“After being at Metropolitan Park for so long, we realize this is a big change and there’s a trust factor involved,” said the City’s Special Events Director Theresa O’Donnell-Price of the decision to relocate the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. After a more than 20-year run at the City’s riverfront park near the Sports Complex, the 2009 edition of the four-day celebration of the musical genre is getting a new home along the Laura Street retail corridor between Hemming Plaza and the Landing.
O’Donnell-Price said her staff has been hitting the streets to make sure business owners are aware of the opportunities the festival offers and they are responding. “Welcome Jazz Fans” signs have been appearing on storefront windows and doors this week in anticipation of the Memorial Day Weekend event.
With Super Bowl as a template, she is confident the move will be smooth for artists and fans alike.
“We pulled out the checklists we made for Superfest,” said O’Donnell-Price. “This is not the first time we’ve closed streets and set up a celebration. What has made it easier is the cooperation between our department and all the City departments. We’re all working together to make sure it’s convenient for people to eat, drink and find a restroom while they’re enjoying the music.”
One restaurant owner said the reason he’s excited about the festival moving is because this year it will be easy for him to take advantage of the business opportunity.
“I tried having a booth at the Jazz Festival a couple of years,” said Jerry Ewais, owner of the Zodiac Grill at the corner of Adams and Hogan streets, “But I had to pay a vendor fee and then set up everything at Metropolitan Park. “It makes more sense to bring the festival to the business instead of taking the business to the festival.”
Ewais said his planning for the event includes creating a special menu of his most popular Mediterranean dishes, booking a six-piece jazz band for the weekend and setting up a few hookah pipes. He’s also setting up a beer and wine bar outside to serve those who want to stroll by and get a beverage.
“We all want to see Downtown more active. The Jazz Festival is a great way to make that happen,” added Ewais.
“I think this is the best thing the City could have done,” said Doug Ganson, owner of three businesses at the Landing: Sundrez, Karlene’s Deli and Dipper Dan’s Ice Cream.
He also predicted business that weekend will be comparable to a Florida-Georgia weekend. Like Ewais, Ganson will offer festival-specific products for fans. Sundrez will have a display of jazz figurines for sale and since the “Jazz Juniors” interactive area for children is near the Landing, the store will also carry harmonicas and toy guitars.
“We know how to plan for this type of event,” said Rachel Nudge, Landing public relations director.
She also said moving the Jazz Festival to Laura Street is a natural extension of the “Make a Scene Downtown” initiative.
“It’s great to see the City make this investment for the Downtown businesses,” said Nudge. “And most of the events are free so it’s going to be a great way to remind everyone why it’s great to live in Jacksonville.”
O’Donnell-Price said there will be more than just local fans at the festival. Jazz fans from as far away as Maryland, Texas and California have purchased VIP ticket packages and the Omni and Hyatt hotels are sold out for the weekend.
“Parking and getting to the entertainment will be easy,” she added. “There are plenty of spaces in the Downtown garages. We’re also encouraging people to park at the Kings Avenue Garage on the Southbank or in the lots at the Prime Osborn Center. Then just take the Skyway to Hemming Plaza or the Omni across the street from the Landing.”
For the complete schedule of performers and other events at the 2009 Jacksonville Jazz Festival visit www.jazzfest.com.
Jacksonville Jazz Festival street closures May 20-24
|• Laura Street from Duval Street to Adams Street ||Thursday at 8 a.m
|• Laura Street from Adams Street to Independent Drive* ||Thursday at 6 p.m.
|• Duval Street from Laura Street to Hogan Street ||Thursday at 7 p.m.
|• Monroe Street from Main Street to Laura Street ||Friday at 9 a.m.
|• Monroe Street from Laura Street to Hogan Street ||Friday at 9 a.m.
|• Adams Street from Main Street to Hogan Street ||Thursday at 7 a.m.
|• Forsyth Street from Main Street to Laura Street ||Wednesday 6 p.m.
|• Forsyth Street from Laura Street to Hogan Street ||Thursday 6 p.m.
|• Bay Street from Main Street to Hogan Street* ||Friday at noon
|• Independent Drive from Laura Street to Hogan Street ||Friday at 8 a.m.
|• Hogan Street from Water Street to the River ||Thursday at 8 a.m.
|• Sister Cities from Hogan Street to the cul-de-sac ||Thursday at 8 a.m.
*One lane will remain open on Bay and Laura streets to allow access to Independent Square. All streets will reopen Sunday at midnight. For more information call Jamie Hupp at 630-1044