J Magazine Winter 2018

riverside1

THE MAGAZINE OF THE REBIRTH OF JACKSONVILLE’S DOWNTOWN

YEAR END

I S S U E

CRIME IN THE CORE

JUST HOW SAFE IS

DOWNTOWN?

WE FOUND OUT

P28

AQUAJAX

REVIVING THE

PUSH TO BUILD

AN AQUARIUM

P36

MARKETING JAX

HOW A LOCALLY

PANNED SLOGAN IS

SELLING THE CITY

P44

FIRST BAPTIST

CAN THE CHURCH

BE A CATALYST FOR

REDEVELOPMENT?

P66

URBAN ART

DISPLAY THROUGH FEBRUARY 2019

$4.95

An ABUNDANCE OF PUBLIC ART

IS BRIGHTENING DOWNTOWN

P54

WINTER 2018-19


PRIDE

IN SERVICE

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.

csx.com/prideinservice


THE MAGAZINE OF THE REBIRTH

OF JACKSONVILLE’S DOWNTOWN

GREATER

TOGETHER

H

THE MAGAZINE OF

THE REBIRTH OF

JACKSONVILLE’S

DOWNTOWN

H

PUBLISHER

Mark Nusbaum

GENERAL MANAGER/

CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Jeff Davis

EDITOR

Frank Denton

ADVERTISING

Liz Borten

WRITERS

Michael P. Clark

Roger Brown

MAILING ADDRESS

J Magazine, 1 Riverside Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32202

CONTACT US

EDITORIAL:

(904) 359-4633, frankmdenton@gmail.com

ADVERTISING:

(904) 359-4099, lborten@jacksonville.com

DISTRIBUTION/REPRINTS:

(904) 359-4255, circserv@jacksonville.com

WE WELCOME SUGGESTIONS FOR STORIES.

PLEASE SEND IDEAS OR INQUIRIES TO:

frankmdenton@gmail.com

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stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form without prior written

permission of the publisher. Permission is only deemed valid if approval

is in writing. J Magazine and Times-Union Media buy all rights to

contributions, text and images, unless previously agreed to in writing.

While every effort has been made to ensure that information is correct

at the time of going to print, Times-Union Media cannot be held responsible

for the outcome of any action or decision based on the information

contained in this publication.

© 2018 Times-Union Media.

All rights reserved.

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A PRODUCT OF

EDITORIAL BOARD


UPCOMING

CONCERTS

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contents

Issue 4 // Volume 2 // WINTER 2018-19

36

AN OCEAN

BY THE RIVER

BY ROGER BROWN

18 28 44 54

A PICTURE

OF PROGRESS

BY MIKE CLARK

HOW SAFE

IS THE CORE?

BY MARILYN YOUNG

MARKETING

JACKSONVILLE

BY ROGER BROWN

COLORING

THE CORE

BY FRANK DENTON

66 72 78 82

PREACHING TO

THE CHOIR?

BY LILLA ROSS

HOUSES FROM

THE HOLY

BY LILLA ROSS

CREATING A

‘SMART CITY’

BY LARRY HANNAN

WHY WE DON’T

FEED THE METER

BY CAROLE HAWKINS

AQUAJAX

6

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


J MAGAZINE

PARTNERS

DEPARTMENTS

9 FROM THE PUBLISHER

11 BRIEFING

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

YEAR END

I S S U E

URBAN ART

DISPLAY THROUGH FEBRUARY 2019

$4.95

CRIME IN THE CORE

JUST HOW SAFE IS

DOWNTOWN?

WE FOUND OUT

P28

AQUAJAX

REVIVING THE

PUSH TO BUILD

AN AQUARIUM

P36

MARKETING JAX

HOW A LOCALLY

PANNED SLOGAN IS

SELLING THE CITY

P44

FIRST BAPTIST

CAN THE CHURCH

BE A CATALYST FOR

REDEVELOPMENT?

P66

AN ABUNDANCE OF PUBLIC ART

IS BRIGHTENING DOWNTOWN

P54

WINTER 2018-19

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

MARK

NUSBAUM

y the time this iteration of J magazine

is published, my tenure as

B

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

lagging.

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

contribute.

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

best.

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

tax referendum.

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


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XX

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


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DIGITS

The total

number of public

parking spaces

in Downtown

Jacksonville.

(PAGE 82)

Attendance at

this year’s annual

Florida-Georgia

football game

at TIAA Bank

Field Downtown.

(PAGE 88)

BRIEFING

By The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board

Thumbs up to the

planned Downtown

Hyatt

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

across Downtown;

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

Vision Inc.

for assigning some of

its popular Downtown

Ambassadors staff to

consistently maintain

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

Downtown

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

Downtown

Investment Authority.

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

FIRST PERSON

Thumbs up to the

prompt demolition

of the

seedy-looking former

Greyhound Bus Station

on West Forsyth Street,

which was an eyesore

even when it was still

in use.

Thumbs down to the

lack of public

restrooms across

Downtown. Yes, basic

things like these are

needed to have a great

Downtown.

Thumbs up to the iconic

Florida Theatre,

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

right, worldwide.

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

about Downtown

revitalization.

“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


J MAGAZINE’S

PROGRESS REPORT

ADAMS

MONROE

1

AMBASSADOR HOTEL

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.

HEMMING

PARK

8

BEAVER

ASHLEY

CHURCH

DUVAL

FORSYTH

HOUSTON

LAVILLA

PRIME OSBORN

CONVENTION

CENTER

BAY

WATER

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.

2

MADISON

JEFFERSON

3

BROAD

CLAY

PEARL

Laura Street Trio

& Barnett Bank

Building

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.

ACOSTA

BRIDGE

JULIA

TIMES-

UNION

CENTER

HOGAN

LAURA

JACKSONVILLE

LANDING

MAIN STREET

BRIDGE

MAIN

OCEAN

FOREST

OAK

PARK

N

OAK

MAGNOLIA

BROOKLYN

MAY

UNITY

PLAZA

RIVERSIDE

JACKSON

6

RIVERSIDE AVE.

MCCOYS CREEK

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 &

student

housing

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

culinary program.

STATUS: Café is open for

breakfast and lunch weekdays, and

the students have moved in.

FRIENDSHIP

FOUNTAIN

JACKSONVILLE LANDING

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.

7

SAN MARCO BLVD.

RIVERPLACE

MARY

12

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19

FULLER WARREN BRIDGE


JONES BROTHERS

FURNITURE

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.

SPRINGFIELD

Cathedral District

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/

Shipyards/Metro

Park project

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.

NEWNAN

NORTHBANK

FLAGLER

MARKET

KIPP

LIBERTY

PRUDENTIAL DR.

HENDRICKS

WASHINGTON

BAY

BERKMAN

PLAZA II

The 23-story

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

entertainment center.”

STATUS: DIA has approved the

broad concept and $37 million in

incentives. Next: planning between

the new owners, the city and

neighbors.

4

SAN MARCO

KINGS

CATHERINE

ONYX

SOUTHBANK

MONTANA

PALMETTO

VETERANS

MEMORIAL

ARENA

ADAMS

UNF Downtown

campus

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.

5

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH

BASEBALL

GROUNDS

SPORTS

COMPLEX

S T . J O H N S R I V E R

GEORGIA

TIAA

BANK FIELD

DOWNTOWN

JACKSONVILLE

FRANKLIN

GATOR BOWL BLVD.

USS ADAMS

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.

The District

Peter Rummell’s

community concept

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

Southbank Riverwalk.

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

summer.

DAILY’S

PLACE

NEW APARTMENTS

Under construction/approved/

seeking approval

Lofts at Monroe

Lofts at Jefferson Station

Houston Street Manor

SoBa

Broadstone River House

Vista Brooklyn

Southbank Apartment

Ventures

Ashley Square

TRACKING DEVELOPMENT IN THE URBAN CORE

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 13


POWER

RATING DOWNTOWN

By The Florida Times-Union Editorial Board

Construction and development

fueling Downtown momentum

7

7

6

6

MIN

MAX

MIN

MAX

MIN

MAX

MIN

MAX

PUBLIC SAFETY

LEADERSHIP

HOUSING

INVESTMENT

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.

PREVIOUS: 7

PREVIOUS: 8

PREVIOUS: 6

PREVIOUS: 6

4

6

4

4

MIN

MAX

MIN

MAX

MIN

MAX

MIN

MAX

DEVELOPMENT

EVENTS & CULTURE

TRANSPORTATION

CONVENTION CENTER

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.

PREVIOUS: 4

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?

PREVIOUS: 6

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?

PREVIOUS: 4

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.

PREVIOUS: 4

OVERALL RATING

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.

PREVIOUS: 6

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

JEFF DAVIS

14

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

the city.”

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.”

QUICK

TAKES

DIVERSE

POPULATION

GOOD FOR

COMMUNITY

“I’m impressed

with Jacksonville’s

business

community and

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

area.”

HEALTH

SYSTEMS

COMMITTED

TO THE

PEOPLE

“I love this area’s

great hospital

systems. With St.

Vincent’s and Mayo

Clinic, with Baptist

Health bringing

in MD Anderson,

those organizations

and their leaders

have shown a real

commitment to the

region and to the

well-being of the

people.”

VYSTAR’S

DOWNTOWN

MOVE BEST

FOR ALL

“Moving

Downtown was the

best decision we

could have made

for our employees,

the financials

of our credit

union and our

members. It shows

VyStar’s long-term

commitment to

the community we

began in over 65

years ago.”

BOB SELF

16

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


WE’RE MAKING A GREAT PLACE TO WORK

EVEN BETTER.

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.

vystarcu.org


A PICTURE

OF PROGRESS

From the Stadium

District to Brooklyn

and both banks of

the St. Johns, it’s

hard NOT to see the

progress happening

Downtown

BY MIKE CLARK

ILLUSTRATION BY

Tithi Luadthong

18

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 19


Activity has replaced potential

throughout Downtown

Jacksonville.

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

streets.

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

there.

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

increase.

Let’s take a tour of six Downtown

neighborhoods:

20

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

MCCOYS CREEK

means narrowing roads while providing more space for bicycles and

pedestrians.

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.

Johns.

STADIUM DISTRICT BIG-TIME PLANS

LOT J/SHIPYARDS

Any mention of the stadium

district has to include Jacksonville

Jaguars owner Shad Khan and

his development group, Iguana

Investments.

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

Downtown.

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

Monroe Street.

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

demolished.

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.

Forsyth.

CATHEDRAL DISTRICT TRANSFORMATION UNDERWAY

ASHLEY SQUARE

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

area.

The idea is to build housing for a mix of

incomes to create a diverse community and avoid

gentrification.

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

residents.

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.

22

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

are doing.

The development will be open to the public with an extension

of the Southbank Riverwalk that even wraps around the back of the

buildings.

Nearby, next to the School Board building, are new apartments

called the Broadstone River House with 263 units set to open early next

year.

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

Development Partners.

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

tower.

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

rediscover it.

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

Groundwork Jacksonville.

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.


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WILL DICKEY

Debbie Buckland, 2019 Chair of

the JAX Chamber Board of Directors

JAX Chamber

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

vehicles.”

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.”

QUICK

TAKES

IT IS TIME

FOR A FRESH

LOOK AT

DOWNTOWN

“A big part of my

role is to fight the

old perceptions

that Downtown

Jacksonville is

stagnant because

perceptions can

become reality

if they are not

confronted and

corrected. For

instance, people

don’t seem to

realize that

Downtown is

one of the safest

neighborhoods in

the city and offers

so many residential

opportunities.

Education is the

key.”

DOWNTOWN

EMPLOYMENT

WILL

DRAW NEW

RESIDENTS

“We still need

more jobs

Downtown. With

more corporate

investment, there

will be more

employment and

more residents.

We especially

want to attract

millennials, who

are drawn to

meaningful work

and an active,

vibrant city center.

More density

means more

people Downtown

on a regular basis,

engaging in life.”

WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 27


HOW

SAFE

IS THE

CORE?

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

28

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

increase

police

presence.

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

isn’t safe.”

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

people.

“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

board.

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

homelessness there.

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.

Increasing

police presence

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

feel.

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

among those.

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

30

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

presence.

“You see tons of cop cars,” Hunnicutt

said.

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

not safe.”

Panhandlers

and vagrants

The safety perception can be skewed

by homeless people, panhandlers and

WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 31


I-95

BROOKLYN

A-1

LAVILLA

BROAD ST.

ACOSTA

BRIDGE

STATE STREET

A-2

HEMMING

PARK

JACKSONVILLE

LANDING

MAIN

STREET

BRIDGE

MAIN ST.

SPRINGFIELD

BAY ST.

ST. JOHNS RIVER

TRACKING CRIME

IN THE CORE

A PHILIP RANDOLPH

A-3

TIAA

BANK

FIELD

UNION STREET

STADIUM

DISTRICT

METROPOLITAN PARK

FRIENDSHIP

FOUNTAIN

HART

BRIDGE

SUBSECTOR

A-1

PROPERTY VIOLENT

CRIME CRIME

2013 41 9

2014 73 18

2015 44 14

2016 57 11

2017 45 12

SUBSECTOR

A-2

PROPERTY VIOLENT

CRIME CRIME

2013 372 47

2014 353 59

2015 358 58

2016 349 71

2017 292 57

SUBSECTOR

A-3

PROPERTY VIOLENT

CRIME CRIME

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

Buckland.

“It didn’t hurt me,” she said of the

incident that occurred more than five years

ago.

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,”

she said.

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.

Hemming Park’s

turnaround

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)

32

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

atmosphere.

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,”

Prescott said.

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

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?’”

Brian Hughes

interim CEO of the DIA

Curry’s administration to increase the city’s

annual contribution.)

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.

Brighter

lighting

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

space.

“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

first night.

“I thought it was still daylight outside,”

he said.

HELP FOR THE

homeless

Even with all the changes, the perception

of safety in Downtown is still strongly linked

to homeless people, panhandlers and

vagrants.

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

Hall.

“Developers

and everyone

can continue

to talk about

[the Downtown

homeless

problem].

But they need

to put their

money where

their mouth is

and step up to

the plate.”

Cindy Funkhouser

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

arrested again.

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

and government.

In other cities, corporations and

developers have made substantial

contributions to help provide affordable

housing. That could work in Jacksonville,

too.

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

JAX Chamber.

“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.

34

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


Urban Living

in Downtown

Jacksonville

100%

occupied

Now OPEN!

coming fall 2019


AN

Ocean

BY THE

River

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

to Jacksonville’s

Downtown

BY ROGER BROWN

ILLUSTRATION

BY AQUAJAX

36

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


An artist’s rendering of the

world-class aquarium

AquaJax has been working

to develop in Downtown

Jacksonville.

WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 37


“An aquarium

would be a great

way to jumpstart all

of the other things

that everyone wants

to see in Downtown.”

Sharon Piltz

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

aquarium).

“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

sense.”

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

GEORGIA AQUARIUM


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

downtown Atlanta.”

WILLIAM PATE

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

aquarium).

“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

in.

“This isn’t,” he said, “a far-fetched dream.”

It’s not pipe

dream stuff

Maloney’s right.

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

downtown area.

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

creation.

“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

initiatives.”

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

development.

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

Atlanta.”

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

such resonance.

It’s because it’s true.

Shouldn’t that alone be a compelling

reason to actually build an aquarium in our

Downtown?

Shouldn’t that be enough motivation to

make it a reality?

A popular

grassroots idea

Clearly, plenty of people in our city

think so.

“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

AquaJax.

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.

40

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


AQUAJAX

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

project.

“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

Downtown.”

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

firm.

“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

Downtown Jacksonville.”

Dan Maloney

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

would:

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

Downtown Jacksonville.

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

Jacksonville.

And here’s a compelling conclusion

about the potential impact of that possible

windfall:

“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.”

challenges

remain

OK, so thousands of people

enthusiastically voted more than four

years ago to support the idea of a

Downtown aquarium.

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

soon?

The challenges remain clear — and

daunting.

Here’s the top three:

n There isn’t — yet — a solid

base of funding to raise the estimated

Top 5 Must-See

Aquariums in

the COUNTRY

Early this year, Attractions of America

ranked the country’s best aquariums.

1. Georgia Aquarium

Atlanta

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.

www.georgiaaquarium.org

2. Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey, Calif.

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.

www.montereybayaquarium.org

3. Shedd Aquarium

Chicago

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.

www.sheddaquarium.org

4. National Aquarium

Baltimore

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.

www.aqua.org

5. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Gatlinburg, Tenn.

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.

www.ripleyaquariums.com

$1002million to build a Downtown

aquarium.

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

Downtown aquarium.

“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

reality.

“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

reality.

He said one key is for aquarium

backers to keep making the case for why

an aquarium makes such economic

sense.

“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.

GEORGIA AQUARIUM

42

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

the zoo.”

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

way.

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

aquarium.

“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,

too.”

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.

Just get

this done

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

that.

They raised the money to have

marquee aquariums.

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

aquarium.

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


An

easier

sell

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.”

Corrigan smiled.

“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

44

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

Jacksonville!’”

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

delights Jacksonville.

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

the city.

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

effective slogan

for us.”

MICHAEL CORRIGAN

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

Jacksonville app.

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

visit?

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

BOB SELF

46

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

International Airport,

right near the baggage

claim.”

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.

“We broadly

say that anywhere

that’s a direct flight

destination from

JAX, that’s a city that

we are marketing

Jacksonville to

— and heavily,”

Corrigan said.

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

they’re going.

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

to Jacksonville.

“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

city?

“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

important. We’ve

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

Jacksonville to

jump in and on

our waterways —

rather than just

contentedly view

them from the sand

and the beach chair

— is vital for us to

fully maximize our

water identity as

successfully as

some other water-based big cities have

done.

“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.”

MICHAEL CORRIGAN

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,

www.hklaw.com

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

powerhouse.

“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

again.”

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.”

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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

surprised.

ILOVEARTWALK.COM

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

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CORE

EYESORE

Genovar’s Hall

644 W. Ashley St.

BY MIKE CLARK

Thousands of drivers Downtown

pass the forlorn building on Jefferson

Street across from LaVilla School of

the Arts.

Actually, calling it a building is an

exaggeration. On the ground floor, just

a few posts are left, propped up for

safety.

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

James Brown.

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

only answer.

The River City Renaissance

produced nothing for LaVilla except

vacant lots.

As a result, 80 buildings, mostly old

homes, were bulldozed.

Genovar’s Hall survived despite its

sad state.

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

to: frankmdenton@gmail.com.

50

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,

figuring grants

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

years.

A series of extensions

ensued.

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.

for redevelopment.

At the time, though, LaVilla seemed

like a blank page to an author with writer’s

block.

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

much development.

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.

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54 J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


From giant murals

to historic statues,

Downtown Jacksonville

is quickly becoming an

evolving canvas of art

Coloring

theCore

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

rumbles.

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.

Public art

is everywhere

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

Jacksonville.

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

are.”

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

submission.

“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

tourism.”

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,

Southside.

“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

community.”

“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

city.”

Public & private

support

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

controversies recently.

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

Ann Carey

chair of the Cultural

Council of Greater

Jacksonville

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:

www.culturalcouncil.org/artinpublicplaces.html

The Urban Arts project of DIA and

the Art in Public Places program:

www.culturalcouncil.org/dia-urban-arts-project.html

Art Republic:

artrepublicglobal.com/wp-content/

uploads/2018/07/AR-Map-web.pdf

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.

60

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


TWELVE

HOURS

DOWN

TOWN

DOWNTOWN:

A PLACE FOR

FAMILIES?

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

our family.

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

strong Downtown.

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

families.

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

kids’ area.

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

whole family.

Chamblin’s Uptown

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.

Downtown Library

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

Hemming Park

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.

Cummer Museum

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

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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.

Treaty Oak

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

even adults.

Riverwalk

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

the walk.

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

the city.

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.

Klutho Park

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


PREACHING TO

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THE CHOIR?

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

parking lots.

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

Downtown.

Stumped?

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

about 8,000.

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH

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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

mythical power

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

foreseeable future.

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

standards.

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

WILL DICKEY

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.

FBC’S new

leadership

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

coming.

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.”

The evolution

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,

TIMES-UNION

68

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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.

TIMES-UNION

initially called Tabernacle Baptist and later

First Baptist; the black congregation today

is known as Bethel Baptist Institutional

Church.

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 1973.

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

megachurch.

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

dream about.

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

in January.

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).

The Mac

Brunson era

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

Jacksonville.

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,

Vietnamese, Chinese

and Hispanics.

The broadcast

ministry was

expanded,

extending the

church’s influence

far and wide.

Its services are

broadcast

live at 8 a.m.

10:30 a.m.

and 6 p.m.

Sundays on

WTLV-12, and other

times on WJXT-4, WJXX-25 and

PEARL ST.

BEAVER ST.

UNION ST.

JULIA ST.

FIRST

BAPTIST

CHURCH

DOWNTOWN

CAMPUS

SOURCE: First

Baptist Church

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

Folkston, Ga.

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

Easter performances.

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

YouTube.

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

Arts Center.

Alive

Buidling

Parking garages

Lindsay

Buidling

ASHLEY ST.

CHURCH ST.

Lindsay

Memorial

Auditorium

Hobson

Auditorium

HOGAN ST.

Administration

Building

Main Auditorium

Preschool

garage

Decline and

controversy

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

welcome.

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

pedophile.”

LAURA ST.

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.

Brunson also

Parking garage rankled members

when he

demanded the

congregation

in

Preschool

Building

Middle

School

Building

raise $1 million

one week after

the building

fund ran short in

the middle of a

construction

project. It was during

the recession, and it

took a while to raise

the money and the

pastor’s insensitivity

didn’t sit well.

N Lambert downplays the

suddenness of Brunson’s

departure, saying that when

he arrived in January 2016, he

MAIN ST.

Children’s

Building

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.

The church’s

role Downtown

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

said.

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)

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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

Baptist Church?”

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

Improvements

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

“My desire

is that we

would be

fruitful

participants

and good

neighbors,

helping

Downtown

be beautiful

and vibrant

and safe.”

HEATH Lambert

PASTOR OF

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

said.

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

its message.

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

city.

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

Christians.

“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.

TIMES-UNION

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


Houses

FROM THE

Holy

72

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

complete neighborhood

BY LILLA ROSS

ILLUSTRATION BY

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)

74

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.”

TERESA BARTON

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

district.

What it lacks are all the

businesses typically found

in a neighborhood — drug

stores, dry cleaners,

salons.

And a neighborhood

feel.

It needs more

parks and trees

and places to walk

dogs, wear out kids,

feed the squirrels.

GroundWork

Jacksonville is

working on that with

its Emerald Necklace

project, but the whole

district could benefit

from more trees and

greenspace.

And a slower pace.

OCEAN ST.

SOURCE:

Cathedral

District-JAX

Stevens Duval

Apartments

CHURCH ST.

DUVAL ST.

MONROE ST.

ADAMS ST.

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

crosswalks.

But in the world of government and

commerce, none of these things will

Cathedral Terrace

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

NEWNAN ST.

St. John’s Cathedral

MARKET ST.

Proposed Ashley Square

Cathedral

Residences

Parks at the

Cathedral

LIBERTY ST.

THE CATHEDRAL

DISTRICT

The 30-block Downtown

STATE ST.

UNION ST.

BEAVER ST.

ASHLEY ST.

Proposed Lofts

at the Cathedral

WASHINGTON ST.

renovation of

the high-rise Cathedral

Terrace, Cathedral Towers and Cathedral

Townhouses, known collectively as the

Cathedral Residences, where about 640

people live.

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

being planned.

CATHERINE ST.

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

N

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

Cathedral Townhouses,

501 N. Ocean St., will get

its make-over next year

with $16.6 million in

federal funding.

Renovating occupied

buildings that are a

half-century old is no

small feat.

CEO Teresa Barton

said Aging True froze

rentals until they had

24 vacant apartments.

People on two floors

are moved to the vacant

apartments while

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

Ashley Square.

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

Residences.

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

financing.

“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

Cathedral District-Jax.

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

neighborhood

they cherish

and are proud

to boast

about.”

GINNY MYRICK

CEO and president of

Cathedral district-jax

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

untangle it.

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

Downtown.

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

duPont Center.

And the newest player is Clara White

Mission, which plans to build a village

of tiny houses for homeless veterans in

LaVilla.

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

Market Street.

“We want to see people of all walks of

life, living in a neighborhood they cherish

and are proud to boast about,” Myrick

said.

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,”

she said.

Lilla Ross was as a reporter and editor at The Florida

Times-Union for 35 years. She lives in San Marco.

76

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.

CREATING A

‘SMART CITY’

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

Jacksonville.”

HASKELL DESIGN STUDIOS

78

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

environments.”

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

“The most

effective smart

cities find ways

to preserve and

enhance citizens’

lives. Smart cities

have empowered

individuals to

work collectively

towards common

values.”

JASON POMEROY

ARCHITECT, AUTHOR

AND PROFESSOR

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

facilitator.

“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

proposing.

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.

Technology innovation

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

for revitalization.

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.

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J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


BOB SELF

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

Boston/Cambridge area.

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

corridor.

“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

Jacksonville.

“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

said.

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

technology into

Downtown, that

would be a game

changer.”

JOHN ROOD

CHAIRMAN OF THE

VESTCOR COMPANIES

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

Downtown.”

And getting more people to live Downtown

is one of the keys to economic development,

Hughes said.

“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

said.

“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

revitalization.”

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

it through.

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

said.

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

innovation corridor.

“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

innovation.”

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.

82

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


WHY WE

DON’T

FEED

THE

METER

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

parking.

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

vacancy.”

But other numbers tell a different

story.

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

drivers.

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

Downtown.

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

coffee.

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

meter fees.

“I’d rather we focus on trying to use other

processes and technological innovations to

control space before we increase pricing,” he

said.

Indeed, new technology can help with

“People are

so creative

in avoiding

penalties. We

did chalking to

track who was

overstaying.

You’d have

whole offices

that would send

one guy down to

wipe off all the

chalk marks.”

JACK SHAD

URBAN PLANNING

CONSULTANT

parking enforcement. But it can also do

more.

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

corridors.

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

with cameras.

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

chalk marks.”

It may be politically difficult to raise fees.

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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

Parking.

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

Downtown.

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.

J MAGAZINE

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

curbside.

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

them.

Here are answers to some

questions about finding a spot in a

parking garage:

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

garage?

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

garages city-owned?

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

at www.downtownjacksonville.org.

Click the Getting Around menu and

select the Parking link.

– CAROLE HAWKINS

WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 85


BIG

PICTURE

FLORIDA-

GEORGIA

FANFARE

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

ninth-ranked Florida

Gators, 36-17, winning

the annual rivalry game

for the second straight

season and the fifth time

in the last eight years.

86

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.”

Jessica Santiago

co-founder,

president and

curator of

Art Republic

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

commission artists.

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

Street Bridge.

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

needed.

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

city department.

Interestingly, and importantly, the criticism

was not about the concept of public

art or any artwork.

Art Republic’S

approach

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)

88

J MAGAZINE | WINTER 2018-19


Jessica Santiago and

George Georgallis,

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

Hogan Street.

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

of organizations.”

Chris Clark

Jacksonville

MURAL artist

one point, I was losing hair, I was losing

weight from the stress alone … It was so

not normal.”

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

city.”

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

businesses.

“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

exhibitions.

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-

90

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

undertaking.”

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

art.

“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

like Clark.

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.

SPEAKING OUT:

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

properly.

Ruth Saunders

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.

Tom Burau

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.

Jeff Cooper

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.

Paul Poidomani

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.

Peter Baci

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.

Jerry Silves

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.

Jim Barker

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

Canyon.

As a Former New Yorker,

I vividly remember much

“public art” was often deemed

vandalism, desecration and

selectively offensive to the

general public.

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.”

Carol Cromwell-Ierna

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.

Charles Winton

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.

Bob Heywood

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

public locations.

If a student had to be in

Orlando or Tampa, I’d fix it so

that they could visit one of their

local museums.

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

its soul.

William Howard

Denson III

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

original.

Ralph Little

WINTER 2018-19 | J MAGAZINE 91


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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

By Mike Clark

‘We’re on

the move’

Building on Downtown momentum

vital for Jacksonville’s growth

J

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

JOHN ROOD

WORK:

Chairman of the

Vestcor Companies

FROM:

Minneapolis, Minn.

LIVES IN:

St. Augustine

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

grandchildren.

BOB SELF

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.

“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.”

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

becomes generational.

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

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city and a great Downtown, and that takes

education.

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

better.

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

Orlando.

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

addressed.

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

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. ”

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

Downtown.

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

Downtown?

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

and Riverside.

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.

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We know

Jacksonville.

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.

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THE FINAL WORD

Ability to attract

talent and business

key for Downtown

AUNDRA

WALLACE

EMAIL

awallace@jaxusa.org

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

Downtown boundary.

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

spaces.

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

under construction.

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.

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Everyone deserves the same

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.

For a Better Us.

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