Next month, my company will celebrate 100 years of continuous operation, all on the very same block in Downtown Jacksonville. As someone who has spent most of my life working Downtown, I’m enthusiastic about what we may be able to accomplish as members of the DIA.
As we launch, I know we all have great ambitions and big goals. And, I know we are all anxious to begin our work and show the community early success.
Over the last several years, I’ve served on various boards and worked with many other people to promote and advance Downtown. As a result of this experience — and as we begin this new process — I thought I’d share some thoughts with you.
Mayor Alvin Brown now has created the DIA, and nine of us have been appointed by the mayor and City Council President Bill Bishop.
Each of us brings unique and different talents to the table, and all of us have experience and a commitment to making Jacksonville a great place to live. I want to encourage us to work to bring out the best in each other, and to create strong partnerships with others who are working to build a great Downtown.
As we throw new things against the wall to see what will stick, I hope the DIA will take important steps to connect the dots that already exist.
The DIA can establish an environment of teamwork and cooperation among our own members, as well as with other partner organizations. We should lead in promoting an attitude of working together, sharing resources and exchanging ideas.
The individual members of the DIA already possess important pieces of the Downtown puzzle. But, if anything has been proven by history, individual pieces of the puzzle will never build the entire, complete picture. We must work together to have any chance at success.
The DIA should establish an inviting process that encourages feedback and promotes participation from the community. People have ideas and we need to hear them. We need citizen input, citizen buy-in and citizen support. Jacksonville is loaded with smart and talented individuals.
In addition to listening to others, we should use our communication opportunities to make sure consistent and constant messages are delivered to key stakeholders and constituencies. And we must work with the mayor and City Council to drive change and capture support that will advance the DIA’s strategic objectives.
The plain truth is, we have seen incremental change and spurts of non-sustained development, but the cranes of growth have been absent from Downtown’s skyline for too many years.
As we anticipate a changing economic environment, the DIA should become an instrument to position Jacksonville in front of a pack of competing cities who want the same urban investments and new jobs. By getting the DIA up and running, the city has a huge sign hanging Downtown that says “open for business.” We’re telling developers, investors and entrepreneurs who are looking for a great city in which to spend their capital and unleash their creativity that we’re ready to go.
The DIA is the latest of many initiatives by mayors since the 1970s to revitalize Downtown, recruit investments and create job opportunities.
Despite the individual and collective efforts of these various mayors, organizations and individuals, Jacksonville still deals with the historic misnomer that Downtown:
• is unsafe,
• is not accommodating for visitors and
• is a place where there is nothing to do.
But, the facts put those notions to myth.
Downtown may be the safest area in all of Jacksonville. There is a significant police presence Downtown aided by the Downtown headquarters of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, along with other private security.
Downtown is extremely accommodating as the home of first-class entertainment venues like the Times-Union Center for Performing Arts, Florida Theatre, Ritz Theatre, EverBank Field, Bragan Field and the Veterans Memorial Arena, along with two museums and the Downtown library. In fact, several hundred millions of dollars have been invested in Downtown in the past 15 years for new structures to draw people there.
Downtown is accessible from all areas of Jacksonville via interstate highways and bridges that provide an easy flow for entrance and exit.
Despite the perception, one which we created, parking in Downtown is not a major problem, especially for special events, entertainment and dining.
The biggest myth of all may be the idea that nothing happens in Downtown.
An estimated 15 million people visit Downtown annually to attend concerts, football games and other sporting events, plays, and special events, and to dine in Downtown restaurants.
Jacksonville’s biggest natural and commercial asset, the St. Johns River, runs through the heart of Downtown.
And, two of Jacksonville’s nicest amenities also attract thousands of people who walk along and enjoy the riverfront experience on the South and Northbank Riverwalks.
Prior to the economic meltdown, more than 2,500 residents were living in Downtown. Today, both 11E and The Carling are full, and there are a lot of indications that Downtown can become a preferred neighborhood of the future.
New restaurants and clubs are joining the Downtown landscape, along with successful places like the Wine Cellar, River City Brewery, Ruth’s Chris, La Cena, Burrito Gallery, Café Nola, Mavericks, Dos Gatos and Mark’s.
And, DIA member Rob Clements has moved EverBank and 1,600 employees to Downtown from the suburbs — an important sign that while Downtown has issues, it is also brimming with big opportunities.
We have a lot for which we can be proud. We have a foundation upon which we can build. And, we have a lot of work to do.
In both perception and practicality, the mayor is the leader and principal change agent in Jacksonville, a very real intent and product of consolidation. As with any significant change, any journey of importance, the DIA’s success in large part depends on the willingness and the ability of the mayor to lead, and in doing so, to build a coalition of partners around the mission for change. That is most obviously true in affecting the change called for by the creation of the DIA. It’s evident from his own statements of commitment, that Mayor Brown is focused on making a difference in the development — and the image — of Downtown Jacksonville.
To succeed, the mayor and the DIA will need support from the community. It will be critical to success that the mayor be visible in his leadership and support of the DIA. We need the mayor to:
• Articulate the vision and communicate the messages around the objective of the DIA through news conferences and events, speeches and special appearances;
• Be visible and accessible to the stakeholders, including Downtown businesses and Downtown residents; and
• Create an engaged coalition and inspire its members to participate as an army of change agents.
While it is not the responsibility — or within its resources — of the DIA to promote all of the individual happenings Downtown, all of these events as a body of work provide a tremendous opportunity to market Downtown as a safe and “happening” place.
This is how we begin to slay the myth that nothing happens Downtown, and just as importantly, it provides us a tremendous way to get people to look at Downtown differently.
Downtown is where you hear the symphony, enjoy a play, experience a concert, walk along the river, visit a museum or attend a sporting event. Downtown already is a destination point. Fifteen million people make it that every year. The DIA can help put the puzzle pieces together to show the entire picture.
Again, these are just some thoughts I’ve captured on the eve of our first meeting that I wanted to share with all of you.
Like you, I look forward to the challenges we face because I know that we have an opportunity to do something important for the future of Jacksonville.
Jim Bailey sent this to DIA board members Tuesday. The Downtown Investment Authority is scheduled to meet for the first time at 2 p.m. today at City Hall.