The 1992 Downtown White Paper: Catastrophe

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In 1992 five years had passed since the 1987 plan which reformulated the 1972 Master Plan. In the twenty that had passed since the '72 Plan was implemented, most of the elements of that strategy had been executed. Massive redevelopment of the Hemming Park area, the implementation of the ASE, the reconstruction of the Riverfront, the installment of the "Loop System" and the deliberate creation of "Pedestrian Malls". The Result: Complete, crashing failure at the expense of a billion dollars of taxpayer money. The renovations obliterated the retail district, the loop system stifled connectivity and confused downtown patrons, the Skyway was a non starter connecting nothing directly to nothing, right through the middle of nothing. By 1992 it was apparent that the new riverfront development, the Jacksonville Landing, was headed for trouble.



To catch up on the plans read our article about the 1971 plan and the 1987 update.  

The following report is the much discussed "White Paper" that led to the River City Renaissance and to the formation of a Business Improvement District, which in turn created the Downtown Vision Inc. group.

Consider the dire wording and shocking statistics below, and note that even 20 years ago, the planners and leaders of the Downtown were aware that they were facing a situation of historic proportions.

A historic note about this White Paper.  The group of men and women who advocated a closer look at the situation downtown were under considerable pressure not to even admit there was a problem.  Considering the immensity of the disaster, it was quite a feat to speak publicly about it, despite the fact that it was plainly obvious.  

One of the leaders of this group was Jack Diamond, who was popularly known as Mr. Downtown, as a result of his constant advocacy and public speaking on the subject.  Diamond, in one of the more ironic twists of fate, ended up advocating the largest wholesale demolition and destruction of the downtown since the Great Fire, resulting in the shocking moonscape that greets us in the present day.

Tommy Hazouri had just been defeated for the Mayor's Office by the handsome State's Attorney, Ed Austin.  Austin was backed by former Mayor Jake Godbold, who oversaw the largest modernization and expansion of the Downtown Corporate base in the history of the City.

However, Austin was also an opponent of the Skyway, which at the time was the same thing as being opposed to mass transit, as it was the only plan which the JTA was proposing.

Commentary provided in blue.



Downtown Jacksonville:  A Turning Point
The Decline of Downtown


Jacksonville now faces an urban development paradox that threatens the future of the community as a whole. The heart of Jacksonville is not healthy. In the decade since 1980, Jacksonville's central business district has experienced an unprecedented series of setbacks, including:

•The departure of five major department stores (Sears, Penney's, Furchgott's, May Cohens and Ivey's) and two well-established clothing stores (Rosenblum's and Levy Wolf). Of these all but Furchgott's continue to operate stores in the suburbs.

•Departure to the suburbs of Alliance Mortgage Company, SWD/BancBoston, Barnett Banks' operating subsidiaries and a large part of Blue Cross and Blue Shield's operations.

•The loss of Gulf Life Insurance Company to Nashville.

•The bankruptcy and eventual sale of the Charter Companies.

•The departure from downtown of Florida National Bank, Jacksonville National Bank, Southeast Bank, Duval Federal, First Federal and NCNB, many through merger with other institutions.

•An increased perception that downtown is a crime-ridden area.

•A significant increase in the number of homeless people, particularly in and around Hemming Plaza.

•A sharp increase in the vacancy rate in downtown office building from an estimated 3% in 1980 to an estimated 20% in 1992.

•The virtual abandonment of the Hemming Plaza area by merchants and office users.

•The closing of the former Robert Meyer/City Center Hotel, and the bankruptcy of both major Southbank hotels.

•The state selection of an area on the periphery of downtown for its new state office complex rather than a site in the core city.

The result is downtown with a 2-block strip of glistening new skyscrapers hemmed in by block after block of vacant or severely under-utilized buildings, many of which 10 years ago housed the City's most fashionable stores and prestigious offices. To a visitor viewing Jacksonville from a passing automobile on the Fuller Warren Bridge, the City has never looked so progressive or prosperous. On the streets, the view is considerably different — plywood has become the window treatment of choice, the streets hold few shoppers even at Christmas and those people who do venture downtown after dark move quickly and warily from their cars to the Florida Theatre, the Landing or the Civic Auditorium.

Until relatively recently, Jacksonville residents generally went "downtown" for shopping, dining and entertainment as well as to work. All of Jacksonville's major department stores were located downtown as well as all of the City's first-class hotels, with their popular dining and entertainment facilities. While a few movie theaters were developed in the close-in suburbs, the principal first-run theaters were located downtown.

With post-war population increases came the need for housing, producing a quest for available land that took residents and developers further and further away from downtown. As in other metropolitan areas, as suburban Jacksonville developed, businesses saw advantages in moving to office parks (five major suburban office park developments were created between 1960 and 1990). Similar patterns were evident in the development of ever larger and more sophisticated suburban shopping complexes

(three regional shopping malls in excess of 3.3 million square feet were developed from 1960 to 1990 as well as four smaller enclosed malls). Clearly, businesses, employees and residents who once acknowledged downtown Jacksonville as the center of commerce and activity were finding suburban areas increasingly attractive.

Today there is little retail activity in the downtown area outside of the Jacksonville Landing except for fast food and sandwich shops catering to the lunchtime market and a limited number of upscale specialty retailers with established clienteles. In downtown Jacksonville there is one deluxe hotel on the Northbank and two struggling hotels on the Southbank. There is not a single movie theater. After work, on the weekends and on holidays, the streets of downtown Jacksonville are virtually deserted. Except for a few high- rise complexes catering to the elderly and some substandard tenement housing, there is virtually no residential activity in downtown Jacksonville.

The events of downtown have not all been negative during the past decade. In contrast to the decline that downtown is experiencing at present, development of downtown reached unprecedented levels during the mid to late 1980s. The Jacksonville Landing, the Southbank Riverwalk and the Prime Osborn Convention Center all opened during this period. Additionally, new buildings were built as headquarters for some of Jacksonville's most prominent business concerns: The Barnett Center, the American Heritage Life Tower, the Southeast Bank Building and the Haskell Building. They were preceded by the large corporate expansions of Prudential Insurance Company and Southern Bell. However, all of this development has been either within two blocks of the river, and not in the deteriorating older part of downtown, or outside the traditional core city area. Furthermore, all of this new office space, coupled with business mergers and contractions in an already soft market, resulted in significantly higher vacancies and, in some cases, even the near abandonment of older buildings. The exciting developments of this period of time (mid to late 1980s) was achieved at a time of unprecedented nationwide business growth and an altogether different real estate development climate. It is not expected that downtown business districts anywhere will see the same level of growth and private development in the 1990s that was experienced during the 1980s.

It is important to note here that most people in 2010 do not remember a downtown in which the number of banks and large corporations listed as having closed or relocated were headquartered.  The list of companies that abandoned downtown in the five years preceding this report is larger than the number of large corporations that are left in total downtown today.

Even 20 years ago, an era most agree was healthier than the present day, the maximum vacancy rate was still being listed as 20%.

While the report mentions the total destruction of retail, entertainment, and most hotel accommodations, it does not mention the loss of manufacturing, shipping, light industry, or the logistics based enterprises that had been the basis of the Jacksonville economy throughout history.  This would seem to be a glaring oversight to anyone looking to explain the underpinnings of the disaster, and there is an equally important reason behind the omission--- Such an idea simply did not occur to the architects, attorneys, investment bankers, land developers, insurance industry, and real estate magnates who made up the committee.

And really think about that for a moment.  For almost two hundred years, the basis of the wealth of the city was based around logistics, ships, trains, and commerce.  Even the tourist heyday of the area had been based on passenger rail and steamship travel on the river.

Yet there is no mention of any sort of this major component of the economy, which had suffered even more devastating losses than the corporate environment.  There is no discussion of reconnecting rail and ocean vessel travel back to the downtown, nor any discussion of facilitating the riverfront trade and merchant districts which are part of almost every port city in the world.  This literally did not occur to them.

Also notable is the clear discussion about the desire to develop real estate rather than the downtown.  With as many architects, real estate developers, land use attorneys and the like that composed the board, this should not have been a surprise at all.  It would have been an issue with which they were well acquainted.

Finally, it should be noted that there is no false sense of the scope of the disaster which followed the implementation of the 1971 plan. But it is not attributed to the plan itself, nor was it politically possible to do so, as many of the people (including Diamond) who championed the Plan were still politically powerful in the conversation.

Today Jacksonville faces the paradox: the steady growth of the metropolitan area has been accompanied by a marked deterioration of the urban core. Once the focal point for the City's social and business activities, downtown Jacksonville is now becoming a debilitated "has-been." Jacksonville, in seeking to become a "big city," has permitted its very center to crumble. The flight to the suburbs and resulting urban decay are by no means unique to Jacksonville. Most major metropolitan areas experienced similar migrations during the past three decades. Some, such as Portland, Boston, San Jose and Orlando, have countered this trend successfully and their downtowns are actually healthier than they were 20 years ago. Others — such as Detroit and Newark — have suffered declines so serious as to be nearly irreversible. Still other cities — including Jacksonville — have experienced serious deterioration of their traditional core areas but still have a sufficient base remaining to recover if they bring the necessary citizen commitment and civic leadership to bear on their urban problems.

The Issues
Jacksonville's central business district represents a sizeable emotional and economic investment for the citizens of Jacksonville and it is now at risk. It is time for Jacksonville's citizens — including its business, civic and government leaders — to examine the decline of downtown without proprietary bias and address two fundamental questions:
• First, should the decline of downtown Jacksonville be a concern or is it simply the inevitable result of a shift in demographics and shopping patterns?
• Second, if a healthy downtown is important, what can be done to reverse its steady
deterioration?
In the first quarter of 1991, the Downtown Initiative/Central Jacksonville Improvement department of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce (CJI) undertook a study to address these fundamental questions. While CJI's conclusions are necessarily subjective in many ways, CJI has attempted where possible to base its analysis and recommendations on empirically verifiable data.

The naivete and vanity involved with asking the questioning whether or not a centralized city is of concern should not go unnoticed.

Is the Condition of Downtown Important?

The people of Jacksonville view downtown and downtown issues from many perspectives, some economic, some historic and some aesthetic. While these perspectives are important, CJI's intention was to determine whether a healthy downtown is important to the City on a more objective basis. In other words, for the Jacksonville citizen with no particular sentimental, economic or other attachment to downtown, does the continuing deterioration of the urban core make any material difference? CJI's conclusion is that the health of downtown Jacksonville has a real and significant impact on that citizen. This impact is felt in the following ways, as will be more fully explored in the following sections of this report:
•  A vital and healthy central business district provides a disproportionate share of tax revenues to be used for the benefit of the entire city.
• Encouraging growth in the downtown area rather than in the emerging suburbs maximizes the return on the community's huge existing investment in transportation, utilities and other infrastructure improvements in downtown.
• Encouraging development in the central business district helps to minimize urban sprawl and maximize the efficiency of the City's existing and future transportation systems.
• A healthy downtown Jacksonville is particularly important to economic the well-being of Jacksonville's minority population, a large proportion of which lives in the close-in Northside and depends on public transportation to get to work and to shopping.
• A healthy downtown is a critical asset in attracting new businesses and jobs to the city.
• A healthy downtown provides a center for cultural and entertainment activities.
• A healthy downtown can provide a focus for more convention and meeting activities, which will, in turn, have a significant positive economic impact.



The Impact of Urban Decay on the City's Tax Base

Jacksonville's city budget for 1992 is $424,433,879. This budget funds fire fighters, police service, refuse removal, water lines, government operations, parks, recreation and a long list of other projects and services. Approximately 45% of the revenue is generated through ad valorem taxes at the average rate of $11.50 per thousand dollars of assessed property value. Although comprising only 0.4% of the land area of the City, property in the downtown area in 1990 contributed $12,827,302, or 13.5% of the total City ad valorem taxes collected. downtown property also contributed $11.1 million to Duval County public schools in 1991 [1990?], or approximately 15%of the total ad valorem tax contribution to the school system. This disproportionate share results from the intensity of land use in the downtown area. For example, the city block occupied by one of Jacksonville's major office towers (133,711 square feet) was assessed in 1991 at $78.8 million. By contrast the highest assessment for a similar sized suburban parcel was only $5.8 million. The office buildings that constitute the bulk of the highest value of downtown properties are all multi-story buildings making the most efficient use of the land.

Although the downtown area generates a large percentage of the total ad valorem tax revenues for both the City and the School Board, disproportionately small amounts are expended by the City and School Board for services and capital improvements intended to service the needs of downtown property owners. There are no schools in the area defined as downtown. Furthermore, the percentages of the City-wide expenditures for fire, police, maintenance and other services which go for downtown needs are much smaller than the percentage of total funding generated by taxes on downtown properties.

As a result of the accelerating decay in the downtown area, the once reliable tax revenue base represented by downtown property is deteriorating and will likely continue to deteriorate. Since taxes generated by downtown property support not only services and infrastructure in downtown, but in all parts of the City, the shortfall resulting from downtown deterioration will in all probability have to be borne by property owners in other parts of the City through higher commercial and residential property assessments and/or higher millage rates.

Included within the boundaries of the central business district are approximately 7.5 million square feet of commercial office space, or 56% of all space currently available in Jacksonville. At year end 1991, approximately 20% of that space stood vacant. Comparatively, during the decade of the 1980s, Jacksonville's downtown office inventory increased by 41%, experiencing a relatively low vacancy averaging 9% each year. During the same period, suburban commercial space increased 61% (to 4,826,943 square feet) and experienced a fairly steady 19% vacancy rate, indicating the relationship between development of new space and absorption of all space.

Suburban office vacancy continues to decline as little or no new construction is occurring and absorption remains constant. Moreover, many large office space users are electing to "build to suit" in the suburbs rather than utilize existing inventory. In contrast, the downtown office market has experienced a tremendous increase in office vacancy since 1989, coupled with negative absorption during the past two years. During the day 60,000 people are employed in downtown Jacksonville. This daytime office population largely supports the retail businesses and restaurants which operate in the downtown area. Thus, a decline in the downtown office worker population will in turn result in the closing of additional businesses which depend on those workers, with a consequent loss of additional tax revenues.

During the 1980s, Alliance Mortgage Company moved its operations and 725 employees from a 77,000 square foot downtown facility to Southpoint. Stockton Whatley Davin (Banc Boston) vacated 72,000 square feet of downtown office space and relocated 225 employees to Southpoint. Barnett Banks' mortgage operations support services left 50,000 square feet of office space vacant in moving to a new office park, relocating 120 employees. Blue Cross and Blue Shield moved 1,725 employees from at least 60,000 square feet of downtown office space to a Baymeadows site.

Multiple bank mergers and acquisitions and the savings and loan crisis have also negatively impacted downtown business occupancy. The absorption of Florida National Bank and Southeast Bank/First Federal by First Union National Bank resulted in a consolidation of operations in the Enterprise Center and Ed Ball Building and contributed approximately 220,000 square feet of vacancy in the downtown area. The closing of Florida Federal and Duval Federal Savings yielded still more vacancies. The announced closing of NCNB's downtown branch places three historic and centrally located buildings on the vacancy roll. The loss in 1990 of Gulf Life Insurance Company to Nashville displaced 500 employees on the Southbank and created a 180,000 square foot vacancy. The bankruptcy and eventual sale of the Charter Company left approximately 60,000 square feet of space unoccupied.

In addition to the great decrease in office occupancy, during the mid-1980s five department stores and two well-established clothiers left downtown. All continued in business in suburban destinations and all but one (Furchgott's) are still in operation. This sudden exodus left over 500,000 square feet of downtown commercial space vacant and displaced numerous employees. Today, the space left by these stores remains either vacant or seriously under-utilized.

Jacksonville's downtown hotels, like its downtown office and retail businesses, have, in general, fared poorly in recent years. In 1982, the Robert Meyer/City Center Hotel closed (387 rooms) and both major Southbank hotels underwent bankruptcy. The former Roosevelt Hotel, which had been converted to retirement living, closed its doors in January 1992. This decline has complex causes but is in part a result of the departure of downtown businesses and the deterioration of the downtown area. The absence of a convenient convention facility is also a factor.

From 1980 to 1991, office space vacancies went from 8% to 20%. That means an estimated 1.3 million square feet of commercial space now stands unused. It also means Jacksonville has suffered a decline in the taxable value of many of its largest commercial properties in the downtown area. The decline of downtown described above is now evidencing itself in reduced tax assessments, which will in turn result in significantly lower tax revenues for the City. The effect of a declining downtown on tax revenues is much more pronounced and sudden than the effect of a decline in a residential neighborhood.

This is the result of the property appraiser's use of the "income" approach in the assessment of commercial properties. For example, a new class A office building in downtown Jacksonville that cost $50 million to construct might well be assessed at only $30 million if, as a result of downtown decline, the movement of tenants to the suburbs or over-building, vacancies increase and/or rental rates decline as they have been doing recently.

As a result of the application of the income approach, a large number of downtown office buildings have had substantially reduced assessments in 1991 over those in 1990. Furthermore, it is expected that the year-end 1992 valuation of Jacksonville's downtown commercial property will be substantially less than the total assessed value at year-end 1991.



Downtown Deterioration Threatens the City's Existing Investment

The development of suburban office and retail space creates significant new obligations on the part of the City to construct and maintain infrastructure improvements serving those developments — roads, sewer, water and drainage — as well as for police, fire protection and other services. In contrast, the infrastructure in the downtown area is already in place and the services are already provided. The downtown area now includes the following infrastructure attributes:

24 miles of sidewalks
24 miles of paved streets
759 street lamps
24 miles of water pipes
24 miles of sewage pipes
140 traffic signals
15 miles of power lines (primary circuits)
55 miles of fiber optic telephone cables
676 miles of copper telephone cables
667 public telephones
218.8 acres of parks
2 fire stations
4 bridges accommodating over 225,000 vehicles daily

These elements constitute the infrastructure — the civic foundation that provides the basic support services for economic development and advancement. These elements are essential to the operation of a modern business or residential development. When a new business or residential project is developed, these elements must be in place or be built and financed. With respect to downtown, these costs are "sunk costs" in economic terms, i.e., the capital costs have already been incurred and the capital projects must be maintained by the City's taxpayers regardless of demand or level of utilization. It is therefore important to fully utilize this enormous existing investment since additional development in downtown, in contrast to that on the City's fringes, involves relatively little incremental cost to the City. The infrastructure in place downtown is sufficient to serve existing and reasonably foreseeable future development, and must be replaced and maintained by the City regardless of whether the downtown area is at 100% or 1% of capacity. Therefore, the City taxpayer is substantially better off if the downtown is occupied by taxpaying property users to the full extent of existing infrastructure capacity. Only if development should go beyond existing capacity does development in the downtown add significantly to the City's cost burden.

Just as the exodus of businesses from downtown does not result in any significant reduction of infrastructure expenses, neither does it reduce the need for or cost of necessary services. In fact, the need for fire and police protection actually increases as the downtown area becomes increasingly blighted and crime-ridden, resulting in a negative correlation between the level of commercial occupancy and the cost of public services.

The relative benefit to the Jacksonville taxpayer of encouraging downtown "in-fill" development rather than suburban sprawl is greatly increased by the absence of impact fees in Jacksonville. Impact fees are fees paid by a developer to a community to partially defray the cost to the community of providing utilities and other services required by the development. While CJI is not advocating the adoption of impact fees, their absence distorts the analysis of the relative costs of urban versus suburban development and discourages full utilization of the City's huge existing investment in downtown improvements.



Encouragement of Downtown Development Reduces Urban Sprawl


Even in communities that impose impact fees, the fees do not fully defray the true costs to the community of suburban sprawl, particularly such external costs as increased pollution, the need for a larger multi-node highway transportation system and the greatly increased demand for and cost of public transportation to enable people to travel the great distances between far-flung suburban commercial-retail nodes.

At the time that the report was written, there was a major discussion going on in the community about the use of "Impact Fees" to discourage the expensive sprawl.  Harry Reagan, who had served for years as the editorial director of Channel 4, had been elected to the City Council and this was one of his major issues.  Notice that the report mentions but pooh poohs the idea of impact fees--or any other growth inhibiting policy.

In addition to the direct costs of providing needed infrastructure associated with urban sprawl, the wide dispersal of commercial development in a city like Jacksonville results in a number of other adverse effects. While these effects may be less easily quantifiable than infrastructure costs, they are nevertheless very important both from an economic standpoint and from the standpoint of Jacksonville's quality of life. The decline of downtown as a recognized "hub" and the continued expansion of suburban commercial development produce unnecessary and wasteful motor vehicle traffic as people must drive farther to get to their destinations. This increased traffic congestion, in turn, produces significantly increased levels of air pollution. Furthermore, compact urban areas are much more suitable to a well-developed public transportation system. The higher the urban density, the more efficient and less costly a mass transit system becomes. CJI believes that increased reliance on mass transit in Jacksonville and other cities of similar size will be mandated in the not-too-distant future by economic considerations and perhaps by legal requirements relating to traffic congestion and environmental concerns. A city with a high-density core is a much better candidate for efficient mass transit than a city with a number of commercial "nodes" dispersed throughout the greater urban area. This is simply because a hub-and-spoke pattern is inherently more efficient than a web or matrix pattern. The core serves the function of a central switching mechanism for the outlying areas. In Jacksonville, the benefits of encouraging a high-density central core are even more pronounced than in most other cities. This is because the St. Johns River forms an effective barrier to traffic that divides the City down the middle. Because of the river, it is difficult to go directly from a location in Westside to one in Southside, Arlington or Mandarin. By happenstance or not, downtown Jacksonville is central to all four quadrants of the City. Of the seven bridges spanning the St. Johns River in Duval County, four serve the central business district. Similarly, the two main traffic arteries serving Duval County, Interstate 95 and Interstate 10, intersect at the edge of downtown Jacksonville. The secondary arteries, including the Arlington Expressway, Phillips Highway, State Road 13, Main Street, Roosevelt Boulevard and Blanding Boulevard all either enter downtown Jacksonville or terminate in another artery that enters downtown Jacksonville. Likewise, the City's existing bus system operates on a hub concept out of downtown. Any new mass transit system in Duval County would need to make downtown Jacksonville its central hub. From that hub, spokes would radiate to residential areas in the four quadrants of the City. The greater the dispersion of employment and commercial nodes, the less efficient and more expensive a mass transit system becomes.



Deterioration of Downtown Affects the City's Minority Population

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, several large downtown office employers relocated their offices from downtown Jacksonville to the southeastern quadrant in an area centered along I-95 between Butler Boulevard and US 1. Much of the City's minority population is located north of downtown or in close proximity to the downtown area. Dispersal of these large businesses to the outlying areas of this large land area has made it increasingly difficult and unattractive for a large segment of our minority population to locate employment in close proximity to where they live. Analysis by some of downtown Jacksonville's largest employers has shown demonstrably that they are able to draw qualified employees from all four quadrants of the City in an almost even distribution. This lends further credence to the idea that downtown Jacksonville's central location can spread the wealth of jobs to an ever wider segment of the City's population. If this magnet for jobs has been used by other successful corporations, why can't other businesses considering Jacksonville give stronger consideration to the downtown as a location for doing business?

Clearly, the Northside is the area of the City most directly affected by the deterioration of downtown. Not only is the downtown a convenient source of employment but, until recent years, it also offered a variety of shops. Furthermore, as the nearest residential neighbors of downtown, Northsiders are most directly impacted by urban blight and the crime it engenders.

It is hard to disagree with the factual basis of this passage, but it does bear noting that the last paragraph seems to be delicately confusing these 'minorities' with 'crime'---engendered by the employment situation of course....and doesn't really address rebuilding the infrastructure of the surrounding communities.  When the Springfield renovations were commenced 10 years later, suddenly it was discovered that the 'blight' was actually very fixable---you just had to spend money on it.  This was something that apparently didn't occur to anyone on the committee.



A Healthy Downtown is Crucial in Business Recruiting

Most out-of-town businesses considering locating a facility in Jacksonville consider the condition of the central business district in making their decisions. Even if their facilities are to be located in the suburbs, these employers consider the condition of downtown as a key indicator of the civic commitment of a city and its citizens and leaders. A city's overall reputation is dependent in large measure on the appearance and vitality of its central business district, not on the size and quality of its outlying business parks and shopping malls.

Three solid reasons, with facts and figures to back them up that make the incredible case for 'keeping the downtown', and we are apparently out of any substantive steam.  It was a bit of a stretch to invoke racial politics in the offhand and ephemeral way they were mentioned----important yes, but certainly not a very good justification.  It boils down to claiming that without a downtown these poor minorities just won't be able to get jobs.  Now the list descends to the attractiveness of the city in trying to impress potential clients.

It's as though the downtown has no other function or use other than to pay taxes, provide jobs, or help boost the image of the city.  So far the strongest argument for a vibrant urban core seems to be that the alternative is just so much more expensive.

We bring these points up not to carp or criticize the hard work of the very passionate men and women who worked on this White Paper---indeed without them, it likely would have gone much worse, even faster than it has---but merely as a method of explaining the nature of the proposed solutions and the lack of many concrete plans to restore the urban vibrancy of the city.

Their professional biases and personal lifestyle choices (most of the committee lived either in the suburbs or in the historic districts outlying the downtown) in most likelihood left them without a clear vision of a healthy urban core and is the best explanation for the glaring omissions.



A Healthy Downtown Provides a Center for Cultural and Entertainment Activities


Until the 1980s the downtown offered numerous cultural and entertainment activities with several large hotels, movie houses and retail centers still in operation. The Civic Auditorium was relatively new and one of the premier performing arts centers in the southeast. However, following the disappearance of many of our large hotels and retailers from the downtown, the City's cultural facilities have for the most part been neglected.

Assets such as the Civic Auditorium and Florida Theatre should be redeveloped and maintained to state-of-the-art standards which will only lead to increased utilization. This again will bring more people into our downtown. Having such facilities readily accessible in our downtown could further enhance our City's chances of luring conventions and meetings to our under-utilized hotels and public facilities. With new attractions and cultural facilities, our downtown could attract the type of events which we have long sought and planned for.



A Healthy Downtown is Needed for Increased Convention Business

Many cities in the country derive significant economic benefit from hosting conventions and group meetings. Convention planners require the host city to have sufficient meeting space and hotel rooms to accommodate their groups. Equally important, are the attractiveness, security and cultural and entertainment opportunities of the host city. During the early and mid-1980s, the City made significant strides toward increasing convention business through the construction of the Prime Osborn Convention Center and development of the Omni Hotel, Jacksonville Landing and the initial leg of the ASE. In particular, the Jacksonville Landing has provided an attraction that the City did not have before — one that takes advantage of our principal natural resource, the St. Johns River. However, the deterioration of the core city surrounding the Landing and Omni complex and the relative isolation of the Prime Osborn Center are presently negative factors in obtaining convention business.
End Part One

Conclusion to Part One

And finally, the old chestnut.  The albatross around the neck of the City Planners:  This mythical Golden Ram that the City has been pursuing since the late 60s.

A Convention based downtown.

Belief that Jacksonville has been trembling on the brink of becoming the convention destination of millions has been burning in the breasts of 60 years of chamber boosters.  It has never materialized, and the hotels and businesses and millions of dollars spent on this industry has never materialized, but here we are again....Downtown must be saved so that we can have Conventions.

This ends the first half of the 1992 White Paper.  The second half, which presents the proposals and Recommendations of the commission is even more mesmerizing.

Especially when you keep in mind how this paper has guided our policies for two decades.

Article by Stephen Dare