APA Names Laura Street One of America's 5 Great Streets

October 1, 2015 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

When Metro Jacksonville presented the concept of "Lighting Laura Street" to former Councilwoman Suzanne Jenkins' 2006 Downtown Action Plan Committee, Laura Street was a one-way thoroughfare that had seen better days. Lighting was poor, the landscape was unattractive, few businesses were open, Hemming Park was considered to be undesirable, and several buildings were severely underutilized. The basic concept of Lighting Laura was was to use simple, affordable ideas and short term solutions to address issues hampering walkability, retail growth and the general image of downtown Jacksonville.

In 2007, many of those ideas were incorporated into the Jacksonville Economic Development Council's (JEDC) Downtown Action Plan, leading to the 2011 completion of the Laura Street Streetscape project. After a decade of advocation, planning and implementation, the potential of Laura Street is being recongized nationally by the American Planning Association (APA).

Today, the APA names Laura Street one of five Great Streets on their annual Great Places in America list. Since launching the Great Places of America program in 2007, APA has recognized 245 neighborhoods, streets, and public spaces around the country. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, culture and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for the future.

Between Hemming Plaza and the Jacksonville Landing, Laura Street is rapidly transforming into a hub of activity in the heart of downtown. Whether strolling around, grabbing a bite to eat on their lunch break, or attending the Art Walk on the first Wednesday of every month, at some point visitors of Downtown Jacksonville will find that exploring the Laura Street Corridor is inevitable.

Pedestrians were central to the planning and development of the Laura Street Streetscape which features demarcated crosswalks that enhance the safety and accessibility of the street. Visitors can also access the area through the Skyway, an automated monorail train, at Hemming Park. The Jacksonville Landing, a riverfront hotspot for nighttime activity and festivals anchors the corridor, four blocks south.

However, Laura Street's transformation is more than just a streetscape. The programming of Hemming Park, dedication of community advocacy groups like Transform Jax and a regular rotation of special events like Jaxsons Night Market, Art Walk, One Spark and GastroFest stimulate needed pedestrian foot traffic that was non-existant 10 years ago.

In addition, the Downtown Investment Authority's Downtown Retail Enhancement Program is successfully assisting property and business owners with the cost of preparing or renovating underutilized commercial spaces in the area. Recent business openings along the Laura Street include Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches, Urban Grind Coffee Company and Peterbrooke Chocolatier. Nevertheless, despite its recognition, Laura Street remains a work in progress. The proposed redevelopment of the Laura Trio into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the Jacksonville Landing could lead to a streetscape that is truly a 24/7 unique North Florida-style walkable atmosphere.

In honor of Laura Street's national recognition, the APA, APA's First Coast Section, Downtown Vision and the City of Jacksonville will host a celebration at Hemming Park, as a part of Oktoberfest Art Walk at 5:30pm, October 7th.

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