Exploring The Beaches Town Center

July 13, 2011 18 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores Jacksonville Beach's sister towns - compact neighbors with an array of mixed-use plazas that together make the walkable, "life of the beaches" Beaches Town Center.

This Times Union Article highlighting Atlantic and Neptune Beaches' eclectic offerings, many of which are featured in this photo tour. (First shared by MJ member iMarvin.)

Beaches Town Center is where the Beaches come alive
Sense of community helps keep urban pocket vital
Posted: July 8, 2011 - 12:00am  
By Jeff Brumley  

Vehicle traffic is light on the brick streets in the Beaches Town Center shortly after 9 on a weekday morning. Runners, walkers and cyclists outnumber cars at least 5-to-1 and, with all the bars closed, the loudest sound is the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

The retail and dining district straddled by Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach is slow, its popular night spots shuttered.

But things aren't so slow in the upstairs studio of MBody Yoga's Neptune Beach center. There, yoga teacher Jamie Sherman has the room heated to a balmy 85 degrees and her 10 students going through a variety of postures at a steady pace.

"Begin to build a fire - begin to feel the heat in your body," Sherman says, walking up and down the rows of students, adjusting an ankle here, a lower back there. They were definitely feeling it - five minutes into the class some of the students are so sweaty it's as if they had been doused with a hose.

"Ride intentionality into your breath, into your life," Sherman says, steadying a woman's Warrior 1 stance. "It's so powerful just to do things with intention."

Intentionality is one of the keys to the success of the Beaches Town Center. In an era when government and civic leaders are trying to find a successful formula to revive the downtown Jacksonville area, shop owners and patrons of this highly pedestrian, health-conscious and vibrant corner of Duval County say a determined public-private partnership launched the area on a path to what it is now arguably one of the most inviting areas to walkers, runners, cyclists, diners and clubbers.

They like to note that whatever the goal - buying jewelry or imported goods, sipping some joe or martinis, buying books, enjoying a fancy meal or playing 25-cent pool while smoking a Marlboro and throwing back Bud Lights - it's all available within walking distance.

"Pretty much everything is here — it's like a secret paradise," said JoAnne Adams, owner of the First Street Gallery in Neptune Beach.

'You can walk to the beach'

By the afternoon, pals Amanda Sieusahai and Jarell Harris found a shady table at Lillie's Coffee Bar, which offers patrons hot and cold beverages plus serves breakfast and lunch.

They had come to do what many can be seen doing at Lillie's: study. Sieusahai, 23, a recent college grad, cradled a huge volume titled "Valuation" on her lap. Harris, 21, a UNF student and musician, had a laptop opened on the table beside a copy of "Fundamentals of Financial Management."

But neither was studying. Instead they seemed to spend most their time gulping hot chocolate (with extra whipped cream) and joking and laughing, oblivious to the slowly moving automobile and pedestrian traffic just beyond the courtyard.

Sieusahai, of Jacksonville, said she digs the spot because it's cozy and populated with locally owned businesses, which she loves to support. Plus, Harris said, the area has a vacationy feel to it.

"Your guard is not as up like it is in some parts of town," said Harris, who lives in nearby Mayport. "You can focus or take a walk to the beach."

'A synergy about it'

Shop owners downplay the notion that the nearby ocean is the key to the district's success.

Rather, it's a commitment to buying local on the part of residents that keeps local businesses afloat, said Rona Brinlee, owner of The Bookmark.

The district is sandwiched between two residential communities. Downtown redevelopment experts agree that residential is key to reviving urban retail and commercial zones.

"There's a synergy about it, a sense that we're all in this together" with shop owners commonly referring customers to each others' businesses. "There's that sense that if somebody does well, we all do well."

'It was run down'

Another draw: It's clean and safe and has a small-town feel, Atlantic Beach resident Kim Massar said after dancing to several tunes at Ragtime, where she's been a regular for two decades. "My waitress is one of my old students," said Massar, a school teacher.

It wasn't always that way.

"It was pretty run down" 25 or 30 years ago, said Edward Skinner Jones, president of the Beaches Town Center Agency, a citizens' group that raises money for improvements in the district, such as adding brick sidewalks and bike racks. The agency was created in the early 1990s to funnel city funds earmarked for urban renewal projects across Duval County.

'A little bit of everything'

Another boost was Ragtime, which opened 25 years ago on Atlantic Boulevard in Atlantic Beach. That sparked a vibrant night life that now offers live music somewhere in the business district seven days a week.

Tim Saggau of Atlantic Beach said he remembers when Pete's Bar, a landmark since the 1930s, was the only real night spot in the area. He should: it's where he had his first alcoholic beverage in 1972.

Saggau, 57, was there on a recent evening playing ping-pong with his brother, Mike, visiting from Detroit They were sipping beers and didn't seem to be taking the game too seriously.

Both men said it's amazing to see that everything from yoga to books to coffee and ping pong are available within just a few square blocks.

"You come down here and you have a little bit of everything," Tim Saggau said.


The shopping plaza on the left of Atlantic Boulevard before you hit the Town Center.


Caribbee Key Tropical Bar & Grill.

The outdoor seating at Mezza Luna Italian restaurant faces First Street.

Front view of oceanfront bar Lemon Bar. It stays crowded every day of the week, as hotel guests frequent. Locals also pile in, especially on "Sunday Fundays", its presumed most popular day to go.

View from the beach.

View towards the beach.

Front view of the connecting hotel. The cream hotel in the background is One Ocean Resort Hotel & Spa.


M Body Yoga's Atlantic Beach location.

A quaint retail and dining corridor. Boutiques sit on the left and the outdoor patio of popular Lillie's Coffee Bar.


Festivals and Events

The Atlantic Beach Town Center sponsors and hosts several events, drawing the close-knit community of the beaches together.

Thanksgiving at Pete's

The entire block in front of Pete's has been known to close for over five hours at a time. Photo courtesy of atlanticbeachlife.org.

Pete's Bar on an average Friday afternoon.

Dancin in the Streets Festival

Photo courtesy of http://itsjustmyopiniom.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html.

Infobit on this year's event in May:
Two stages of live music, dancing and a chance to set a world record highlight the 25th Annual "Dancin' in the Street"™ on Saturday, May 21, 2011 in the Beaches Town Center in Atlantic and Neptune Beaches at the ocean end of Atlantic Blvd.

In celebration of our 25th Annual “Dancin’ in the Streetԙ festival on Saturday, May 21, 2011 we are attempting to set the world record for the “World’s Largest Hokey Pokey Dance” and “Do the Hokey Pokey”. The Hokey Pokey Dance is at 5:30 pm with two bands leading it - The Mosquitos and Amy Hendrickson & The Prime Directive.

"Dancin’ in the Streetԙ has music on the Ocean Stage featuring nine bands starting at noon and playing until 9:30 pm. The Orange Street Stage is located in the Art Show area in Neptune Beach with live music from seven bands beginning at 11:30 am until 6:30 pm. “Dancin’ in the Streetԙ is sponsored by The Beaches Town Center Agency and is responsible for all sales of bricks, t-shirts, beer, wine and frozen drinks.

The alcohol free Kids Zone is sponsored by 200 First Street. For kids and adults looking for some active fun, there will be a 25’ climbing wall made of realistic granite rock with the climber placed in a harness, weight limit per climber is 300 lbs. The kids area offers a $12.00 wristband for endless turns on six inflatables; all other activities will be pay per play.

North Beaches Art Walk

Photos courtesy of nbaw.org.

The “North Beaches Art Walk” takes place every third Thursday of each month, from 5 to 9 PM.

As well as promoting the beautiful Atlantic and Neptune beaches, each month, merchants will work in tandem with artists opening their doors providing artists with an additional venue to show and sell their original art work.

Guide maps will be available at each participating merchants place of business listing shops, restaurants, bars, galleries, and boutiques of the Atlantic/Neptune beach area within a quarter mile stretch. “The North Beaches Art Walk” encompasses the area from Sherry Drive in Atlantic Beach; going eastward towards the beach; around to Neptune Beach side, and up to 3rd Street. It will include the Beaches Town Center area, in addition to the Atlantic Beach Cultural Center.

Town Center website: http://beachestowncenter.com/

Article by Sarah Gojekian.