It’s clear to anyone who’s paying attention that downtown Jacksonville is finally making a comeback.
After decades of dormancy, the oft-troubled core of our city has made some quick, intense strides in the past few years. Residents now routinely gather downtown for monthly festivals, bars and clubs that struggled for years are finally seeing some foot traffic, and plans for new developments have been announced left and right. Most significantly, there’s finally a large enough group of engaged, passionate residents who care about making sure this latest surge continues.
And yet, a small but vocal group of Jacksonville residents still insists that nothing has changed.
They see empty buildings, even though several of those buildings have pending redevelopment plans. They see crime and danger around every corner, even though crime rates downtown have dropped significantly since their peak in the ‘90s, and is far from the biggest problem area in Jax.
They see announcements like Shad Khan’s winning bid for the Shipyards redevelopment project, and they say it’s not good enough. Or worse, they complain about “giving away our city to a foreigner.” (Fun fact: Khan has lived in America since 1966.)
When a younger, more idealistic generation comes in, trying to change things for the better, they see naïve millennials. After all, if their generation wasn’t able to tackle the problems that faced downtown, how can we?
Try to explain any of this to them, and they’ll double down on their insistence that downtown is a hopeless wasteland. Best to stick to the suburbs, they’ll say.
Perhaps they long for the days when Hemming Park was surrounded by department stores that now reside in malls, when the nicest office buildings were in the heart of downtown rather than in Southside. Those were days when there weren’t as many regulatory bodies controlling what can be developed, days when a belligerent megachurch didn’t own half the urban core, days when there was still enough undeveloped property for projects with potential to find a space – and then sit there even if that potential never pans out.
Those days aren’t coming back, though.
And what the naysayers fail to understand is that the one thing that’s never going to help revive any part of the city – especially downtown – is sitting around and complaining about it.
No one is saying that downtown’s continued revival is guaranteed. There are certainly plenty of problems that still exist. Crime, while less of an element than in previous decades, is still present. The homeless population remains largely centered downtown – more a consequence of the available resources there compared with suburban areas. The number of empty buildings and retail spaces is declining, but there are still plenty of dilapidated storefronts sitting empty.
No one thinks the work is anywhere close to being done.
But to say that downtown is making a comeback is not to say that the work is done. There’s a difference between saying something is thriving, and saying it can thrive in the future.
So if you’re one of the people who thinks downtown is dead, that’s fine. You’re absolutely entitled to that opinion.
But maybe it’s time to get out of the way and let the rest of us keep working.