Jacksonville and Charlotte, N.C., were similar cities 50 years ago, but that's not the case now based on public policies and private business development.
That was the review presented Friday to the Downtown Council of the JAX Chamber by Cynthia Farmer and Jen Jones. They were two of the 140 delegates who visited Charlotte for the chamber's 33rd annual trip.
Farmer is assistant director at Nova Southeast University's Jacksonville campus and the council's incoming president; Jones is executive director of Unity Plaza at 220 Riverside.
Farmer said the visit was an opportunity to network with local business leaders and to meet their counterparts in Charlotte. It's also a way to study what has led to that city's success and bring ideas back to Jacksonville.
She said Charlotte has extensive support from the business and private communities for its Downtown development initiatives.
Jones said Charlotte has emerged as one of the most sought-after destinations for business and tourism due to its public policies, including the structure of city government.
The City of Charlotte operates under a council-manager form of government. The mayor and council are responsible for making policy decisions, while the city manager is responsible for carrying out the decisions and oversees the operation of city government. It is a hired, rather an elected, position.
"Part of Charlotte's success is not being tied to term limits and personal political agendas," said Jones.
The light rail mass transit system in Charlotte allows people who live and work in outlying areas to work and play in the city's Downtown, Farmer said.
She also cited the partnerships between business and private foundations and the city government, particularly Duke Energy, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Jones said Charlotte's urban planning has led to opportunities that could be considered for Jacksonville.
As part of Charlotte's Downtown rebuilding plan, 9,000 surface parking spaces were moved underground and parks and museums were built above the parking facility.
"Now it's an 11-acre park dedicated to the visual and performing arts," Jones said.
She said another difference between Charlotte and Jacksonville is that Charlotte took advantage of federal urban renewal programs in the 1960s when Jacksonville decided against getting involved with the programs and their funding. Consistent improvement over the long-term also has led to Charlotte's success in urban redevelopment.
"In 1968, Charlotte created a master plan for Downtown and they stuck with it for four decades," said Jones.
The Downtown Council is next scheduled to meet at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 3 at The University Club in Riverplace Tower on the Southbank. Farmer will call the meeting to order for the first time as president.
Nonmembers are welcome to attend Downtown Council meetings. For details, visit downtowncouncil.org.