Changing the Urban Landscape in 2013

January 3, 2013 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In 2012, we witnessed a renewed optimism for the future of downtown Jacksonville. Looking forward to 2013, here are five projects that have the potential to stimulate additional life in the urban core.

1. Mellow Mushroom and Riverside/Avondale

The initial proposed Mellow Mushroom site plan featured a centralized greenspace for the Shoppes of Avondale and preserved a Mid 20th century structure.

The opening of a pizza restuarant in the Shoppes of Avondale has turned into a heated community separating fight highlighting Jacksonville's historical tendency to shoot itself in the foot, when it comes to truly embracing density and urbanism.

While this project sits a couple of miles outside of downtown Jacksonville, districts such as the Shoppes of Avondale, Park & King, and Five Points, are real life local examples of the vibrant atmosphere most desire for the urban core.  However, as continued redevelopment comes, segments of the community are working to stop it from happening.

So the continued Mellow Mushroom and Park & King debates are much larger than Riverside.  How we resolve this situation in 2013 will provide us with insight to future political and local ideological challenges that downtown will eventually face.

Is Riverside/Avondale Ready For Mellow Mushroom?

2. Brooklyn: Downtown's Trendy Neighborhood?

Unity Plaza with 220 Riverside in the background.

How we handle Brooklyn's issues in 2013 could forever alter the path of downtown's revitalization. Formerly one of downtown Jacksonville's densest neighborhoods, Brooklyn is now a shell of its former self.  This is set to change as the 220 Riverside, Unity Plaza, and Riverside Place projects get underway.  Overnight, a few blocks of this neighborhood will be transformed from complete Rust Belt style urban abandonment to a dense collection of a mix of uses featuring an urban public square, 600 multifamily residential units and 80,000 square feet of retail and restaurants.

While these projects won't officially be completed until 2014, we should find out this year if they have the ability to spur additional development throughout the neighborhood, as well as generate a resolution on the role that mass transit can play in downtown's renaissance and tying the together the downtown's core with the vibrant Riverside/Avondale Historic District.  

The Role Of Mass Transit In Brooklyn's Renaissance

3. JTA Downtown BRT Phase One

Map of the Downtown Transit Enhancement Project

If things remain on schedule, the downtown phase of JTA's long desired Bus Rapid Transit system will be breaking ground this Spring.  As a part of this project, Jefferson and Broad Streets will be completely rebuilt between the Acosta Bridge and State Street.  While we still don't buy the wolf tickets of BRT significantly spurring any type of market rate private sector transit oriented development, the project does put the spotlight on LaVilla.

Downtown's LaVilla was Florida's first major urban and enlightened African-American community.  Many inaccurately refer to it as the Harlem of the South.  However, it can be argued that Harlem was the LaVilla of the North.  It was the site of the country's first documented blues performance.  It was home to one of the largest red light districts in the South.  There was even a black-owned streetcar line in a city that most today believe was severly conservative with Jim Crow politics a century ago.  Despite efforts to destroy it, many of it's few remaining buildings fronting the pending streetscape projects are of national significance.  While city leaders routinely focus the future of downtown on the riverfront, we have a great opportunity with these downtown BRT corridors and the Skyway to integrate downtown revitalization and the adaptive reuse of nationally significant historical landmarks with existing mass transit investments.

4. Addressing Hemming Plaza

Well-maintained, used and accessible parks play a role in increasing real estate values. Just as well-maintained parks can support the economy, poorly-maintained spaces that lack amenities to attract well rounded usage can negatively impact the surrounding urban environment.  Nationwide, the most successful urban parks are well-maintained, integrated with their surroundings and programmed for around the clock vibrancy.  

The future of Hemming Plaza, the Northbank's heart and soul, could be decided in 2013. For years, the City of Jacksonville has struggled finding a solution for Hemming Plaza, that ignores taking full advantage of the concept of programming. Despite public surveys suggesting that Hemming Plaza's amenities, such as benches, tables, and trees should remain and be better utilized with programming, Councilman Don Redman has introduced legislation to do the exact opposite.  This year, we should find out if Hemming Plaza will become an economic anchor of Northbank's renaissance or another obstacle that must be overcome.

Hemming Plaza Tables & Chairs On Their Way Out?

5. Downtown Investment Authority CRA Plan

Downtown's Broad Street.

For those that want to be a part of the planning process for the future of Downtown Jacksonville, 2013 presents great opportunity. Before Mayor Alvin Brown's Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) can help significantly advance the revitalization dreams everyone desires, a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) plan must be developed.

This is a plan that addresses the unique needs of a targeted area and in the Jacksonville's case, the targeted area is downtown. Typically, these plans include the overall goals for redevelopment, as well as identifying the types of projects planned for the area. Examples of traditional projects include: streetscapes and roadway improvements, building renovations, new building construction, flood control initiatives, water and sewer improvements, parking lots and garages, neighborhood parks, sidewalks and street tree plantings. CRA plans can also include redevelopment incentives such as grants and loans for such things as façade improvements, sprinkler system upgrades, signs, and structural improvements.  Despite not being a "brick and mortar" project, this may be the most significant issue on this list in determining the future of downtown Jacksonville.

Honorable Mention: Jax 2025

What kind of Jacksonville do we want to create? Twenty years ago, Jacksonville residents came together for the Jacksonville Insight process, which resulted in River City Renaissance and many improvements downtown. Today, however, Jacksonville lacks a shared vision of what the city could be and how we will get there.  With this in mind, the Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. (JCCI) has launched a community-owned initiative destined to create an implementable shared vision for Jacksonville and wants every resident's help by at least participating in a community survey:

Click here to take the community survey.

With the first community visioning event planned for 9am on January 19, 2013 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, this visioning effort will be the perfect opportunity for all citizens to get involved with determining Jacksonville's future.

Click here for more information.

Editorial by Ennis Davis