It is AMAZING what Jacksonville destroyed. The city forever screwed itself over, and that is the mentality that still exists! Now the city is filled with suburbanite family transplants and 3rd generation natives who simply know no better and know not what the city used to be like, so the mentality that downtown is and should be forgotten/neglected is perpetuated.
Supposedly Jacksonville's rallying point to prevent further demolition was in 1982 with the Union Terminal, but I think it had to be lukewarm at best, and where was everybody in the 50s, 60, and 70s when literally 90% of the city was paved over for surface lots?
In Atlanta the rallying point was 1973 with the potential razing of the Fox by Southern Bell (Atlanta still lost many treasures, including its own Union Station), but that was a really strong rallying point and holds today. Georgia Tech has wanted to demolish a building that is relatively insignificant, and the city and the whole community continues to protest and block GT's advances towards purchasing and demo'ing the building. The only buildings razed are projects - and then they are replaced by new garden-style affordable apartments and townhouses.
In NYC the most famous example of public outcry was Penn Station in 1963, and that effort failed, but look at Manhattan now. Buildings still go down, but bit by bit and only to build further up. Nothing is razed for surface lots and they just have so many buildings to begin with. My company has been instrumental in preservation in NYC, particularly in Chelsea where we restored the two largest buildings there (and sold one to Google in 2010 for $1.8B - the largest office deal of the year). And NYC did not completely destroy its waterfront.
Back to Jacksonville there is just no sense of preservation, history, 21st century thinking whereby we connect to our roots as we reach to the future. There are still people who just don't care. Even amongst the more highly educated, business-oriented and potentially intown readers of the Biz Journal there were still a good 15-20% of people who voted that a *private* investor should just demolish the Laura Street trio rather than renovate.
The destroying of the waterfront in Jacksonville for me is particularly damaging as waterfronts are unique to waterfront cities, and Jacksonville would have had the only "northeastern" style waterfront in the south with wharves.
Despite popular belief, Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta were all much larger than Jacksonville until the 60s. Birmingham had over 600,000 people in the 40s and 50s for instance. Their building fabrics were always more substantial to begin with, but keeping their fabrics was not going to ensure their growth. Atlanta had to look at building an airport, keeping it civil during the 60s race riots, and going for things like the Olympics to rise above the rest of the south. But Jacksonville is waterfront in Florida. It never had to invent expensive gimmicks to ensure its growth, in fact as much as it "sucks" now it is still growing rapidly. No state income, an unbeatable climate, the beach, etc. If in fact it had kept its downtown intact AND had developed the suburbs, it could potentially be 3rd in the south behind Atlanta and Miami. Its tourism could be strong and it could be an attractive place to educated creative types and 21st century businesses.