Three Downtown leaders talked to Impact Jax members Tuesday about the shape revitalization would likely take in 2014 and where challenges remain.
The speakers were Tony Allegretti, Downtown Investment Authority board member and director of Downtown engagement for the JAX Chamber; Terry Lorince, Downtown Vision executive director; and Elton Rivas, CoWork Jax and OneSpark co-founder and KYN business accelerator founding partner.
What projects are coming up for Jacksonville and when will they happen?
Allegretti: Projects like space needles and aquariums, those ideas aren’t mature enough yet to come before the Downtown Investment Authority for funding. When they do, the DIA will really have to study them. It’s public dollars, so if we’re going to put money into this, it’s got to have a good return.
The DIA is putting $750,000 into this retail incentive program (that provides renovation grants). It’s going to be an immediate success. They have about 15 projects that they can initially fund. “Once we see some benefit from that, it’s likely we’ll do that again,” he said.
What are some of the biggest misperceptions about Downtown?
Rivas: Too little parking. How many of you have to drive around more than 10 minutes looking for parking? Parking is a perception issue, it is not a reality. “We did research when we started Co-Work Jax, because it was a concern, and we validated this.”
Allegretti: Homelessness. The homeless problem is thankfully much smaller than people
“There are only about 400 people that are literally living out there and that’s something that we can totally knock out.”
But, there’s a difference between people who are homeless and people who are a nuisance. People who are panhandling and in your face, they’re a nuisance, and most of them aren’t homeless. Most of our homeless are families, and a lot of them are kids.
Lorince: Crime. “We keep statistics on Downtown safety and it’s a very safe neighborhood. It’s one of the safest in the country,” she said.
“The number one thing we need to do to change the perception of safety is to bring more people Downtown” Lorince said. “… If I walk to the garage after work at 6:30, I’m the only one on the sidewalk.”
Why isn’t the river utilized more to bring people Downtown?
Lorince: Most cities with a phenomenal waterfront have a waterfront district, with active programming and usually, an extra assessment. Jacksonville doesn’t really have anyone responsible for putting banners up on the Riverwalk or getting flowers.
“We all know the river’s an asset. But, if you love something like that, you spend some money on it. You get somebody to manage it and you start doing events, like a jazz concert or a sunset concert on the deck of the
Times-Union (Center for the Performing Arts).”
Where does residential development fit into Downtown redevelopment?
Allegretti: There’s so much advocacy for Downtown, but, on a map, it’s kind of a doughnut – Five Points, Springfield and San Marco are bustling, but Downtown is not hitting it. The reason is because there aren’t enough residents, so there’s no voter block. Residential is really the final frontier.
The demand is high. Downtown rental occupancy is high. Eight hundred units are coming online in Brooklyn. If they get leased up and that demand is high, then the investment community will get a little more comfortable building more.
Recent talk of rebuilding the Jacksonville Landing, fundraising for an aquarium and a 1,000-foot observation tower have expectations running high for Downtown redevelopment.