by Fred Seely
The mayor and his top staffers. Politicians. Big business owners. The head of the Super Bowl Host Committee. The president of the City Council. A Jaguars official. Even the president of Daytona International Speedway.
They all find themselves, at some time or another, in front of the Chamber’s Downtown Council, a twice-monthly breakfast gathering of people at the River City Brewing Company who spend an hour or so trying to get informed and perhaps do some business, too.
“I go for three reasons,” says 1998 President Frank Wallmeyer, whose Safeguard Systems prints checks and other business documents. “People. Speakers. Networking. Maybe not in that order.”
The meetings, which tend to be more on the lively side than most civic clubs, draw between 50-80 and represent a cross section of the city. At this month’s first meeting, there were people from the Hilton, the modern art museum, Adventure Landing, Florida Metropolitan University, production companies, specialty advertising companies, this newspaper, the Alzheimer’s Association, stock brokers, Downtown Vision Inc., CPAs, Papa John’s new location in Riverside, real estate agents, insurance salesmen, a new massage therapy office opening downtown, and even a person who makes his living by “harvesting” tissue from the dead for reuse in the living. There always are several job seekers; at Friday’s meeting, there were two who introduced themselves as being ”in transition.”
“I come to get news about what’s happening downtown,” said Jerry Spinks, a retired college professor who works with the Jacksonville Historical Society. “More often than not, I’ll hear something that has a historical perspective, and I can take it back to the society.”
The early - birds arrive before 7:30 a.m., hoping for networking opportunities. The treasurer, CPA Jerry Jeakle, sets up about 7:30 to collect $10 for breakfast and hawk “50-50” drawing tickets: you get five tickets for three dollars, with half the money going to Council scholarships and half to the person who holds the winning stub number.
The breakfast buffet is set along the windowed wall on the second floor and includes a variety: ham, biscuits, cheeses, breads and fruits. Orange juice is on the buffet, coffee is on the tables.
A little after 8, Larry Marscheck, the Council president, bangs on the podium and, perhaps 15 seconds later, manages to get the room quiet. Now an insurance salesman, he has worked in various media and is a polished speaker who knows the community’s movers and shakers.
He calls a board member forward to lead the prayer and pledge, then starts around the room with “self-introductions.” This is a tricky time for the leader; some use this to introduce more than themselves and ramble on about their company or their product. With 60 in the room, this period can take 30 minutes if allowed to get out of hand. Marscheck handles it well, recognizing blowhards and moving quickly to the next person.
The Chamber’s liaison, Jackie Brown, tells of upcoming events. She and her boss, Bob Baldwin, are responsible for communications between the main Chamber office and the Councils, and one or both is always present.
Marscheck then asks anyone “who has done business with another member” to stand up and tell the story. A person thanks another for quick services in making a sign. Another compliments a detective agency for screening potential employees. Another orders checks from another.
Committee reports follow. Business consultant Doug Wilder reports on the Downtown Enhancement Committee’s projects, Jeakle reports on an educational initiative, Gillian Baker of the Cultural Council and Lisa Rowe of the mayor’s office seek volunteers for a “mailing party” for invitations to the coming Corporate Art Tour at The Haskell Building.
About 8:30, Marscheck introduces the speaker. On this day it is Michael Kelly, the soft-spoken head of the Super Bowl Task Force. He reviews his job and his staff, shows a video and concludes with an overview of what downtown can expect when the 2005 Super Bowl arrives. Even though it is a speech he has given at many civic clubs, he appears to have a genuine interest — so much that he runs long. He concludes at 9 o’clock, the scheduled finishing time of the meeting.
Questions? I’ll stay after the meeting, he says. Marscheck gives him a framed photo of an old downtown building as a memento and calls State Farm insurance agent Jim Love and Jeakle forward to distribute the 15 or so door prizes.
The 50-50 winner is drawn and, at 9:10, the meeting is over. At 9:30, perhaps 20 still remain including Kelly, who passes out brochures in the hall.
Marscheck now finds time to pick at the picked-over buffet and talk.
“Overall, I can’t be disappointed in anything that’s happened this year,” he says. “We’ve had great speakers, but more than that, we’ve done a great job with our projects. The Corporate Art Tour will be a success. The Hard Hat Tour almost had more people than we could handle, and we may do another this fall. We raised enough money to send four people on the Chamber’s Leadership Trip. We even painted more paws because we had so many volunteers [The Council paints the Jaguar paws on Bay Street prior to each football season.]
“We’ve also kept attendance up. That’s the most important. You can’t do things without people.
“I think we reflect downtown. It’s a growing and active area. We’re a growing and active group.”
Sitting nearby is Ray Hayes, who runs a production company, PRC Digital Media, on Riverside Avenue.
“I started coming about 6-7 years ago,” he said. “My office then was on Baymeadows Road but I was moving downtown, and I thought this would be a good way to get involved and meet people.
“It has been that and more. It got me a personal honor [he was the Council’s nominee as the Chamber’s Small Business Person of the Year and was the overall winner] and it’s given me contacts.
“What I like most is the civic activism. The projects help beautify downtown. They help people: one year we had a ‘suit drive’ and got men’s suits donated for the poor.
“And, it’s a good group. We have a good time. That’s a good way to start a Friday.”
What: The Downtown Council is one of seven Area Councils of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Councils come under the Chamber’s Small Business Division and are intended to bring together businesses in particular areas of the city.
Where: The Downtown Council meets at the River City Brewing Company on the Southbank.
When: The first and third Friday of each month starting at 8 a.m. Only one meeting is held in December.
Who: Chamber members who pay an additional $30 to join an Area Council. New Chamber members get a free Area Council membership for their first year.
Meeting cost: $10. You’ll also be asked to contribute to a “50-50” drawing where half the money goes to a scholarship fund and half to the drawing winner.
Food: A breakfast buffet. Usually ham, biscuits, salmon, cheeses, fruits, croissants and muffins.
Meeting schedule: Each meeting opens with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by self-introductions, Chamber announcements, committee reports, the guest speaker, door prizes and the 50-50 drawing.
Leadership: Officers and board members are elected annually and serve on a calendar year basis. The board meets monthly, usually on the third Thursday.
Major projects: Corporate Art Tour of a major downtown art collection, Hard Hat Tour of downtown residential projects, Paw Painting of Jaguar paws on Bay Street, scholarship fund to support member participation on Chamber Leadership Trip.
Larry Marshceck, American Income Life Insurance.
Travis Rigdon, Hardage-Giddens.
Ann Shea, City Parks and Recreation Department.
Jerry Jeakle, Culpepper and Jeakle, CPA.
Gillian Baker, Cultural Council; Bill Beitz, Catholic Charities; Jerry Jeakle, Culpepper and Jeakle, CPA; Linda Lanier, Sulzbacher Center; Jim Love, State Farm Insurance; Bobi McGinnis, River City Band; Jennifer Price, Price Communications; Bonnie Barnes, PRI; Bonnie Knight; Gary Looney, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter; Larry Marscheck, American Income Life Insurance; Tricia Pulsifer, CPA; Lisa Rowe, mayor’s office; Melanie White, Remedy Intelligent Staffing; Travis Rigdon, Hardage-Giddens; Ann Shea, City Parks and Recreation Department; Joe Snowberger, Downtown Vision Inc.; Doug Wilder, Wilder Business Success; Damon Fecitt, Northwestern Mutual; Pete Gentry, Spectrum Systems.
1991: Curtis Hart, builder.
1992: John Lewis,
1993: Donna Keith, Ch. 7.
1994: Tommy Lee, Lee
1995: Jon Awad, Paine
1996: Lynette Self, Rose
of Sharon Florist.
1997: Bob Conklin,
1998: Frank Wallmeyer,
1999: Derek Eaton, PRI
2000: Fred Seely, Bailey
2001: Lisa Rowe,
2002: Larry Marscheck,
American Income Life