Today, Metro Jacksonville presents the Seven Wonders of Jacksonville. Throughout the history of the city, there have been amazing obstacles overcome and great successes accomplished.
1. Reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1901
There aren't very many cities that have suffered a tragedy on the scale of the Great Fire of 1901. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed, 140 city blocks were leveled, and 10,000 lost their homes. However, the city didn't just give up after the fire; they immediately started to rebuild.
A New City Hall, Courthouse, and Library were constructed almost immediately, and the private sector followed. The event also brought out of town architects, developers, and others to the city, the most notable being Henry Klutho, who helped design some of Jacksonville's most notorious buildings, such as the St James Building (Jacksonville's City Hall), The Bisbee Building, The Florida Life building, and the YMCA building.
2. Consolidation (1968)
In the 1960, Jacksonville's leadership was at a pretty low point. The schools were on the verge of losing their accreditation, corruption in government was rampant, and services such as Police and Fire were duplicated all over the city.
In 1967, the citizens of Jacksonville voted to consolidate the governments of Jacksonville and Duval County, merging them into one. Consolidating not only provided a more efficient government, it allowed the combined government to utilize all of its resources under one governing body, such as Cecil Field and the Dames Point Marine Terminal.
3. Passing the Better Jacksonville Plan (2000)
It isn't very often that citizens vote to tax themselves at a higher rate, but that's exactly what former Mayor John Delaney managed to get the people of Jacksonville to agree to. In the late 1990's, the government realized that they were lagging in their infrastructure, so they put together a group of projects that were designed to move Jacksonville into the 21st century.
The plan would provide money for roads, transit, a new arena, ballpark, library and courthouse (someday). While some aspects of the plan did not go off as advertised (We hear that the courthouse price is going up yet again), and many have been critical of overpasses effects on neighborhoods, it still is a surprisingly progressive move for a relatively conservative city.
4. Jacksonville's Bridges
Jacksonville is blessed with a river running through it, and we've done a pretty good job over the years showcasing our greatest asset. Jacksonville has some of the most unique bridges in the south. Bridges that are typically only found in some of our sister cities in the north. While some questionable decisions were made regarding the approach ramps for the bridges, they allowed for growth and economic development that would not have been possible without them.
5. The construction of Jacksonville International Airport (1968)
The original Jacksonville Airport was constructed at Imeson Field in 1927, and had its first commercial airline (Eastern Airlines) begin service in 1931. It even had an airline headquartered here (National, which later merged with Pan Am). However, in the 1960, Jacksonville realized that they were quickly outgrowing Imeson Field, and approved a $9 million bond for the construction of a new airport to the north, to be called Jacksonville International Airport.
While this may not seem like a big deal, other cities were not as wise with their airport locations. San Diego's Lindburgh Field was built in 1928 as a single runway airport - and remains that way to this day, largely due to the private development that has encroached the runway. While it is conveniently located to Downtown San Diego (about the same distance as River City Marketplace from JIA), this causes many aviation related problems, such a weight limits and penalties, height restrictions, and other development limiting restrictions. Now, San Diego is looking to build a new airport, but will face a very expensive proposal with today's construction costs.
6. Landing an NFL Franchise (1993)
Since the 1980's (and possibly even earlier), Jacksonville had been looking to land a professional football team. They came close in the early 1980's to landing the Baltimore Colts, but couldn't seal the deal (they went to Indianapolis instead).
The plan resurfaced in 1989 under a group called Touchdown Jacksonville! an organization with one purpose in mind: to secure an NFL franchise. The plan almost fell through multiple times; the most serious in 1993 when the City Council turned down the $112 million construction bill. A month later, the city came to terms on a new construction and lease deal, forming a Public-Private Partnership to build and finance the stadium. On November 30th, 1993 the NFL awarded Jacksonville the 30th NFL franchise.
While we have discussed some of the headaches related to Jaguar games, such as the closing of nearly every street in the downtown area, the Jacksonville Jaguars generate millions of dollars for the local economy year after year, and get the city on television for three hours, 16 weekends a year.
7. Renovation of the St. James Building (1993-1997)
In 1993, Mayor Ed Austin proposed the River City Renaissance Plan, a bond initiative that would fund a group of projects in the downtown core, including the renovation of the St James Building on Hemming Plaza, into Jacksonville's city hall.
In the early 1990's, Hemming Plaza wasn't exactly a happening place. There was the vacant St James Building to the north, the vacant Robert Meyer hotel to the west, the vacant buildings on the south (after the Morrisons Cafeteria closed), and the vacant Western Union Telegraph building to the east. Hemming Plaza itself was serving as the JTA bus terminal.
By moving City Hall to Hemming Plaza (in combination with moving the bus terminal to FCCJ), it provided an instant boost to the pedestrian activity in the Hemming area. While there could have been some things done differently with the renovation, such as restoring the original Duval Street retail spaces, the move not only provided activity in Hemming Plaza, it laid the groundwork for getting government off of the river.
What else should be on this list? Add your thoughts below.
Coming Tomorrow - The Seven Blunders of Jacksonville