In that capacity,
I made sure that my humanities
topics included local art.
Frequently, the topics included
writing on, say, Women in
Art/Craftsmen in Art/etc. as
reflected in 10 pieces from the
Cummer Museum, the Museum
of Contemporary Art, etc.
Eventually, I added a topic
about public art. These included
the statuary by Derby Ulloa and
others. I had an old article from
the T-U that listed several pieces.
I could not force the students
to go to the museums and to the
public arts sites, but I weighted
the assignments so that it made
sense for them to go to the
If a student had to be in
Orlando or Tampa, I’d fix it so
that they could visit one of their
For public art, Florence tops
most cities (although nearly
everything today is a replica to
protect the originals from acid
rain, thieves, or vandals.
My tiny home town north
of Birmingham has a series of
donkeys around town. These are
projects from school students
and perhaps clubs to generate
support for cancer research.
So public art is valuable to
a locale’s aesthetic senses and
If permission wasn’t acquired
to allow the art, it needs
to be removed or covered.
Those identified painting should
be made examples and have
to pay to return the surface to
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 91
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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
By Mike Clark
Building on Downtown momentum
vital for Jacksonville’s growth
ohn Rood, chairman of the Vestcor
Companies, has been a major force for
bringing residents Downtown, first
with market-rate housing at 11 E. Forsyth and
the Carling, then with affordable and workforce
housing at the Lofts at LaVilla, Lofts at Monroe
and Lofts at Jefferson Station.
After founding Vestcor
Chairman of the
in 1983, he has developed
57 communities, consisting
of more than 14,000
units. In September 2004,
President George W. Bush
appointed Rood as United
States ambassador to the
Commonwealth of the
Bahamas where he served
until 2007. His political and
civic activities have been numerous. Among them, he
has served on the board of the Jacksonville Port Authority
and the Florida Board of Governors of the State University
System. He currently is a board member of the Florida
Council of 100, Flagler College, Fidelity National Financial,
Black Knight, the Florida Prepaid College Fund, Enterprise
Florida and Space Florida. He was named to the annual list
of the 100 most influential people in corporate governance
by the National Association of Corporate Directors.
Rood is a licensed pilot, an avid sportsman, a rancher and
a beekeeper. He and his wife Sonya have four children and four
What is your overall evaluation of Downtown and how Vestcor
fits into that?
Seven years ago we weren’t even investing in Jacksonville. We
didn’t see that the city was being led with a positive economic
vision. It was growing, it had a lot of economic opportunities, but
the development climate was tougher. It was cheap, but it wasn’t the
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 93
est development climate. We were doing
business all over the rest of the state, Texas,
North Carolina, and that was where we
were focusing our efforts. Gradually, over
the last three to four years, there has been a
change. And what the Times-Union Editorial
Board is doing in bringing the discussion of
Downtown in the forefront is very important.
And the mayor has done a good job.
What we have always wanted since we
have done 11 E. Forsyth and the Carling is
that we want more people to come into the
community. People have asked, why don’t
you buy the old Barnett Bank building? I
said I have had as much fun as I can take
Downtown. I want somebody else to come
in and be an advocate and stand up and
be a voice for investment Downtown, for
activities, for beautification. Now we’ve got
numerous owners, led by Shad Khan, who
have become advocates. I really feel the
momentum building. As far as a grade, we’re
still not there.
The quality of our Downtown is not on
par with the rest of the state’s major cities.
They put more resources downtown and
they are ahead of us, but we’re on the move.
We visit all of them, look at properties. I’m
envious because they got a lead on us. They
were quicker to get out of the recession.
We left the recession without the financial
resources we once had because we have a
very low tax environment. But we’re on the
move, and every day is getting better. We’re
real excited about people’s interest in living
Downtown. We’re excited about businesses
that want to relocate Downtown or come to
Jacksonville and be Downtown. We need to
continue to build on this momentum and
have a great Downtown.
What’s your financing secret? How do you
make this work financially?
Vestcor does conventional housing
and affordable housing, which uses tax
credits, and it uses state housing dollars for
workforce housing and affordable housing.
We provide housing where the income of
the residents is limited and rents are capped.
That is our affordable area.
Our market rate developments include
condos, apartments, senior housing and
student housing. We’ve learned no matter
what you own, you need to manage it at
the same level and be proud of it. We use
financial tools and work with the city and
understand what the city is looking for. That’s
what most developers miss. They don’t
listen. By developing an application for what
the city wanted, we have been successful
on three projects now, and we hope to be
successful down the road.
or come to
How many people live in your units?
Including the Lofts at Jefferson Station,
we will have 600 units Downtown. That is
about 900 people. 11 E. (Forsyth) and the
Carling are historic rehabs. They are full. The
Lofts at LaVilla is full. The Lofts at Monroe
will be done by year’s end and will be full
in 30 days. We’ve got a second phase near
the Lofts at LaVilla, the Lofts at Jefferson
Station, that brings in a higher income level.
Income of residents at the Lofts at LaVilla is
capped at 60 percent of median income. It’s
interesting to note that everyone in the Lofts
at LaVilla are working, and they’re working
at the businesses we know. The maximum
a single person can make is $30,000 a year,
which is hard to believe that people can live
on that, but people do. Income at the Lofts
at Jefferson Station will be capped at 120
percent of median income, bringing it up
to $60,000 a year. We try to offer housing to
a wide bandwidth of residents. So for 11 E.
and Carling there is no limit to income, so we
have the full range.
It seems that much of your housing is
affordable, workforce or senior housing.
Does that affect the success of Downtown
when many of those living Downtown will
be lower-income people?
Savannah is an example. Savannah has
boomed by providing housing for lowincome
people; now they happened to be
students. We’re providing for low-income,
but they’re entry-level, they’re working
people. They’re going to the bars, the grocery
stores. We all hear this 10,000 goal for people
living Downtown. It keeps getting better.
It’s not like we’re going to be bad until we
hit 10,000 and we’re going to be great. The
affordable component ultimately will be
less than 1,000 of the 10,000. Maybe the
seniors will be another 1,000 or 2,000. We
have a vision of a market-rate community
Downtown that we’re working on. I don’t
want to announce anything, but in six
months we hope to have the right level of
support so we can launch something that is
market rate. Regarding affordable housing,
our average stay is 2 1⁄2 years. People are
getting a start. They can stay there even when
their income goes up, but they do move out
because they want to move up in quality and
size. What’s unique about tax credit housing
vs. public housing is that public housing
What are your rents?
$740 at Lofts at Lavilla. Market rate is
$1,100 on a one-bedroom.
What you’re saying is so exciting. How
does our crime rate and our education
system factor in this? I know the St. John’s
Cathedral is planning a K-8 charter school.
I love the fact that they’re doing a charter
school. They’ve got a great partner, and the
Rev. Kate Moorehead is a dear friend. Her
soft leadership to make a difference is great.
We’ve been selected as the developer of the
old Community Connections. We’re real
excited about that. We have several options
on financing it. We’re applying for credits,
and if that doesn’t work, we’ve got other
options. Education plagues this whole city.
I’m on the board of Black Knight and Fidelity
National Financial, and we have trouble
recruiting people to this city. They come here,
they love the job, and they’ve got to decide to
live close and convenient in a neighborhood
they love and have educational concerns or
travel 45 minutes to an hour and get where
they’re more comfortable with education.
We’ve had people say no many times. I have
always encouraged every elected official
here that even if they don’t own education,
they can impact education. They can speak
out. It is the one thing we need to get fixed
if Jacksonville is going to be a great city.
Downtown is a bit different because it isn’t
as education-dependent, but we want a great
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
city and a great Downtown, and that takes
And that takes money. Right?
I believe it takes choice, competition.
The School Board will have to start making
better child-focused decisions. Look at
the New Orleans model with 99 percent
charter schools. Or look at the D.C. model,
50 percent charters, or the Denver model
with a high percentage of charters. All of
those education systems are improving
dramatically. Washington is doing so much
Crime is a perception issue. I was in
Asheville, and it attracts a lot of people. There
are police officers walking. I encourage
the mayor and sheriff to have more police
officers walking Downtown. I like to walk
Downtown, and I would like every time I
walk seven, eight blocks, to run into a police
officer. It would make people feel a lot more
comfortable. I feel safe Downtown, but
the perception of it is not as safe as it really
is. We need to address this. Activities are
really important. We do a race Downtown,
but they make it really hard here. The city
needs to make it easier to do these things.
Beautification — Orlando has the most
beautiful downtown; we need to outdo
The symphony played Downtown, a free
concert. It was right in the front of the
Skyway at Hemming Plaza. I keep hoping
that will happen again. There is a certain
group of people going to the symphony
who are afraid to go Downtown.
The mayor has done some work with
lighting, and there probably is more that
can be done. When we have to walk a ways
at night from the Times-Union Center,
there are some dark patches that need to be
In terms of overall Downtown
development, there are two competing
proposals for convention centers, the
old courthouse and city hall site or the
Shipyards. Do you have an opinion?
Before we started developing LaVilla, it
wasn’t in the core. Now in our minds the core
has become bigger. So I’m always one who
wants to put the money and resources in
the core and move out from there. But what
they’re doing in the sports area is exciting.
On the one hand, bring it close, compact,
get it all done and move out. But it’s going to
be harder to do a close-in convention center
compared to something to the east because
of land, parking, hotels. In all honesty, I really
don’t know which is the best one. From a
“I like to walk
and I would
like every time
I walk seven,
eight blocks, to
run into a police
officer. It would
feel a lot more
30,000-foot level I can see the pluses and
minuses of both, but I don’t know all the
details. It is really exciting what Shad Khan is
proposing (at Lot J). It’s still going to add to
We know what’s happened to Savannah. If
you go to Richmond, VCU has taken over
part of Downtown, Orlando and UCF, FSCJ
is opening dormitories. That’s a way to
keep young people Downtown.
I would love to see an IT-centered
campus, maybe using several institutions,
drawing on support and resources from
CSX, Blue Cross, Black Knight, FIS, who
need those graduates. This would really
be interesting Downtown. Bring in some
top faculty. Maybe do a magnet school
next to it. If there is a missing educational
component in the city, it’s IT. There are so
many opportunities, there are so many
shortages. It’s a field that in Florida hasn’t
been dominated by one market. It needs
investing. That’s a challenge for Jacksonville
to put a lot of money behind a big bold vision
like that. When you talk about education and
young people, that could be a game-changer.
You could have incubation facilities. That
would be wonderful. In businesses I work
with, we can’t find the people. We have had
to open remote offices, one in Denver and
one in Chicago, to hire internal auditors. We
want our jobs here because we want our
community to grow.
Is it possible to have all the development
on the Southbank be a cohesive part of
Yes, we just have to find better
connectivity. Right now, they are different
markets. When you look at more mature
urban areas that rivers cut through, they
cease to be different markets. It will be years
away until we become denser. Whether it’s
on the river or not, it becomes more of a
neighborhood. I would say 10 years from
now, friends Downtown, San Marco and
Riverside won’t see the same division.
I’m not sure what it will be, maybe
another link to the Skyway. The pedestrian
bridge on the Fuller Warren really would be
nice. You also have the drawbridge issues.
The Brooklyn area also is really exciting, and
we are looking there, and we’re a couple
years from Brooklyn taking off, and that will
be a tremendous link between Downtown
What are you looking for in the next phase
of housing Downtown?
Historic renovation is really timeconsuming.
In the old Barnett building, we
were so tempted, but when this group came
in from Las Vegas, there is another advocate.
No matter how much you think you know
the building, there will be mistakes. It’s a
high-risk game. It’s a really neat building
with incredible basements and huge ceilings
down below and that big atrium. So I would
love to do it, but I’m thrilled somebody else
is going to do it. Same with the Ambassador
Hotel. If it had sat there much longer, I
probably would have taken a run at it, and it
would take a lot of work. We’ve got a site in
Brooklyn that we’re excited about it (Lofts
at Brooklyn). We want a variety of housing.
We’ve got a whole lot of market-rate housing
there, so we want to do an affordable
community to offer this whole range of
housing options. Then we’re the developer
in the Cathedral district at the former
Community Connections. We anticipate
it will be mixed income. Then we’ve got
a market-rate product we’re looking at
Downtown. It could be a for-sale product,
it would be great to have homeowners
Downtown, and that means more advocates.
I recall a quote from you on the Carling
where residents look across the street and
see a gutted building. Now FSCJ has dorms.
How does that work? Do you see an ability
to charge more to live Downtown?
It’s getting close. People across the river
are making it work. You’re going to start
seeing typical urban developers coming
into this market. When that happens, it will
WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 95
e a huge milestone for this community. In the beginning you need
help to get things going, then you need less and less, and eventually
it will work without help. It’s not just numbers, it’s going back to
paying attention to what the community looks look like, the security
perception, the lighting, the beautification, the activities.
Lofts at LaVilla were famously sold out with a waiting list before
they opened. Isn’t that unusual in your business?
The rental market is really good. It’s not always going to be that
good. Economic times won’t be this good forever. At some point,
we’ll have a hiccup. Our occupancies here are the same of most
urban areas. Six years ago, we were struggling, the high 80s at 11
E. and Carling after the recession. People wanted to be close to
Downtown but not necessarily Downtown. Now just by doing a few
things, people want to be Downtown. And I think we compete more
favorably on price. And they like the convenience of walking to work,
which you can’t do on the other side of the river. It is exciting. There’s
the restaurants, the bars, there’s stuff going on. We need to build on it.
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What about the environment? I’ve been to Toronto and was so
impressed. Even the recycling here, people don’t understand it.
A lot of bigger cities have programs that are more efficient
than ours, whether it’s recycling or rooftop gardens. It comes
with maturing Downtown. We don’t have the green roofs. I kept
complaining to the city about a beautification program and finally
just said I’ll do it myself. We’re going to roll out winter flowers here.
So often you realize you don’t need the government for everything.
We’re going to be redoing all the material under the trees near the
buildings. Instead of metal grates with cigarette butts, we’re going
to take that out. There is nice porous material that gives you a much
better look. We’re now starting to pressure-wash the sidewalks.
We’re doing a project in Key West. We have 17 people who want to
hold shovels at the groundbreaking. Key West has a more attractive
downtown in the mornings than we do. When I get up for coffee
there early in the morning, it’s spotless.
We do a lot of reporting on the District or Shad Khan. You
have brought about 600 units Downtown. Do you ever feel
overshadowed or overlooked?
The only time that happened is when the Times-Union had a
front-page story on the guy who used to own the Laura Street Trio, “I’ll
save Downtown.” That was my only irritated moment. We just plug
along, hit singles and do one project. That has been my method over
35 years. We have developed 15,000 units. Peter Rummell’s model is to
do something big and grand. I’m thankful they’re doing what they’re
doing. This is not a zero-sum game. We’re not fighting over a limited
number of tenants Downtown. I really believe that there is plenty
of room for additional developers Downtown, and it will make the
market better for everybody. Downtowns are unique in that respect.
You can’t say that about Southside, Mandarin, wherever. The Town
Center might be unique, but Downtown has room for a lot more.
What about the Cowford Chophouse?
We support it whenever we can. We have a great restaurant space
at the Carling, so I hope there is a market for it because it is vacant,
a two-story space with a bar down below, wine cellar and elevator.
In the old National Bank Building, I heard there will be a restaurant
going in there.
Mike Clark has been a reporter and editor for The Florida Times-Union and its
predecessors since 1973 and editorial page editor since 2005. He lives in Nocatee.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
Times-Union is a name you can trust.
We have built our business on a commitment to truth and
fair-dealing, and we take very seriously our role in the community
as the arbiter of truth, and the protector of our democracy.
The trust we have earned is a privilege and we work continuously
to keep and nurture that trust. We’re committed to pushing
the conversation of Jacksonville’s growth forward at every turn.
1 Riverside Avenue
Jacksonville, FL 32202
THE FINAL WORD
Ability to attract
talent and business
key for Downtown
reat cities have great downtowns.
G In Jacksonville, that phrase has
played out like a mantra for more
than a decade.
However, it is not merely a catchy slogan; it is an absolute
requirement for any city’s economic success.
Don’t just take my word for it. According to International
Downtown Association’s (IDA) 2017 report, The
Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities, “a strong
downtown is crucial for a successful city and region.”
During my tenure as the first chief executive officer
of the City of Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment
Authority, my team was tasked with developing a vibrant
Downtown, facilitating more than $150 million in public
investment dollars, which, in turn, created more than
$800 million in private capital investments within the
This strategic public investment creates a self-sustaining
cycle prompting private ventures that generate new
tax revenues for future public investment for the entire
city and region. Investment in ourselves and national
exposure recognizing our status as the No. 2 most upand-coming
city in America (Time) and the No. 5 best
city for millennials (SmartAsset) are catalysts to local and
national investment in Downtown structures and open
Recent building acquisitions and development
throughout Downtown Jacksonville are aiding in the economic
potential of our Downtown, transforming, in some
cases, aging and underutilized real estate into viable
office space, residences and amenities.
As president of JAXUSA Partnership, the regional
economic-development arm of the JAX Chamber, I
believe investment in Downtown is essential in creating a
pro-business environment that generates jobs and private
capital investment for our region. Businesses want to
be in cities with thriving downtowns. To companies our
team has worked with, such as Macquarie, TIAA Bank,
Shared Labs and others, the potential for a thriving urban
core was a prerequisite.
In the most famous — or infamous — business
expansion in recent memory, Amazon’s HQ2 request for
proposal touted its pride in being the catalyst for development
in downtown Seattle spurring an abundance of
restaurants and services and redeveloping sustainable
buildings and open spaces.
Companies want to be in downtown environments for
several reasons, but the biggest is the desire to be close
to the young, high-performing talent pipeline that urban
areas attract. In general, downtowns offer urban housing,
retail, entertainment, culture, walkability, education and
transportation options. Point blank, in today’s economy,
downtowns are where young talent wants to be.
What does this mean for Jacksonville?
At a time of historically low unemployment in the
region and across the United States and a surplus of job
opportunities, the talent wars among cities are leading to
fierce competition for attracting and retaining qualified
talent. To compete, we need to ensure Downtown Jacksonville
has the amenities, qualities of life and residential
availability that talent demands.
From its report, IDA suggests that if new business
follows talent, it is essential to look at growing residential
opportunities where talent wants to live, which will in
turn increase amenities and office development as well
as activate public open spaces and walkability to retail,
dining and service options.
Take for example, Minneapolis’ “residential first” approach.
The city was able to grow both its residential and
office market by focusing on population and enhancing
amenities that make urban living attractive. They did this
by investing in new transit options, parks, bikeways, a
stadium entertainment district and the neighborhood’s
first grocery store. As a result, Minneapolis’ downtown
population exceeded its 25-year goal early, growing to
43,500 with thousands of planned residential units under
construction and several thousand square feet of new or
repurposed office development.
While Downtown Jacksonville has a way to go with a
current population of 4,500 residents, residential demand
is at its highest: Ninety-six percent of existing housing
is occupied with more than 3,500 multi-family units
planned over the next five years, including 900 currently
Talent attraction and retention with an identifiable
global brand that touts our region as a business destination
is a key goal of JAXUSA’s recent Elevate Northeast
Florida strategic plan. In identifying and marketing the
assets that are attractive to talent, such as affordability
and job opportunity, Jacksonville has a real opportunity
to capitalize on our upstart Downtown’s potential for
smart economic growth for businesses and residents in
the city and region.
Aundra Wallace was the first CEO of the Jacksonville
Downtown Investment Authority, beginning in 2013, and
became president of JAXUSA Partnership Oct. 1.
J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19
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opportunities, no matter who you are
or where you are from.
See how you can help us close the opportunity
gap across the First Coast at FCYMCA.org.
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