Jacksonville is a city that’s always growing – but sometimes it’s easy to lose track of how far we’ve come.
To help add some perspective, we’ve compiled a list of 15 things that Jacksonville didn’t have just 15 years ago – but that we do have now!
RIVERSIDE ARTS MARKET
Riverside Arts Market has so rapidly become such an integral part of the culture of the Riverside neighborhood that it’s easy to forget it started in 2008.
The weekly farmers’ market was launched by Riverside Avondale Preservation, utilizing space underneath Fuller Warren Bridge originally intended for a retention pond. The concept was developed by noted local historian Wayne Wood.
As Riverside has grown in popularity, and younger residents with healthier habits have moved into the neighborhood, the market has steadily grown in size since its launch. It’ll celebrate its ten-year anniversary in 2018, and upcoming enhancements to Fuller Warren Bridge will establish a walking and biking path from San Marco to RAM, ensuring years of future growth.
Downtown’s monthly Art Walk has been taking place on the first Wednesday of each month since 2003 – around 14 years ago.
The festival has become an outlet for artistic expression in the heart of downtown Jax. It’s grown from a dozen vendors to over a hundred, and venues throughout the downtown area have joined in on the festivities for “Art Walk After Dark” events.
Publix and Winn-Dixie are still the dominant grocery options in Jax – but 15 years ago, they pretty much had the market cornered.
Around that time, grocers Albertsons and Food Lion had exited the Jacksonville market. Harris Teeter was around, but never gained much traction here and would leave by 2006.
But now, there are significantly more options available. In addition to Publix and Winn-Dixie, shoppers can visit Earth Fare, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods Market, ALDI, and a few others.
If you still choose one of the “Big Two”, there’s nothing wrong with that. But at least now we have options!
A NEW COURTHOUSE
15 years ago, the city was in desperate need of a new county courthouse. The previous courthouse building had opened in the late 1950s, at a time when technological needs were much different and the county was much, much smaller. The building was also entering physical decline.
As a result, money was budgeted into the Better Jacksonville Plan for the construction of a new, much larger county courthouse. After a few redesigns, the new courthouse was constructed and opened in 2012.
It was one of the more controversial elements of the Better Jacksonville Plan, due to its high price tag ($350 million) and design that sticks out among its LaVilla neighbors. But nonetheless, it was an improvement that needed to happen and that was in high demand 15 years ago.
THE TOWN CENTER (OR ANY OUTDOOR MALLS)
It’s hard to imagine a time when St. Johns Town Center wasn’t the dominant retail and lifestyle center of Jacksonville.
But sure enough, 15 years ago the Town Center was in the early planning stages. The first phase of the outdoor mall opened in 2005, followed by Phase II in 2007.
The area has grown extensively since opening, with attractions such as Topgolf and the soon-to-open IKEA coming in on the outskirts of the center.
One year after the first phase of SJTC opened, River City Marketplace opened near the airport. This means Jax has gained not one, but two outdoor malls since the turn of the century.
VETERANS MEMORIAL ARENA
Back in 2002, the city was still utilizing the Jacksonville Coliseum as its main arena.
The Coliseum had been built in 1960 and was badly outdated. The acoustics in the venue were so bad that several artists refused to play there, which meant the city lost out on a lot of popular acts.
By 2001, construction had begun on the new Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena funded by the Better Jacksonville Plan. The arena was finished in 2003 and has received much better reviews from both concert-goers and artists.
In addition to drawing in more artists, the arena has played host to NCAA tournament games, U.S. men’s basketball Olympic practice games, an NBA preseason game, and more.
BASEBALL GROUNDS OF JACKSONVILLE
Just as the Coliseum was getting too old, so too was Wolfson Park.
The baseball park, which served as home to the Suns (aka Jumbo Shrimp), was originally built in 1954. The park was among the best minor-league facilities in the country when it was built, but by the ‘90s it had become dated and needed an upgrade.
Its replacement, Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, was completed in 2003. It has since been home to the ACC baseball championship as well as the Southern League all-star game. It’s regarded as one of the best minor league parks – much like its predecessor once was.
COMPLETED I-295 BELTWAY
While many stretches of I-295 have been around for decades, the entire I-295 Beltway wasn’t officially completed until 2010.
Prior to that, only the western portion of the loop was considered to be part of I-295. The eastern portion, which had yet to be completed 15 years ago, was signed as State Road 9A.
Now, the beltway loops in a circle around the entire city – and soon, portions of it will gain express lanes supported by tolls.
15 years ago, there were a lot less young people in Jax.
The influx of young people is a result of a few factors: relatively low cost of living, a healthy job market with plenty of opportunities for growth, and the ability to get involved in a city finally beginning to realize its full potential.
2 OF OUR 10 TALLEST BUILDINGS
Did you know that two of the tallest buildings in Jacksonville were built in the past 15 years?
The two buildings, The Strand and The Peninsula, are actually right next to each other on Riverplace Blvd. They both opened in the late ‘00s, and are both condominium buildings.
The Peninsula ranks as the city’s fourth-tallest building, standing at 36 stories and 437 feet tall. The Strand is seventh on the list with 28 floors and a height of 328 feet.
The HRO expansion drew widespread support from both residents and local businesses. It marked a major step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Jacksonville, a city that now toes the borderline between young progressives and “the old guard.”
15 years ago, it’s hard to imagine such a major step forward being allowed to happen.
While a few different minor-league expansion teams had tried out Jacksonville in the ‘90s, none of them stuck around. When the Jam of the American Basketball Association fizzled out in 2006, many figured that would be the last in a line of failed attempts to bring basketball to Jax.
Instead, a group led by attorney Ron Sholes managed to secure a new ABA team, the Jacksonville Giants. Helped by a stronger marketing push, as well as a lease agreement with Veterans Memorial Arena, the team became one of the league leaders in attendance.
It also helps that the team has won four championships, including one earlier this year.
A VISION FOR THE SHIPYARDS
The Shipyards property along E. Bay St. has long been a problem area for the city.
After a failed project in the 1990s to turn the abandoned shipyard operation buildings into a music venue, a development company bought up the property in 2001 and knocked down everything to build a mixed-use development. It never ended up happening, and by the end of the decade the land was foreclosed on by the city.
But now, after years of trying to figure out what to do with the land, the city has accepted a bid from Shad Khan’s development company to completely revamp the area along with Met Park.
There’s still a long road ahead for the project to be realized, but this is the most encouraging turn of events for the property in quite a while.
THE EQUESTRIAN CENTER
While it’s a feature of the city that’s often taken for granted, the Jacksonville Equestrian Center didn’t exist just 15 years ago.
The center, which is part of the Cecil Recreation Complex, was built as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan and opened in 2004.
While its main purpose is, obviously, horse racing events, the venue has found other uses as well. Concerts, monster truck shows, and more have occupied the center at various times. It even almost became home to an arena football team, before the team folded without playing a game.
A NEW DOWNTOWN LIBRARY
15 years ago, the city’s main library was housed in what’s now the Jessie Ball DuPont Center.
While the building has been renovated and looks great now, it was too small to serve as the main library and also looked a bit dated. There were also technology upgrades needed that would’ve made it easier to simply start over elsewhere.
That’s why, as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, the city arranged for the construction of a brand new, 300,000 square foot location bordering Hemming Park. The new building was designed by national architect Robert A. M. Stern, and featured in an American Institute of Architects publication.