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Should We Pay Professionals To Live Downtown?

As we continue to research how other communities are addressing many urban issues Jacksonville faces, various innovative strategies pop up every now and then. Despite Jacksonville's growth over the last half century, Ennis Davis, one of the founding editors of MetroJacksonville.com always seen our urban core as having eerily similar problems to Detroit over the same time period.

Published January 22, 2013 in Opinion      35 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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For example, Detroit has lost over 50% of it's population since 1950.  Strangely enough, while at a different scale, so has the Jacksonville that existed Consolidation.  For years, we've talked about the need to increase the residential population in and around downtown.  However, when it comes to incentives, they are typically used for attracting development projects (ie. Berkman Plaza) or leveling the playing field for companies to relocate (ie. Everbank).  Increasingly, more and more cities are applying the same concept to leveling the playing field for residents.

With that in mind, here's a brief overview of Detroit's Live Downtown Incentive Program.




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If time and money are critical to your quality of life, then Live Downtown is for you. The average one-way commute in Southeast Michigan is 25.6 minutes. When you add it all up, that’s more than 2 weeks on the road annually-the national average for vacation time! That alone is enough for you to at least think about living near your place of work. If you’re still on the fence, how about some big help with your pocket book?

If you work for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy, Marketing Associates, Quicken Loans or Strategic Staffing Solutions, it literally pays to Live Downtown. These employers are offering financial incentives for their employees to live where they work.Live Downtown is a residential program to entice you to live and invest in a Downtown home. There are four incentive options to help you purchase or rent a home in one of the neighborhoods in and near Downtown Detroit: Downtown, Corktown, Lafayette Park, Eastern Market, Woodbridge and the Midtown areas of Brush Park, Cass Park, Art Center, and Lower Cass.Your housing choices are many – own or rent; condo or rowhouse; low-rise or mid-rise; historic or new construction – so dive into this Web site and learn more about the incentives and how to take advantage of them. Most importantly, make sure to Live Downtown, the urban center with the small town vibe!

Here are the perks if you work at BCBSM, Compuware, DTE, Marketing Associates, Quicken Loans or Strategic Staffing Solutions:

New homeowners receive up to $20,000 forgivable loan toward the purchase of their primary residence.

New renters receive a $2,500 allowance of funding toward the cost of their apartment in the first year followed by additional funding of $1,000 for the second year.

Existing renters receive a $1,000 allowance of funding for renewing a lease in 2012.

Existing homeowners receive matching funds of up to $5,000 for exterior improvements for projects of $10,000 or more.

For more information: http://www.detroitlivedowntown.org/incentives/

When announced in 2011, here was Mayor Dave Bing's response,

“The program will help create the density that downtown Detroit needs,” Mayor Dave Bing said during a news conference announcing the program. “Detroit is a city of renewed opportunity and distinct character. ... This is a great day.”

What Detroit is doing in an attempt to rapidly increase their short term downtown population base is not exactly new.  In 2000, the City of Philadelphia turned its fortunes around by offering a 10 year tax abatement program to lure residents back.  That resulted in a Center City population increase of 25,000 in less than a decade and the vibrancy that comes along with having such a high population living within a compact amount of land area.


Center City Philadephia

Turning our eyes to Jacksonville's quest to bring life back to the urban core, should we seriously consider looking into similar incentive programs or is this a form of giving away too much?

Editorial by Ennis Davis







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35 Comments

Adam W

January 22, 2013, 03:24:30 AM
I think it's a great idea. I've actually long supported incentives like this for people to move downtown. You need to get bodies downtown (and staying downtown for an appreciable period of time) for a reasonable amount of infrastructure/amenities to develop - shops, restaurants, etc. It can work, I think.

vicupstate

January 22, 2013, 04:47:08 AM
Does the funding come from the city alone?  What has been the response thus far?

Redbaron616

January 22, 2013, 06:11:58 AM
Rather than dumping it on the taxpayers, which too many "progressive" solutions always want to do, try selling much of the city-owned real estate downtown and let private enterprise develop it.

thelakelander

January 22, 2013, 06:28:56 AM
Does the funding come from the city alone?  What has been the response thus far?

From what I can tell, it appears the funding comes from a couple of companies with major operations in or near downtown.  The city is broke, so I can't imagine them pouring much money into this concept.

thelakelander

January 22, 2013, 06:35:38 AM
Rather than dumping it on the taxpayers, which too many "progressive" solutions always want to do, try selling much of the city-owned real estate downtown and let private enterprise develop it.

I've always been a fan of getting back to the basics while eliminating restrictive policy/regulation and letting the free market take more control. Long term, that also means addressing our policies that basically subsidize private development in the city's fringes at the urban core's expense.  However, if you want to change things around quick, you have to get pretty aggressive.  Paying people to move there is pretty aggressive but in reality, that's something we already do indirectly in our suburbs.

Noone

January 22, 2013, 07:56:22 AM
No. When is the next DIA meeting?

civil42806

January 22, 2013, 09:35:27 AM
well I have to say since no one else  will "thats the only way it will happen"

Tacachale

January 22, 2013, 09:38:54 AM
Not sure this would be a great idea for Jax at this stage. I don't think there's any lack of demand for downtown living; what we lack are places to live. The options that exist now usually stay pretty full.

What we need is more residential infill and better connections between inhabited areas; I'd argue that's what should be incentivized first.

Captain Zissou

January 22, 2013, 09:38:54 AM
Companies in Jacksonville don't have the commitment to downtown needed to fund these programs.  If the same program were to take place here, you'd be paying people to move to southside, because that's where the jobs are.  Short of the hospitals, FIS, and Everbank, what companies are really downtown that could afford this??

I heard something like this being offered in North Dakota (maybe South) in an NPR segment a few weeks ago.

fsujax

January 22, 2013, 09:44:05 AM
^^CSX to name one, but i dont see it happening.

thelakelander

January 22, 2013, 09:51:02 AM
Not sure this would be a great idea for Jax at this stage. I don't think there's any lack of demand for downtown living; what we lack are places to live. The options that exist now usually stay pretty full.

There isn't a lack of demand for residential living in downtown Detroit, Midtown, and New Center either.  Those are the best spots in that city for urban living and already more vibrant than the area we refer to as downtown Jax.  There just appears to be an effort from the corporations there to kick infill growth into overdrive.  They may have around 5,000 or so living in this area now (I'll have to go back and confirm).  I've seen reports where they want to increase that population to 15,000 by 2015.  You get that many people pouring in and infill development opportunities come along as well.  For example, as a result, a Whole Foods is now under construction there.

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What we need is more residential infill and better connections between inhabited areas; I'd argue that's what should be incentivized first.

I agree on the importance of connectivity and evidently so does Detroit and this group of companies.  The companies have also raised $100 million in private dollars for a three mile starter modern streetcar line and the city is adding over 100 miles of bike lanes and trails to the area over the next 2-3 years.

thelakelander

January 22, 2013, 09:55:33 AM
Companies in Jacksonville don't have the commitment to downtown needed to fund these programs.  If the same program were to take place here, you'd be paying people to move to southside, because that's where the jobs are.  Short of the hospitals, FIS, and Everbank, what companies are really downtown that could afford this??

I heard something like this being offered in North Dakota (maybe South) in an NPR segment a few weeks ago.

How much money did we give in incentives to Everbank, 220 Riverside, and Riverside Park?  I wonder what would be the city's return on investment if a similar amount of money was put into a similar styled program where you invest in people?

Mathew1056

January 22, 2013, 10:02:20 AM
From what I understand Shands of Jacksonville already has a program in place where they give an incentive to their employees to buy in Springfield. I'm not sure of the end and out of it, but I have a neighbor who used the program. That's proof positive enough for me.

Tacachale

January 22, 2013, 10:37:57 AM
Not sure this would be a great idea for Jax at this stage. I don't think there's any lack of demand for downtown living; what we lack are places to live. The options that exist now usually stay pretty full.

There isn't a lack of demand for residential living in downtown Detroit, Midtown, and New Center either.  Those are the best spots in that city for urban living and already more vibrant than the area we refer to as downtown Jax.  There just appears to be an effort from the corporations there to kick infill growth into overdrive.  They may have around 5,000 or so living in this area now (I'll have to go back and confirm).  I've seen reports where they want to increase that population to 15,000 by 2015.  You get that many people pouring in and infill development opportunities come along as well.  For example, as a result, a Whole Foods is now under construction there.

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What we need is more residential infill and better connections between inhabited areas; I'd argue that's what should be incentivized first.

I agree on the importance of connectivity and evidently so does Detroit and this group of companies.  The companies have also raised $100 million in private dollars for a three mile starter modern streetcar line and the city is adding over 100 miles of bike lanes and trails to the area over the next 2-3 years.

I'd imagine there's a difference in the amount of underused downtown residential, and buildings suitable for adaptation, between our cities. From the website it appears that Detroit has a lot more of it than we do. We've never had much residential in the downtown core, and most of what we do have is already pretty full up. What I'm saying is that at this stage, it looks like what we're really lacking is places for people to live, no matter how many people would chose to live there if they could.

Overstreet

January 22, 2013, 11:40:50 AM
I seemed to read that the companies were paying incentives.

What advantage would a downtown company have with people living closer?  Most folks fund their own comuting cost. They show up for work in most all kinds of weather. Our last snow day was in 1989. Most companies can close a day or two anyhow.

Why would a company pay more to get something they already get?

Granted certain professions have recall requirements. For example transplant teams on stand by often have 30 minute recall distance requirements.  Which could be still in the burbs since we are talking off hours not normal duty hours.

thelakelander

January 22, 2013, 11:44:28 AM
The program isn't limited to their downtown. Midtown and New Center (the other hoods along the proposed streetcar line) are also included. Locally, it would be like including the Eastside, Springfield, Sugar Hill, Durkeeville, etc.

thelakelander

January 22, 2013, 11:49:33 AM
Overstreet, I guess civic pride and the need to compete globally for high skilled workers. A few of the companies recently relocated from the burbs to DT Detroit.

urbanlibertarian

January 22, 2013, 11:56:21 AM
Another advantage for DT companies to have employees living close by is less demand for employee parking options.  Parking seems to be a consistent obstacle to locating corporate offices DT.

urbaknight

January 22, 2013, 02:46:38 PM
living DT and close to work eliminates the need to drive and pay to park. That alone would be all the incentive one would need. Not to disagree with the points made in this article, I think they're great, just thought I'd add to it.

Kiva

January 23, 2013, 08:26:29 PM
Downtown is slowly attracting more small business, restaurants, bars etc. Once the downtown area is busy in the evenings people are going to want to live there. You don't need to pay them.

thelakelander

January 23, 2013, 09:40:47 PM
^Downtown Detroit was slowly attracting more small business, restaurants, bars, etc. as well (probably a little faster than us).  Instead of taking 10 to 20 years to slowly fill in (our current pace and their former), they want more immediate results in years 0-5. Thus, the incentive program, streetcar, and bike projects they are investing in.

When it's all said and done, time becomes the primary reason for aggressive incentive programs. In 2000, Philly did something similar and attracted 25,000 people to Center City within a 5 year period.  In Charlotte, they gave enough money away to a college to get them to close locations in other states and move to Uptown Charlotte in the early 2000s.  All of this boils down to time.  Do little and revitalize slowly over decades, like Jax, or get aggressive and rapidly speed the process up.

jaxlore

January 24, 2013, 12:47:23 PM
^^DT is already busy at night. I have to circle the block a few times to find parking near bay street, whereas a few years ago, i would pull right up. (Core trolly service anyone?) I am with Lake stop giving incentives to companies that open up in the suburbs. If they want to open up out there they can use there own cash. Jax needs to get agressive and the current city council is not suited for that.

DDC

January 24, 2013, 06:55:07 PM
I agree with Jaxlore. In the evenings especially from mid to end of the week, Parking can get scarce from Bay to Adams and all the surrounding cross streets. I like the idea of incentives to come downtown instead of the 'burbs. When I go out, I rarely venture out much farther than Riverside. I like the Downtown and Springfield area to much.

Tacachale

January 24, 2013, 07:01:44 PM
Lake, I highly doubt this one project led to all that progress in Detroit. There are other things we need to get to first-notably, increasing our residential options.

thelakelander

January 24, 2013, 08:08:16 PM
You're right.  This one project didn't lead to all the progress.  The worker incentive policy is being implemented to push everything over the top. 

Over the last decade or so, major investment has been put into their urban core parks and efforts have been made to successfully convince companies to move thousands of workers from the burbs back to downtown.  On CEO alone is responsible for moving 7,000 workers back since 2010.  In addition, the city is aggressively adding an urban core bike facility network.  Their "civic council" has also pooled $100 million in private funds for a 4 mile modern streetcar line that will break ground this year.

Nevertheless, keep in mind, that things are being implemented simultaneously.  The goal appears to create a vibrant urban center by 2015 instead of 2025 or 2030.

simms3

January 25, 2013, 12:32:06 AM
I would hate to stoop so low that Jacksonville has to be compared to Detroit.

Jacksonville: has a *much* better climate, low tax environment, business friendly environment, on the coast, diverse economy, growing state and growing city, etc etc etc

Look, if Charlotte and Nashville and Raleigh and Salt Lake City and Orlando and Oklahoma City can get residents downtown without the kind of coaxing that this article presents, then so can Jacksonville.  One thing common to a few of these cities (Austin, Charlotte, Nashville in particular) is a plethora of hometown hero real estate developers.  One thing common to all of these cities is a major hometown based private partner(s).

Jacksonville should be able to rely on its hometown private leaders, but it needs its top public leaders, such as the Mayor, to really call on these guys and nudge these guys to do something.  For instance, as discussed on another thread, if the mayor were to leverage his relationships and call on the top private leaders in Jacksonville who are invested in downtown, real estate, or attracting educated young professionals, then it shouldn't be too hard to get the deepest pockets in the city to start opening up to the idea of fixing parks and public spaces and beefing up museums/institutions, etc.

It is true that Philly fell pretty far, but it isn't true that they were ever on Detroit's level or to a level where tumbleweeds were blowing down sidewalks.  The south side of Center City around Rittenhouse Park has always been an expensive, prestigious area to live in and Walnut Street shopping is not a new phenomenon (this area is 2 blocks south of Market St right in the heart of downtown).  In fact, Philly is still really rough around the edges, and will likely always be.  Sure there is a lot of money in the city (an ungodly amount compared to anywhere in the South) and major institutions such as Penn, the Ben Franklin Institute, etc, and an ungodly amount of tourist traffic relative to the South, but it is and will always be a blue collar NE city.

Jacksonville has the ability to follow in the footsteps of Nashville, Charlotte, Greenville, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, and Salt Lake City.  A constant flow of new money, the right environment to naturally attract business and people, a perfect climate, a coastal location, and a decent amount of influential private leaders should be enough to light the fuse for change in the city.  Philly is not a good comparison (6 million person established city where a decline means "only" 50,000 residents and 300,000 workers downtown).  Detroit is not a good comparison because it probably is literally a dead city (hate to say it, but everyone is thinking it).

Noone

January 25, 2013, 06:13:02 AM
This was introduced at city council on Tues. 1/22/13 2013-55 Ordinance waiving Sec 116.910 (Residence Within the City;Exception) Ord. Code, to allow Rehire of 45 JSO officers; Provide for Sunset Provisions. Forget Downtown don't even live in Jacksonville.

thelakelander

January 25, 2013, 07:03:21 AM
I would hate to stoop so low that Jacksonville has to be compared to Detroit.

Jacksonville: has a *much* better climate, low tax environment, business friendly environment, on the coast, diverse economy, growing state and growing city, etc etc etc

Our urban core has an eerily similar population decline.  We've also seen less urban redevelopment in the last decade than they have.  We aren't as far apart as most tend to believe.

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Look, if Charlotte and Nashville and Raleigh and Salt Lake City and Orlando and Oklahoma City can get residents downtown without the kind of coaxing that this article presents, then so can Jacksonville.  One thing common to a few of these cities (Austin, Charlotte, Nashville in particular) is a plethora of hometown hero real estate developers.  One thing common to all of these cities is a major hometown based private partner(s).

Nashville and Austin have major universities  near their downtowns.  However, Charlotte and Oklahoma City are two places that have put their money where their mouth is.  They've tossed around more cash to stimulate downtown redevelopment than Jacksonville and Detroit combined.  For example, if we were Charlotte, there's no way Florida Coastal School of Law would have ended up in Baymeadows.  By the same token, if we were as serious about downtown as Oklahoma City, we would have put up the cash to restore Hogans Creek two decades ago.  We may have a similar metro/urban area population of some of these places but we definitely aren't investing in our core at the same rate.

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Jacksonville should be able to rely on its hometown private leaders, but it needs its top public leaders, such as the Mayor, to really call on these guys and nudge these guys to do something.  For instance, as discussed on another thread, if the mayor were to leverage his relationships and call on the top private leaders in Jacksonville who are invested in downtown, real estate, or attracting educated young professionals, then it shouldn't be too hard to get the deepest pockets in the city to start opening up to the idea of fixing parks and public spaces and beefing up museums/institutions, etc.

These other places are doing this and more.  That's my basic point.  If you want a quick turnaround, you get aggressive with policies that encourage it.  Detroit's policy towards getting professionals to flock there is only one form on an aggressive policy.  Miami's decision to completely revamp their entire zoning code to Form-based is an example of another. If you want your revitalization process to take 20-30 years, continue to do what we're doing.

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It is true that Philly fell pretty far, but it isn't true that they were ever on Detroit's level or to a level where tumbleweeds were blowing down sidewalks.  The south side of Center City around Rittenhouse Park has always been an expensive, prestigious area to live in and Walnut Street shopping is not a new phenomenon (this area is 2 blocks south of Market St right in the heart of downtown).  In fact, Philly is still really rough around the edges, and will likely always be.  Sure there is a lot of money in the city (an ungodly amount compared to anywhere in the South) and major institutions such as Penn, the Ben Franklin Institute, etc, and an ungodly amount of tourist traffic relative to the South, but it is and will always be a blue collar NE city.

I'd argue we've reached the point where tumbleweeds are blowing down the sidewalks in significant areas and that it will take decades of infill growth to fill them back up.

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Jacksonville has the ability to follow in the footsteps of Nashville, Charlotte, Greenville, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, and Salt Lake City.  A constant flow of new money, the right environment to naturally attract business and people, a perfect climate, a coastal location, and a decent amount of influential private leaders should be enough to light the fuse for change in the city.  Philly is not a good comparison (6 million person established city where a decline means "only" 50,000 residents and 300,000 workers downtown).  Detroit is not a good comparison because it probably is literally a dead city (hate to say it, but everyone is thinking it).

All of these places are great comparisons, IMO.  Those that are doing best have invested a lot more money in themselves than we have.  In addition, they've aggressively modified public policy and land use regulations to support the environment they desire.  We haven't done that.  Thus the revitalization gulf.  Whether we want to invest in mass transit, parks, pay people to relocate, raise sales tax, pay Everbanks and 220 Riversides to come, etc., all of the moves are the same in that they are being done to level the playing field for feasible development to breathe life back into certain areas of town.  Thus,  good and bad examples across the entire country are fair game for evaluation.

thelakelander

January 25, 2013, 07:26:30 AM
With all of this said, here's why I don't immediately brush off this concept as many have done.  The Live Downtown program they've implemented is peanuts compared to the amount of public subsidies we come up with for projects around town.  Right off the top of my head, +$300 million for the first short leg of the Outer Beltway to drive growth right out of Jacksonville's Westside into Clay County.  Nearly $200 million more for a SR 9B to drive growth out of the Southside into St. Johns County.  Another +$137 million over the last decade to expand and extend Collins Road as a reliever to Argyle Forest, Blanding, and a feeder to the Outer Beltway.  $80 million for two overpasses affiliated with Kernan Boulevard.  +$100 million for every major expressway overpass/interchange that needs to be rebuilt. A whopping $350 million on a courthouse that kills blocks of the Northbank at the pedestrian scale level.  Incentives to nearly ever project of decent size over the last decade in downtown. We've already stooped well below a level of a $2 million/year Live Downtown program, which helps quickly create market rate urban core redevelopment opportunities.

tufsu1

January 25, 2013, 08:36:51 AM
FYI - folks who purchased at the Parks @ Cathedral townhomes when they were first built got a 10-year discount/abatement on property taxes.

Sadly I bought there in 2006, so no "discount double check" for me

thelakelander

January 25, 2013, 08:41:32 AM
That's definitely a form of paying people to live in a certain area.  In general, how much do you pay annually in property taxes?  Just wondering what that adds up to over 10 years and if that number would be in the range of what Detroit's Live Downtown program is providing to urban home buyers.

tufsu1

January 25, 2013, 10:29:07 AM
when I bought, my property taxes were $2300...this year they were around $1800

Tax abatement is what they used in Philadelphia

thelakelander

January 25, 2013, 10:35:02 AM
So from what I understand, Detroit's Live Downtown program gives downtown home buyers a one time $20k payment to help with their purchase.  At your current property tax rate, if you had purchased early enough, your incentive would have been $18k over 10 years.  Pretty much the same area financially, just a different way of handing out the incentive.  The major difference between Philly, Detroit, Cincinnati, etc. is that they are doing this widescale as opposed to isolated development projects, here and there.

rcsolano

January 25, 2013, 12:23:57 PM
Springfiled is considered part of the downtown area, why not give folks who are restoring, or willing to restore homes in this least desirable Historic District an incentive to bring these old homes back into service. It helps community stabilization, tax rolls and beautification of what was once the pride of Jacksonville. Historic Preservation commission only penalizes homeowners who are attempting to repair their homes, instead of assisting in the process. If Jacksonville is looking to make the landing into TIMES SQUARE" they've failed miserably. Other than the St. John's River, which can't be diverted to please some fat cat, there is nothing there to entice locals to visit. Assist the tax base in the proximity to downtown and bring some family entertainment to downtown to draw families into downtown from the surrounding communities.

simms3

January 25, 2013, 12:58:13 PM
I think the missing ingredient in Jax is smart people working for the city.  Charlotte steals talent away from the banks.  City of Philadelphia has remained competitive enough to attract Wharton talent.  I have met many top talent analysts working for many different cities doing essentially what they would do in the world of finance (aka modeling) and earning competitive salaries (in fact most came from banks, brokerages, risk management departments, insurers/re-insurers, equity shops, etc).  That's where Jax should be throwing money (i.e. salaries and benefits packages large enough to shop talent from good schools and other cities/companies).

Nothing ever put together by the city seems to work, and frankly I think that's a reflection of the skills and capabilities of the city.  The modeling just doesn't seem to be there.  The bond issuances...what's going on there with Jax?  The tax programs, the incentive programs, these should be run like they are in the private sector.  If Jax were a private company, it would have been swallowed up and disassembled long ago.
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