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.

Convention Center Districts

The Tampa Convention Center on the right.

Jacksonville's Prime Osborn Convention Center opened in 1986, featuring 78,500 square feet of exhibition space. Tampa's Convention Center opened in 1990 and features 600,000 square feet of exhibition space. However, the similarities stop there. A 27-story Marriott, a 20-story Embassy Suites, a 12-story Westin, the and several restaurants are within walking distance of Tampa's riverfront convention center. Jacksonville's struggling Prime Osborn sits alone in isolation with the nearest restaurant and hotel being over a mile away. Tampa has successfully created a compact district of complementing tourism related activity in the vicinity of its convention center. This is the type of environment many believe can be instantly created in Jacksonville's Northbank if the convention center were relocated next door to the Hyatt, along the St. Johns River and within walking distance of the Elbow district and the Jacksonville Landing.


Embassy Suites is across the street from the Tampa Convention Center.

The Florida Aquarium (background) and Channelside (right). Channelside is an entertainment complex that is similar in size and scale of the Jacksonville Landing.

A Carnival Cruise Ship at the Tampa Port Authority's cruise ship terminal near a TECO Streetcar stop and Channelside.


The Prime Osborn Convention Center sits in total isolation today. Buildings on the surrounding blocks were demolished during the 1990s.

Public Education

Downtown Tampa's Sam Rampello Downtown Partnership K-8 School

The most vibrant urban environments are those that cater to all walks and ages of life. If you want people to seriously consider moving into a downtown environment, investments must be made to attract more than single millennials and empty nesters.

With that in mind, high quality public schools are a must. In Tampa, an attempt to address this situation has been made with the establishment of the Sam Rampello Downtown Partnership Kindergarten through 8th grade school.

Founded by the Tampa Downtown Partnership in partnership with the School District of Hillsborough County and the State of Florida, this public school, with an A FCAT grade, was designed for students whose parents work or live in downtown Tampa.

In Jacksonville, the relationship between public schools and attracting residents to downtown seems like an afterthought or something not really thought about at all. If one resides on the Southbank, then they are zoned to Hendricks Elementary (A). If in Brooklyn, south of Forest Street it's Central Riverside Elementary(B). If in Brooklyn north of Forest Street, it's S.P. Livingston (D). If living on the Northbank, west of Main Street, your child is headed to John E. Ford (C). If in the Northbank, east of Main Street, it's R.L. Brown (D), which is a few miles northeast of downtown.

LaVilla School of the Arts, a magnet middle school, is the only public school in downtown Jacksonville.

In other words, it's the Southbank or paying for private school if your a family with young children who prefer living in an urban environment. No wonder the Southbank saw more success in attracting infill housing during the 2000 boom than the Northbank! Jacksonville, it's time to coordinate public education with efforts to attract downtown residents. Downtown Tampa's Rampello K-8 Magnet School may be a decent model worth exploring.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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