No one will deny that there are a lot of problems in downtown Jacksonville.
There are empty and abandoned buildings, there’s little retail presence, and transportation isn’t as advanced as it should be.
That being said, sometimes the situation downtown gets exaggerated. Many residents have preconceived notions of the area that may have been true at one point, but are now outdated.
We’ve compiled a few of the most frequently cited “facts” about downtown Jacksonville that are actually complete myths.
Myth #1: Downtown is dangerous
The reputation of downtown Jacksonville as a dangerous place developed around the turn of the century, when crime rates in the area were up and there were transients all around the busiest areas of downtown.
The homeless often startled residents – sometimes asking for money, sometimes muttering something that made no sense. They also often drank publicly and trespassed, which were legitimate crimes that often landed them in jail.
While these are people who are often mentally ill and in need of help and resources, they undoubtedly scare those who have never been exposed to such realities.
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office made securing downtown a priority in the mid-‘00s, and was able to clean up the area by significantly increasing patrol presence. Crime rates in the area dropped steadily.
Some remain spooked by the fact that there are still homeless people there – but they have no suggestions as to where they’re all supposed to go. It’s a problem without an easy solution.
Even though these efforts have made downtown Jax a much safer place, it doesn’t seem to have helped shake the stigma.
Myth 2: There’s nothing to do
“There’s not much to do” would be the more accurate way to put it.
The offerings for nightlife, retail, and even restaurants downtown are pretty slim. A tourist driving around downtown Jacksonville would probably be rather confused by the lack of activity.
That being said, there’s still some life in the downtown area. There are frequently events like concerts and food truck rallies at the Landing, and Hemming Park hosts the Jaxsons Night Market once a month along with a handful of other events each year.
There’s also Bay Street, which features the new Intuition Ale Works taproom as well as Element Bistro Bar and Lounge and Mark’s. Cowford Chophouse and Bold City Brewery will soon add to this stretch.
The next step for downtown revitalization should be adding daytime venues, such as a small shopping complex. If this happens, the myth of there being nothing to do should disappear.
Myth #3: You’ll never find parking
This is becoming less true than it once was.
In the past decade or so, a few new parking garages have gone up making event parking a little less of a nightmare.
The Landing was able to acquire its own parking lot as well, fixing what was once a disastrous parking situation.
It can be hard to find parking downtown during the day. Sometimes you have to drive around for quite a while – if you’re looking to park in a metered spot along the street. If you don’t mind paying a little extra to park in one of the city’s lots, you won’t have much trouble.
You’ll definitely never struggle to find parking at night, as long as you’re patient. On the night of a big event you may end up paying for a spot, but you’ll still have no trouble finding one.
The parking situation downtown is still not necessarily adequate, and the absence of free parking during the day can be frustrating. Still, it would be inaccurate to say there’s no parking at all downtown.
Myth #4: No one cares about downtown anymore
We certainly do.
And in the past few years, many residents and even some developers and business owners have shown that they do as well. There’s a lot of great people working really hard to make the best of what’s there.
Luckily, what’s there is also starting to improve. The upcoming Cowford Chophouse and Bold City Brewery developments near Main Street and the arrival of Intuition Ale Works and Manifest Distillery near the arena point to a revived Bay Street corridor in the making. It would include existing places like Mark’s and Element as well.
It’s hard to say that no one cares about downtown when so much energy, and money, is being put into reviving it.