Main Street Renaissance?

May 7, 2007 27 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Main Street has everything in place needed for a full blown urban renaissance. These components include immediate population density, an urban zoning overlay, historic building fabric, lots for infill development, proximity to downtown and public support. Despite all of the positives, Main Street still struggles to hit its stride. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a photo journey along this pedestrian friendly commercial district to point out issues delaying a full blown boom.

The Good: Urban Infill & Redevelopment

Many planners would argue that retail follows rooftops.  If that's the case, Springfield should be in great shape. Over the past decade, the redevelopment of the neighborhoods residential areas have turned what was once one of the most dangerous areas of the city into one of the top five places in the country to invest in real estate. In this image, restored historic homes line West 5th Street, within a half of block of Main, which can be seen in the background.


Urban building fabric is another important ingredient in bringing inner city commercial corridors back to life.  While most of downtown and LaVilla's historic building stock has gone the way of the dinosaur, Springfield's Main Street is as urban and pedestrian friendly as it gets at street level (over an extended area), in the city.



Having historic building fabric is important because it allows start-up small businesses, which are the backbone to a successful commercial district, to open and strive.  


Springfield Station Bar & Grill is an example of what can happen when older retail spaces are left in place, instead of being torpedoed for Mark Rimmer protected surface parking lots. Springfield Station Bar & Grill and Shantytown (right around the corner at 6th & Main) both offer a unique Springfield social experience along with live music. The clustering of these types establishments creates the critical mass needed to finally bring a dead commercial environment back to life.


When the majority of older building fabric is left in place, it allows small new projects to come into the area as infill. While developments such as 15 West may be small when compared to projects like the Shipyards, the location brings connectivity and an element of critical mass to the businesses immediately surrounding it. When complete, the people living and working in this development will also potentially eat lunch at Springfield Station Bar & Grill, stop by Shantytown for Happy Hour, and walk across the street to bank at Wachovia or drop off mail at the post office.


The corner of 6th & Main, from 15 West's first phase roof deck.  Infill urban projects allow for the introduction of special features and a mix of uses in areas that haven't seen this type of development since the days of Teddy Roosevelt.


Another great thing taking place along Main Street is a major streetscaping project that will enhance the visual look and feel of the corridor. Soon the entire corridor from 4th to 12th Streets will resemble this completed section at the corner of 3rd & Main.



The Bad: The Hionedes Factor


Everything on Main is not all peaches and cream.  One of the largest prohibiting factors in urban redevelopment are property owners who invest only to eventually flip, without properly maintaining their investments in the process. This act severs the idea of connectivity between small businesses, it lets buildings decay by neglect, and preserves an area's negative image with a plethora of highly visible poorly maintained property.


While Jacksonville Beach real estate investor Chris Hionedes may be a nice man with a good heart, unless his business model changes drastically, his acts continue to be a huge slap in the face and disservice to the urban pioneers who have put their souls into bringing Springfield back from the grave. Hionedes is one of the largest land owners along Main Street. This former Woolworth store continues to decay due to neglect by its owner without any repercussions from the city's code enforcement department.  This building should offer decent lease rates and be filled with small retail businesses in the heart of the commercial district, and instead sits empty, ready to fall in on itself.



This Hionedes property along Main, between 4th & 5th Streets promotes the image of blight in the neighborhood and along the district. Sooner or later (hopefully sooner), something needs to be done publicly to give O.U.R. Properties a swift kick in the backside to jump on board with properly maintaining their investments. 


Another Hionedes owned lot along Main Street, visually hampering the corridor with an image of blight.  Considering the City of Jacksonville has invested millions in streetscaping Main Street by putting in nice landscaping, lighting, wide sidewalks and smooth asphalt paving adjacent to these properties, strict code enforcement along the corridor should become the norm to protect the publics investment.


The Ugly: Insanely Overpriced Land & Lease Rates

While the Hionedes-demolition-by-neglect-land-squatting strategy holds Main Street back, it is something that can be overcome by other property owners and local residents working together for a common cause. There is a much larger albatross around the corridor's neck: artificially inflated land values.


This historic building at 6th & Main is currently owned by a group called "We're for Jesus".  Unfortunately, what could be the final piece to this corner having an interesting mix of vibrant activities taking place on all sides, is instead being under utilized by a religious group that has refused to sell or do anything for several years.  Inactivity, such as this, also feeds the image of blight and abandonment along Main Street and other commercial corridors in the urban core. 


Last month, Craig Van Horn's struggling 9th & Main space was targeted by Boomtown, a popular unique Jacksonville supper club currently located in downtown. Boomtown's owners, desiring to once again become a part of the Main Street scene, wanted the space to provide the corridor with a northern anchor of street level activity. Unfortunately, it has been rumored that Van Horn has asked for a $36,000 dollar deposit to rent this property. While we all love Springfield and believe in its future, lets be realistic... this isn't South Beach.


The one story blue building, to the right, is now on the market for $625,000. If you're planning on bringing in a project that fits within the Springfield zoning overlay, a starting price such as this will severely limit the range of income producing uses allowed under the zoning code.


Guthrie's Chicken sits on a 100' x 100' parcel that is currently on the market for a cool $625,000. That comes out to about $68 dollars/square foot. The chicken is great, but competition is pretty steep with the Chicken Coup, Popeye's and KFC all within a block of this location. Considering the price of the land, you'll need to be in the business of printing counterfeit money to make a decent profit coming into that space.  On the other hand, $550,000 will land you a 21,240sf brick warehouse in the Springfield warehouse district a few blocks to the north.


Would you pay $229,000 for a 35' x 125' non-waterfront lot that contains an insignificant little building that's most likely better off being demolished, since it does not take full advantage of the lot's size and it's not historically contributing?  This spot could be the home of something that really benefits the community and creates synergy with the activity taking place at 6th & Main, but at the asking price, it will likely remain vacant for years to come.


The Jacksonville skyline can be seen in the background from the corner of 5th & Main.  By the way, the 4,164sf Uniform Man building, shown on the left, can be yours for $750,000.  A few blocks to the north, a similar sized property, with a higher traffic count, can be purchased at 3101 North Main for $400,000.



How about the old Bateh's grocery building and small corner lot at 7th & Main?  It's currently listed for a whopping $1.3 million dollars. One Metro Jaxer claims that if he had $1.3 million, he'd cash it out in one dollar bills, get naked and swim in it Scrooge McDuck-style before dropping it on a condemned building and property that size. Believe it or not, land comes cheaper in sections of Riverside's Five Points these days. 


If the Springfield community and its commercial investors are really interested in seeing Main Street truly bloom, everyone is going to have to remove the rose colored glasses and accept that the market is not ready to absorb those types of prices.  Extreme price levels kill the potential of having a mix of small businesses open along the corridor and hold properties empty in the hopes of finding that one pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Without small businesses and connectivity creating synergy between them, the struggle to revitalize the commercial corridor will continue to be a long and hard one. Even more so than the Hionedes factor, over-priced property is the main reason for slow commercial development in the heart of Springfield.