Thoughts on reconstructing the Jacksonville Landing and how this can be used to attract millennials to Downtown and Jacksonville.
When faced with the decision of where a Jacksonville citizen should go out to eat, Downtown at the Landing might be the last place said citizen would think of venturing to. At least that was the thought that ventured into my own head when a friend of mine suggested we eat there a while back. So, a group of us collected ourselves at the Landing and made the decision to eat at American Grill. We sat outside, towards the back, underneath a light fixture that burned out. Since the Sun was making its own departure, reading the menu became quite the task. Our waitress appeared, already equipped with her comment on the burned out light: "Since there are plans to raze the Landing over, we pretty much haven't bothered to change it. Why change it when it is about to be demolished?"
The thought of the Landing becoming non-existent hit me. True, it has become the last place I would think of coming to for a night out; I just never thought of not having it as an option. It seems that our Mayor, Alvin Brown, and the mall's owner have decided to tear it down in order to build a "world-class development" in its place. With there being a focus on Downtown and rebuilding a monumental structure significant to bred and born Jacksonville natives, hopefully we can move Downtown from feeling like the inevitable, unfinished, high school project.
What will it take though to make Jacksonville's Downtown an attractive, must-come-to area of the city? Bay Street provides a few bars that brings in varying ages, typically the age group of Millennials (18-35). Artwalk seems to be successful every first Wednesday of every month, but what happens the rest of the week? What will we do in downtown for the rest of the month. I can visit MOCA only so many times. Downtown has a lot of potential, yet we are hardly tapping into it.
Recently, Mayor Brown has appointed a new member, attorney Craig Gibbs, to the Downtown Investment Authority. Attorney Gibbs has strong ties to the community of Jacksonville and has been an active member on numerous boards including and especially not limited to the former Jacksonville Economic Development Commission (JEDC) where in his first year of service as Commissioner, JEDC saw the addition of 1700 new jobs generating $89 million in new annual payroll; via the addition of companies that remain significant employers in the community such as Deutsche Bank, Fidelity National Information Services, and Pilot Pen. Hopefully, his presence in the DIA will stimulate a similar action.
Attorney Gibbs was gracious enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions involving improving the lackluster Downtown seems to give off. When asked what he would like to accomplish as a member of the DIA, Gibbs responded, "To make it the first place that people think of when, for example, when they go out to eat dinner, or for some entertainment. We'd like to get more people Downtown to socialize, to enjoy their work space, to bring more jobs into Downtown, to bring more investment into downtown. That's what we would like to do."
I asked Attorney Gibbs if there were immediate plans for Downtown that he would like to see come into fruition. Having only attended two of the DIA meetings at the time, he could only speak on the meetings' main focus: The Downtown Landing. "The first meeting was a discussion about the renovation of the Landing. Those are ambitious goals to change and redevelop The Landing. The Landing was wonderful when it opened, but it's probably outlived its usefulness in terms of the attractiveness to Downtown and the river. Now it's time to step it up, if the need is there." In order to see if there is a need, Gibbs is calling for market surveys to be done:"Of course we want to do market surveys and we will do those market surveys to see if the need is there. We all feel the need is there, but we would like to see it on paper. After the first meeting, I would like to see the market surveys for that particular project."
Does there lie a hidden need for the renovation of the Landing? Will reconstructing this one structure of Downtown appeal to younger generations causing a stampede of millenials to move to Jacksonville and finding a happy home amongst the vast areas Jacksonville provides, let alone Downtown? The thought of living downtown sounds like a nice idea and an even more expensive one. In fact, I have visited a friend whose studio apartment comes with an expensive view of the jailhouse.
Yet, change can be a good thing. Perhaps remodeling the Landing can bring the added stimulation Downtown has been missing. Terry Lorince, executive director for Downtown Vision Inc., is excited for the possible changes: "I think its a great idea. Clearly, the Landing is the front door of Downtown. It is the face of Downtown; it's what people see and recognize when they come to Downtown. So, I think it would be absolutely terrific and I think it would be a lot of energy and can create a lot of opportunity to work in the surrounding area there; to make the whole riverfront pop in association with the Landing."
When asked what could be provided in Downtown to make it attractive to millenials to live in, Lorince brought in the concept of "third place": "I hear from more millenials the search for that "third place." It's usually, not always, some outdoor cafe. It's not where you live and it's not where you work. It's somewhere you go to be with your friends, to have community. It could be a cafe, a restaurant, a bar, but there is a sense of community about it and it provides good vibes. I hear that from folks."
"Other things I believe people are looking for," Lorince continues, "a really comfortable environment that is clean and welcoming. A place where they can sit outside with their dogs because a lot of residents have dogs, a lot of millennials. And what else i hear from them other than the retail are residents constantly asking me, 'Where do I go with a blanket and sit on the river walk? This is one of my biggest issues.
It seems we need to push Downtown to become more, dare I say it, Riverside-esque. Riverside sits close to my heart not due to growing up in this side of town, but from the collection of people. Riverside always seemed to have a welcoming vibe to it along with an eclectic group of friendly individuals. It is filled with shops that thrive if it knows how to cater to its audience. Of course, Riverside does have its faults, but it has had no problem attracting Millennials into its grasp. Perhaps its due to the easy access of laying a blanket down in Memorial park and enjoying the view.
Article by Major Stephenson. Contact Major at firstname.lastname@example.org.