Mayor Alvin Brown:Now Is the Time to Invest in Downtown

August 13, 2014 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

City of Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown shares his thoughts with Metro Jacksonville on why now is the time to invest in downtown.

Great cities have great Downtowns, and Jacksonville is a great city that deserves a great Downtown.  

Anyone who views our beautiful skyline from any of the bridges, with the majestic St. Johns River as a breathtaking centerpiece, can see that our Downtown is distinctive.

We have the natural beauty.  We have the buildings.  We have the infrastructure.  But we need the critical mass of people and activity that will launch our Downtown to the level of greatness we know is possible.

We must maximize every opportunity for people – residents and visitors alike – to see our Downtown as a signature destination.  Because that’s what a great Downtown needs – people.  

We need people working Downtown.  We need people living Downtown.  We need people visiting Downtown – whether it’s for entertainment or sports, conventions or special events, dining or shopping, or simply enjoying our scenic river.

This is our opportunity, and it must be our goal.

When I submitted my proposed fiscal year 2014-2015 budget and five-year capital investment program to City Council on July 14, I said that we must invest in Jacksonville as a city of opportunity.

Our economy is recovering and the city’s tax base is growing for the first time since 2007.  We have reached a point in the life of our community when we must seize the moment and use our resources to make not only a better today, but a better tomorrow for Jacksonville.  

There is a simple principle that’s as true for a community as it is for a business:  If we want to create opportunity and grow, we must invest.

To move us forward as a city of opportunity, we must invest in key priorities that will make a positive, lasting impact on our city for years to come. This means investing in job creation, public safety and quality of life.  

It also means investing in our Downtown.  

Revitalizing Downtown has been a top priority for my administration from Day One, and we have achieved important progress during the past three years.

Within my first year as mayor, we rewrote the city’s economic development policies and worked with JAX Chamber, the Civic Council and City Council to create the Downtown Investment Authority to lead efforts to revitalize Downtown.

Two years ago, we worked closely with the leadership at EverBank to relocate more than 1,500 of the company’s employees to the heart of our city.  EverBank has also just committed to a 10-year renewal of the naming rights to our stadium on the edge of Downtown.

At 220 Riverside, 600 new housing units and a new park, Unity Plaza, are being built on what was once blighted city property at the gateway to Downtown.  Next door, at newly-named Brooklyn Station on Riverside, a retail-office development is under construction, anchored by a Fresh Market grocery store.

The old Haydon Burns Library is being transformed into the Jessie Ball duPont Center, a hub for nonprofit organizations.  Representing a $20 million private capital investment in Downtown, it will house 200 workers and bring new life to a building that has been vacant for nearly a decade.  We have introduced legislation that would provide 200 parking spaces in the City-owned Yates Garage to accommodate the organizations and their employees.

There are tremendous opportunities to rehabilitate and repurpose other historic buildings in Downtown.  The recent purchase of the iconic but long-vacant Bostwick Building is a promising step forward, as are plans in the works to redevelop the Laura Street Trio and Barnett National Bank buildings.

Awaiting City Council approval is the City’s proposed partnership with The Friends of Hemming Park to manage and develop programming for Hemming Plaza to make this historic public space safer, cleaner and more attractive as a focal point for community events and activities.  

In recent months, we have drawn huge crowds to Downtown with special events.

In April, the One Spark festival, a showcase for innovation and entrepreneurship, brought 260,000 people to the heart of our Downtown.  My budget proposes to boost the City’s investment in One Spark so this annual event can continue to grow.  

At EverBank Field, the recent U.S. Men’s National soccer match against Nigeria had record-breaking attendance of 52,000, while the Country Superfest concert attracted 75,000 music fans.  

We expect to attract even more top-tier events thanks to the City of Jacksonville’s new Sports Council partnership with JAX Chamber and Gator Bowl Sports.

With the new enhancements at EverBank Field, we will also provide the very best fan experience – not only for the Jaguars, but also the Florida-Georgia game, the TaxSlayer Bowl and special events like Country Superfest.

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