Which Downtown Is Ahead? Jacksonville's or Tampa's?

January 21, 2015 37 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Florida's first major cities have more in common than one would imagine in the rise, fall and rebirth of their historic downtown cores. With that in mind, there may be tools and ideas that one community has successfully implemented that the other could benefit from.

Reclaiming the Heart of the City

A portion of Franklin Avenue still closed to automobile traffic.

In 1973, Tampa's leaders converted a five block stretch of Franklin Street into a pedestrian mall. In 1984, Jacksonville's leaders did something similar by closing surrounding streets to pave over Hemming Park. In both cases, the public developments were key components of strategies to enhance downtown retail. Instead, they became the final nails in both downtown's retail coffins. 28 years later, Tampa reopened Franklin Street to automobile traffic and retail, dining and entertainment uses are slowly reappearing.  Recently, a private group has taken over efforts to bring the Hemming Park area back to life. Tampa has experienced some success in attracting storefront retail along Franklin Street in the vicinity of Lykes Gaslight Park. The Friends of Hemming appear to being a good job to activating Hemming Park. Perhaps both cities can lean on each other when it comes to activating the heart of their downtowns around historic public squares and retail districts?

Tampa's Franklin Street

Jacksonville's Hemming Park


The Encore development in Tampa's Central Park neighborhood.

After his mother's death in 1945, Ray Charles lived in Jacksonville's LaVilla, playing the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre, earning $4 a night. By 1947, he was living in a hotel on Tampa's Central Avenue and performing at the nearby Blue Room nightclub. Charles left Florida for good in 1948. Both Jacksonville's LaVilla and Tampa's Central Park neighborhoods would be largely gone by the 21st century. Much of Tampa's old Central Avenue neighborhood is being developed into a project called Encore. Funded with federal stimulus dollars, the infill development is the result of a Bank of America/Tampa Housing Authority partnership to transform a former public housing complex into a 28-acre mixed-use, mixed-income community combining the neighborhood's culturally rich history and the best principles of high density urban living. While this concept is too late for Jacksonville's long lost LaVilla, the opportunity still exists with Brooklyn, another historic African-American Jacksonville district currently in the midst of gentrification.

Tampa's Encore

Jacksonville's Brooklyn

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