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Terry Durand-Stuebben, chair of Downtown Vision Inc., talks to the Associated Builders and Contractors Women's Council at the group's monthly meeting at the Rogers Towers law offices on the Southbank
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 9, 201712:00 PM EST

Investment of billions headed Downtown

Downtown Vision Inc. leader talks about mission to promote the city's urban core
by: Maggie FitzRoy Contributing Writer

By Maggie FitzRoy, Contributing writer

For the first time since the Great Recession, Downtown’s office vacancy rates are below that of the region’s suburbs, while its lease rates have surpassed them.

Terry Durand-Stuebben, chair of Downtown Vision Inc., cited that progress in speaking with the Associated Builders and Contractors Women’s Council at the group’s monthly meeting at the Rogers Towers law offices.

She said 75 active and proposed projects are estimated to bring $1.9 billion in Downtown investment, and that five residential projects are under construction.

A more vibrant Downtown is reflected in what it costs to rent office space there. In 2016, the average square-footage lease rate Downtown was $19.85, compared to $18.63 in the suburbs, she said.

Durand-Stuebben said that when she and her husband moved Downtown from Switzerland in St. Johns County, friends and family members questioned why.

“I am a strong believer in a strong and vibrant Downtown,” she said.

“There is a big perception that Downtown isn’t safe,” Durand-Stuebben said. “But after three years, I have been pleasantly surprised.”

Formed in 2000, DVI was created with the approval of Downtown commercial property owners and funded through a 1.1 mill property tax self-assessment on commercial property. The group is governed by a board representing the property owners.

Durand-Stuebben said DVI has four major tasks: keeping Downtown clean and safe; marketing; event creation; and information management.

The organization has 12 ambassadors on patrol wearing bright orange and green T-shirts. They work to prevent the area’s transients from becoming a nuisance, pick up trash and remove graffiti.

Another DVI role is promoting Downtown, and Durand-Stuebben said there is “quite a bit of activity.”

She said 16 proposed mixed-use projects are in the works with an estimated investment of $1.2 billion.

Key projects include the Laura Street Trio in the urban core, the Shipyards on the Northbank and The District on the Southbank of the St. Johns River.

Civic and entertainment projects include the Daily’s Place amphitheater and flex field at EverBank Field, the Winston Family YMCA in Riverside and renovations to the Florida Theatre building on the Northbank.

New dining and drinking options include 1904 Music Hall and Spliff’s Gastropub on the Northbank and the 5Loaves2Fish restaurant in Riverplace Tower.

Downtown is home to 8,547 residents and 4,100 residential units, with 2,700-plus units proposed or under construction, she said.

Under construction are Broadstone River House, Houston Street Manor, Elena Flats, FSCJ student housing and Lofts at LaVilla.

Durand-Stuebben called the residential projects especially good news. She said she wishes DVI could do more, if it had additional revenue.

She said the Laura Street Trio will provide additional financing when it returns to the tax rolls.

The current fiscal year budget of more than $1.3 million comes from private assessments, voluntary contributions and sponsorships.

Durand-Stuebben invited Women’s Council members to become involved in fundraising and promotion for DVI.

Amy Turci, chair of the Women’s Council, agreed that the topic is important.

Turci said the council always draws a good turnout when the urban core is discussed.

“The key to a vibrant city is a vibrant Downtown,” she said.

Downtown facts

Some Downtown facts, according to Terry Durand-Stuebben, chair of Downtown Vision Inc.:

• Three Fortune 500 corporate headquarters are Downtown, which contains 7.4 million square feet of office space and 59,100 employees.

• The National Register of Historic Places designated much of Downtown an official historic district in May 2016, with 80 percent of the buildings in the district contributing to the area’s architectural, historical or cultural importance.

• The area is home to 120 restaurants, bars and clubs.

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