Planning the strategy for Downtown
Comparing himself and his job to being a baseball player attempting merely to get safely on base and later to the leader of an orchestra, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace on Friday discussed the city’s evolving strategy for revitalizing the urban core.
He was invited to present his views to the Downtown Council of the JAX Chamber at the group’s breakfast at The University Club at Riverplace Tower along the Southbank.
Wallace became the authority’s first CEO in August. He previously was the executive director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority.
“Things are not all bad in Jacksonville. We’re on the cusp. We’re moving up,” Wallace said. “We have to reinforce Downtown’s position as a place for history, culture, entertainment and retail.”
He said Downtown has made progress in the past 20 years due to public investment in projects such as the conversion of St. James Place into City Hall and construction of the federal courthouse and the Duval County Courthouse, but it’s time for private investment to play its part.
The investment plan when implemented will encourage entrepreneurs to develop projects Downtown by reducing the amount of time required to secure permits, for example.
“We need new money wanting to play Downtown, so we have to reduce barriers to development. Time is money,” he said. “We cannot do it without private sector investment.”
Smaller projects will be the key to growth over the long term, with Wallace using a baseball analogy to illustrate his point.
“I’m not swinging for home runs, I’m swinging for singles because they add up,” he said.
One of his first projects when he took the job was to analyze the multitude of studies that have been conducted in an effort to create a growth plan for the urban core. Wallace said his analysis indicates there’s something missing.
“The time is right for us, but it all starts with the right investment strategy,” he said. “I reviewed all the city plans and they all lacked an investment strategy.”
Wallace cited the leadership of Mayor Alvin Brown, City Council President Bill Gulliford and authority Chairman Oliver Barakat as the foundation for Downtown’s growth over the next decade. He also will need the cooperation and commitment of the community.
“I’m only the conductor of the orchestra. Everybody has to buy into the investment plan,” he said.
Specific projects mentioned Friday included converting some Downtown streets from one-way to two-way traffic and encouraging more retail business in the neighborhood.
“We do a very good job getting people in and out of Downtown for sporting events, but we don’t do a very good job keeping people Downtown,” Wallace said.
The Downtown Council meets at 7:30 a.m. the first and third Fridays of each month at The University Club. Non-members are welcome. For information, visit downtowncouncil.org.