Yesterday the Mayor (and a staff of thousands) came over and made the first truly breathtaking change in downtown policy since the Faustian 1971 Plan for Utopia.You would have to go back to the Haydon Burns Administration before you found anything as fundamental as Parking being changed significantly. Even the massive cash hemorrhaging from the corporate welfare of the 80s and 90s pales in comparison to the actual numbers of Jacksonville citizens who will be directly affected by this change.
Whenever you have a law signing and a press conference, its going to be exciting, even if its over something like the discovery that germs are still causing bad breath, and Boomtown was overflowing with all the dynamic tension for something as anticipated as Suzanne Jenkins/Art Shad's ordinance to soften the draconian nature of downtown parking enforcement.It seemed faintly ridiculous that things would have to reach such an incredible extreme before we could make so simple and basic a change as this, but nonetheless thrilling that the deed was finally done.
It was quite a process: numerous 8am Monday morning meetings in various states of sleepiness arguing with occasionally corrupt, self-interested beneficiaries of the parking racket, or arguing with ax grinding old men with a 'light em up' philosophy that I remember far to well from the Paddle wielding Deans of Boys of the 1970s Duval County School System. Leonard Skinner wasnt an anomoly: he was a breed.
Countless merchants meetings listening to the deafening din of voices all saying the same thing repeatedly to the same downtown officials and trying not to get to offended by the cavalier, dismissive contempt of self same officials condescending to school all of the merchant rabble (who were suddenly beginning to realize in a sickened panic that their investments were doomed indeed if these arrogant dilettantes were supposed to be their shepherds.)
A solid year of advocating and studying the issue with a group of incredibly bright and insightful young guys at Metjacksonvilles.com only to find the elusive facts were as obvious as we had at first assumed.Suzanne Jenkins, Ron Littlepage and Ron Barton stick out on this issue.
Suzanne is awesome because she is willing to lend a hand up to unknowns and new people. She was the first person on this issue that spoke and listened to the people actually effected without the irritating quality of fore ordained prejudgement. It didnt take a genius to figure out that her signature at the bottom of several of the architecting documents of the policies we were having to fight against meant that she was having to reconsider her own opinions, and she did this with simple grace and a refreshingly open mind.
Ron Littlepage for encouraging tolerance and optimism regarding the new head guy, Ron Barton, and then personally acting as a bridge in the communications when they broke down on both sides between the merchants and the city. Ron has been around a good while now, he's an unassuming fellow in person and a gracious judge of character and people. Our issue wasn't his issue, but he could see that we had reached an impasse that he personally defused.
Ron Barton has turned out to be an interesting character in the Downtown Game. The position he presently holds has been the longtime fiefdom of arrogant pricks and egomaniacal assholes who never saw an opposing point of view that didnt need to be smashed and who have NEVER (in jacksonville anyways) considered how important the small operators are to the success of the gigantic whole. Ive known every single one of the men who have been downtown czar, and all of them have registered the same way. Arrogant, out of touch money grubbers in love with Corporation Relocationists who ended up never even giving them the time of day. The nagging failures of the past 20 years have come from these men, with the few successes of Downtown coming from people like Elaine Brown, Bobby McGuinness, Jack Diamond and similarly gracious citizen activists.
Then along comes this guy. Ron Barton is a little shy at first, a little visibly disoriented by crowds, a little uncomfortable with all the handshaking and howzya mamas of the downtown politicos. At first blush I didn't think he would last a year. It was Ron Little page who suggested he had other qualities, and as it turned out--especially in this matter. He was right.
After being uncomfortably at contretemps with the newly vocal downtown merchants, Ron did something totally out of character with the traditions of the office he occupies. He listened.
After meeting with representatives of the cross section of downtown: Not just us hardscrabble small time operators but also The Museum, The Library, and such national business models as the downtown UPS store, he decided to create change.
The elements for it were already in place of course.
Suzanne had already written the legislation. Elaine Brown had already created backup with supportive paralell meetings to get to the possibility of at least updating the damn technology.
But it took the administration to do it.
And they (he) did.
And so yesterday that process reached a conclusion.
Not without its problems.
The same corrupt interests who advocated punishing the shit out of downtowners in order to FORCE them into parking lots (once the draconian legislation which created this condition was firmly ensconced, surprisingly all the parking garage fees DOUBLED) are still out there banging gongs, hoping to sabotage the new approach as soon as it rolls out.
Roy Thomas, the venerable jeweler at Jacob's showed up at the signing in order to ambush the mayor and generally make an ass out of himself. I considered making him a sandwich board with an "End is Nigh!" logo on it, then reconsidered.
The former president of the failed merchants association that watched the final decline and crash of downtown showed up with roy angrily demanding validation and redress.
They hung out with Max Marbut, from the Daily Record, who had duly published a "how to park all day long for free" instructional article for all the downtown employees the day before.
But aside from those three (sure to make trouble later) everything yesterday was all smiles.
Everywhere we went downtown, people thanked us for the changes. Boomtown's phone rang all day with congratulations. Longtime pessimists were cheered. It was a great day.
Ennis and I were the representatives of MetJacksonville.coms.
Now comes the process of filling the downtown with things that
a. have a reasonable chance of being able to attract customers, and
b. will be able to survive without the city making it as difficult as possible.
There is still more work to be done, and we will still, ultimately have to be the ones to make sure that it is actually done, but this experience is proof that every now and then, you can beat City Hall. Even if you are right.