In the past several decades, Jacksonville has enjoyed consistent growth in both population and business. As a result, the city’s national profile has gradually risen.
Unfortunately, most of the development and growth has happened outside of the city’s urban core.
In comparison to that of similarly sized cities, the downtown Jacksonville area is severely lagging behind. Many large buildings sit vacant, parking is a consistent problem, and there is almost no retail activity whatsoever in the heart of downtown.
Luckily, the downtown area has experienced a revival as of late in the form of special events, with long-struggling venues like Hemming Park and Jacksonville Landing starting to see relatively consistent activity.
So what exactly does downtown Jax need to push our city to the next level? It’s hard to say, but we’ve come up with five ideas that could boost activity and interest in the downtown area.
Rapid transit (other than the Skyway)
Realistically, the Skyway isn’t great. It’s outdated, a little dingy-looking, and doesn’t connect with Riverside or the stadium, or run on the weekends.
A real rapid transit system connecting downtown, San Marco, Riverside, and the sports district would be hugely beneficial to the city and to the growth of each area. The First Coast Flyer is attempting to do this starting later this year, but an expanded and redesigned Skyway would likely be more effective than an advanced bus system.
That being said, the Flyer is definitely a step in the right direction. Additionally, the pending development of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center will help with logistics for the Flyer system. JTA has also suggested that either streetcars, an expansion and upgrade of the Skyway, or both could come in conjunction with the Center’s development. However, so far the project remains in the late planning stages.
Retail is desperately needed in the downtown area, and the Jacksonville Landing is the perfect spot for a collection of local and national retail spots. In fact, that’s what it originally began as.
Unfortunately, the Landing has seen better days. Current management has been refocusing around scheduled events like concerts and food truck rallies, to a decent amount of success, but they could maximize the return on such events if they were able to fill the many vacancies inside the corridor.
Part of the issue has been lack of interest from both retailers and residents. Now that residents are becoming interested again, retailers may follow suit. For now, though, the options at the Landing are scarce, and walking down the halls of empty storefronts evokes the same feelings as being at Regency.
What’s likely needed to draw in retailers is a renovation of the interior to update the building, which opened in the late ’80s. If upgrades are made, and events keep drawing foot traffic to the area of the Landing, it could result in an unforeseen renaissance of the riverfront property.
This may seem like a random suggestion, but aquariums have generated a great amount of tourism traffic in other big cities.
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta averages two million visitors a year. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago brought in over $30 million in ticket sales last year. Most major cities in America have aquariums – including fellow Florida cities Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.
The addition of an aquarium would also allow the local zoo to expand their operations, as some of their water exhibits would then move downtown.
Plans for an aquarium along the river were developed by a group called AQUAJAX, but no progress has been made yet. The renderings look fantastic, though, and it would be a welcomed addition to the city’s skyline.
The Broadstone River House project, along with The District (if it ever happens), will add to a well-developed stretch of apartment living options lining the Southbank. Over by the Northbank, 220 Riverside and The Brooklyn offer the same.
Outside of that, the apartment offerings downtown aren’t great. You’ll find a few really old apartment buildings, and a few former office buildings converted into lofts, but nothing similar to the river-adjacent offerings.
A relatively small upscale apartment complex placed somewhere near a Skyway/rapid transit station downtown could spark a wave of development to adjacent areas. One great place for such a project would be the land upon which the failed Bay Street Station project was to be built. The old buildings and empty lots surrounding this area could easily be turned into retail and restaurant properties, and would link up perfectly with the nearby Brooklyn properties and the future Regional Transit Center.
What do you think downtown Jacksonville needs? Let us know in the comments section below!