Author Topic: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.  (Read 3679 times)

Lostwave

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Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« on: December 13, 2017, 01:44:52 PM »
Everyone keeps talking about revitalizing downtown Jacksonville.  Currently its pretty obvious what the problem is... all the empty lots and very few residents and nothing to do.  But with the current residential building boom (can we even call it that), all of the developers are just building out Apartments/Condos with no walkability in mind.  Jax needs to really think about its building code and what will happen once these apartments are all built. 
I know its a chicken and egg thing.  But the city leaders really need to think about making it a requirement that the first floor of all buildings is mostly Retail/Commercial.  With these big long blocks on the west side of town beyond the courthouse, if we only have row after row of apartment buildings and no retail, no one will walk around.  If no one walks around the town seems dead.  We are basically just building more suburbia in our urban core.  In most vibrant cities, there is always a ground floor retail with offices and apartments above.  Every city with a dead downtown, its just office buildings with nothing to do but work and eat lunch.
We have a great opportunity with all of these vacant lots to build a very fun, very urban, very happening downtown, and its a shame to see it go to waste with these Lofts projects that are just more parking and more apartments, that bring nothing to the vibrancy of downtown except more people with cars who will drive to SJTC when looking for something to do.

We are building this:


When we should be building this:


I really think we as a city are missing the boat here.

lowlyplanner

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2017, 05:12:53 PM »
Unfortunately mixed use projects pretty much require a sprinkler system, which adds significantly to the cost.  And with so much empty retail space downtown, it's not clear how that extra cost gets paid back at this time.

I kind of think we're on the right track with the recent Vestcor projects - they add warm bodies to downtown and (mostly) pay for themselves doing it.

Much of the subsidy is coming from a federal tax credit program (i.e. other people's money) but there are some property tax breaks going on as well...

thelakelander

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2017, 07:56:59 PM »
Everyone keeps talking about revitalizing downtown Jacksonville.  Currently its pretty obvious what the problem is... all the empty lots and very few residents and nothing to do.

I personally don't believe this is the core problem or a real problem at all. Something like 75 to 100k live within a three mile radius of the Northbank core. How downtown is isolated, in terms of marketing, is more of a detriment than the existing population within the CBD (which is the highest its been in decades). The other big problem in recent years, is the city itself. The lion's share of properties in the Northbank are publicly owned and highly underutilized. How the city uses those properties (or keeps them underutilized) has a direct impact on downtown's vibrancy or lack of thereof.

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But with the current residential building boom (can we even call it that), all of the developers are just building out Apartments/Condos with no walkability in mind.

It's a "boom" by recent Jax's standards but not much, in comparison with what's been going on in downtowns around the country since the 1990s. However, I'd argue the recent projects (even Broadstone) are being built and designed with walkability in mind. Not even in NYC, will we see 100% of infill buildings being built to be mixed-use. Nevertheless, for every project that's only residential (ex. Lofts of LaVilla, Broadstone, etc.), there seems to be another that's mixed use (ex. Laura Trio, Barnett, Vista Brooklyn, Shipyards, District, Hendricks Baptist site, etc.).



Also, a few that are being built without retail now, appear to have first floors constructed that can be converted into retail if future demand arises.





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Jax needs to really think about its building code and what will happen once these apartments are all built.

Downtown's design standards and guidelines are actually okay. Unfortunately, in the past, the DDRB has been prone to approving variations and exceptions that go against the concept of walkability.
 
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I know its a chicken and egg thing.  But the city leaders really need to think about making it a requirement that the first floor of all buildings is mostly Retail/Commercial.  With these big long blocks on the west side of town beyond the courthouse, if we only have row after row of apartment buildings and no retail, no one will walk around.  If no one walks around the town seems dead.  We are basically just building more suburbia in our urban core.

People living in urban core areas tend to be more active than we give them credit for. Even without retail (which there are still retail opportunities possible now when the market can support it....even in LaVilla). They're likely to walk or bike to work, exercise and use various forms of mass transit. LaVilla itself was a historical pedestrian scale environment and many of the buildings still left are mixed use by design. As the surface parking lots fill in, opportunities to reactivate existing vacant storefronts and add infill to support the population will start to come. Even if we look at the infill projects under construction west of the courthouse, all appear adaptive to include some form of service, residential support or commercial activity at street level. Overall, I'd say most of the infill projects in the downtown core are a positive to the concept of the area becoming more vibrant.

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In most vibrant cities, there is always a ground floor retail with offices and apartments above.  Every city with a dead downtown, its just office buildings with nothing to do but work and eat lunch.

No argument here. Jax isn't that much different. Actually most cities with dead downtowns aren't different from an infrastructure perspective. The buildings (just about everything built before 1950 is mixed use) tend to be empty or highly vacant.

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We have a great opportunity with all of these vacant lots to build a very fun, very urban, very happening downtown, and its a shame to see it go to waste with these Lofts projects that are just more parking and more apartments, that bring nothing to the vibrancy of downtown except more people with cars who will drive to SJTC when looking for something to do.

I view SJTC is a different animal altogether. It's a shopping center. It's another suburban form of the area around Orange Park Mall, Atlantic Boulevard and Riverside Marketplace. Outside of eating and shopping, you really can't do much there. There's no industry, civic spaces, parks, river, riverwalk, museums, theaters, sports facilities, etc. If we focus on building up the things that make DT a unique place, along with building up the population base, the retail that draws suburbanites will come.

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I really think we as a city are missing the boat here.

Overall, I think things are changing for the better. We're way past where we were a decade ago.
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jaxnyc79

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2017, 08:04:18 PM »
You’re absolutely right.  Having said that, I often think that urbanity and walkability are preoccupations of the relatively small cognoscenti in Jax, and not a general concern.  I could be wrong, but Jax might be best served by some sort of “urban village theme park” downtown, masquerading as downtown revitalization.  I just don’t think Jax has the current population or demographic trend to support a version of a NYC borough, or even a Boston, or Seattle, or Portland or San Diego.  A regional theme park/recreational area somewhere in the vicinity of the sports complex will probably work, and should be stimulative.  My friends in law enforcement in Jax say that the Vestcor LaVilla projects may catalyze a pharmacy in LaVilla, but that LaVilla is likely to be another crime-ridden ghetto in 5-7 years.  Buy hey, subsidized housing is a need in Jax, and empty lots in LaVilla are as good a place to put it as anywhere else.

thelakelander

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2017, 08:10:52 PM »
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I just don’t think Jax has the current population or demographic trend to support a version of a NYC borough, or even a Boston, or Seattle, or Portland or San Diego.

All of these places are multiple times larger than Jax's urban and metropolitan area. IMO, it's unrealistic to think a small place like Jax will ever become as dense and vibrant as NYC, Boston or Seattle. Portland is a decent example to look up too. However, the Portland today is the result of policies and investments dating back 30 or 40 years.

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A regional theme park/recreational area somewhere in the vicinity of the sports complex will probably work, and should be stimulative.

Please no! A big stumbling block towards downtown's revitalization is making the revitalization process more difficult than it has to be. Looking at a theme park or any one project or style of development as a miracle worker will result in disaster and millions of tax dollars wasted.

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My friends in law enforcement in Jax say that the Vestcor LaVilla projects may catalyze a pharmacy in LaVilla, but that LaVilla is likely to be another crime-ridden ghetto in 5-7 years.

LaVilla a crime-ridden ghetto in 2017? How? There's literally nothing left. I'd be more scared of zombies chasing me around at night than getting robbed.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2017, 08:15:07 PM by thelakelander »
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jaxnyc79

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2017, 05:31:52 AM »
They said in 5-7 years, so in 2023 to 2025, not in 2017

thelakelander

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2017, 05:51:43 AM »
Wow, that's pretty disappointing if law enforcement is believing and using those terms in 2017. No wonder the ticketing thing on the Northside just hit the fan. Vestcor isn't building HUD housing and I seriously doubt Beneficial's senior housing project in LaVilla is going to result in attracting criminals to live in it. That's a pretty poor understanding of the housing product being conducted. It's affordable housing, not housing projects. It's also not unique to Jax. This federal program is used to build similar housing in the same cities everyone claims to be vibrant as well.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2017, 05:53:52 AM by thelakelander »
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Lostwave

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2017, 09:06:44 AM »
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All of these places are multiple times larger than Jax's urban and metropolitan area. IMO, it's unrealistic to think a small place like Jax will ever become as dense and vibrant as NYC, Boston or Seattle. Portland is a decent example to look up too. However, the Portland today is the result of policies and investments dating back 30 or 40 years.

This is exactly what I meant in the original post.  We have a great opportunity to build out the downtown in a way that will pay off in 20-40 years.  But if the city allows tons of residential only infill, our downtown will be just another baymeadows.  If we could build some pockets of urban oasis with residential/office/retail, eventually everything will connect together into a great, thriving downtown. 
Seattle downtown was dead 30 years ago.  They required buildings to have street level retail starting in the early 90s, and now people are leaving the suburbs to live downtown.  Its been an amazing transformation.


Steve

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2017, 10:18:59 AM »
I just spent last week in San Diego. In their downtown, there are a ton of residential only developments, especially 2-3 blocks off of Gaslamp.

I would take San Diego's downtown in a HEARTBEAT.

Downtown Osprey

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2017, 10:34:33 AM »
Curious if anyone has heard any updated on the projects around Intuition? I believe there was a bowling alley planned along w/ residential. Seemed like an awesome project similiar to the Gaslamp District. 

thelakelander

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2017, 10:35:37 AM »
In terms of scale, metro Jax is roughly the same size todat that metro Seattle was in 1960. By 1980, metro Seattle had over 2 million residents. Now Seattle is nearing 4 million, while Jax is closer to 1.5 million. Historically, Seattle has always been a much larger town that Jax. In that sense, LaVilla would not even be considered a part of downtown. In Jax, the historical CBD is probably bounded by the river, Hogans Creek, Union Street and Broad Street. If compared to Seattle's CBD, there is no infill of any kind taking place. Just a few adaptive reuse projects that are all mixed used. Out of all infill projects rising or proposed in fringe neighborhoods like LaVilla or the Southbank, the only two I can think of with no chance of ever adding retail is San Marco Apartments and Broadstone. However, in Broadstone's case, there's probably 10 to 20k square feet of empty retail space immediately next door. So maybe Broadstone's presence helps fill some of it, along with breaking up a former mega-block? In LaVilla there's currently three infill apartment projects under construction.  Lofts of Monroe has a small retail space for something like a coffee shop or corner market. Houston Street Manor and Lofts of LaVilla both have first floors that appear to be built in a way that they could one day be used for retail. I think Jax will be okay as long as it's projects are designed to be adaptable to accommodate changing market demands. 30/40 years down the road, what's coming up today may be getting replaced by a more urban product.
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TimmyB

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #11 on: December 14, 2017, 10:53:13 AM »
I believe one thing that gets overlooked in these discussions is the availability of land in close proximity to an urban area.  Jacksonville still has TONS of available land, relatively easy to build on.  For example, I am living in the Atlantic North development.  Nothing but trees and swamp next to an airport ten years ago.  Now, there are hundreds of apartments and lots of shopping in place, a huge movie theater coming, etc.  Look at what has happened around Baymeadows and 295.  Same thing.  People have little reason to want to go downtown and fight all the things that are there (lack of parking, lack of quality things to do, perceived lack of safety, etc.) and companies that build these things can pick between fighting a battle which they believe is not winnable or flattening some trees and building out.  I would LOVE to see a vibrant downtown, but until one of the big money men (Khan, Rummels, ...) puts something in place to spur the other players, it's not going to happen, at least not for decades.

Tacachale

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2017, 11:44:46 AM »
One thing that's easy to miss is that residential is the main thing Downtown is lacking, and it's the main thing there's a demand for. There's a glut of office space, and retail/entertainment appears to be at about the level of the demand. But with residential, whenever new units go up either downtown or the periphery, they stay full. I'd say that's the more important piece; more residential increases the demand for retail and the rest.

I was in Vancouver a few months ago. While many of the buildings have ground floor retail, most don't. And the ones that do are often concentrated on main drags so they're more clustered together. It's very vibrant in general. One thing Jax should consider in peripheral areas like LaVilla and Brooklyn is identifying stretches where retail *must* be included to cluster storefronts along the same streets, instead of spread across multiple blocks. I doubt we'll ever be at a place again where there's enough demand for retail along every street in the CBD. The downtown core would be different, but new projects haven't spread there yet.
Do you believe that when the blue jay or another bird sings and the body is trembling, that is a signal that people are coming or something important is about to happen?

Lostwave

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2017, 02:04:13 PM »
One thing Jax should consider in peripheral areas like LaVilla and Brooklyn is identifying stretches where retail *must* be included to cluster storefronts along the same streets, instead of spread across multiple blocks

Yes, this is exactly the point.  If the city doesn't plan now, it will be too late.

Tacachale

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Re: Make Downtown Jax Vibrant Again.
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2017, 03:52:11 PM »
One thing Jax should consider in peripheral areas like LaVilla and Brooklyn is identifying stretches where retail *must* be included to cluster storefronts along the same streets, instead of spread across multiple blocks

Yes, this is exactly the point.  If the city doesn't plan now, it will be too late.

If I were to have to choose, I'd that in Lavilla, say frontage on Forsyth, Adams, and Jefferson streets should have retail with no setbacks if at all possible, with retail preferred but optional for the time being for the other streets (especially lots on a corner to one of those streets). Those are kind of the main thoroughfairs through Lavilla that already have some concentration of storefronts, if not active businesses. In Brooklyn, I'd do the same with Riverside and Park.
Do you believe that when the blue jay or another bird sings and the body is trembling, that is a signal that people are coming or something important is about to happen?