With its brick storefronts, 1940s bungalows, affordable rent and proximity to Downtown and Riverside, Murray Hill’s reputation as Jacksonville’s next up-and-coming neighborhood seems inevitable.
“There’s so much energy going into Murray Hill,” said Scott Schwartz, a chef who is opening a restaurant there, one of about nine moving into the neighborhood. “I think it’s on the precipice of taking off.”
Jason Tetlak, the incoming president of the Murray Hill Preservation Association who moved there five years ago, couldn’t agree more.
“It is happening fairly quickly,” Tetlak said. “It’s wonderful to have these places to walk to.”
Last year, Murray Hill celebrated its 100th anniversary. The community was once home to music icons like Gary Rossington, a founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd; Mae Axton, who co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel;” and her singer-songwriter-actor son Hoyt Axton, who penned “Joy to the World.”
Cultural institutions like the Murray Hill Theater and Dreamette ice-cream shop still stand as reminders of how the community flourished after WWII.
But Murray Hill began an economic descent in the 1990s and its recovery has been slow.
At least 10 restaurants, nightclubs and other businesses are moving into the area:
• La Cena, an upscale Italian restaurant that recently moved from Downtown.
• Town Beer, a tap room and retail store that will sell locally made beers and libations.
• Element Earth Works, an organic candle shop.
• B Street Eats, a Latin restaurant owned by the Maple Street Biscuit Company next door.
• El Jefe, an authentic Tex-Mex restaurant owned by chef Scott Schwartz.
• The French Pantry, opening its second location in the old Edgewood Bakery site.
• The Silver Cow, a craft beer, fine wine and eatery that left King Street because of rising rents.
• The Annex, offering craft beer and cider on tap, food and free Wii games.
• Jeux De Jax, a comedy and arts café with creative events, improv, food, coffee, beer and wine.
• Larry’s Giant Subs intents to open a new concept restaurant that includes wood-fired pizza.
Meanwhile, home sales prices are starting to reflect the influx of young families buying into Murray Hill. The median sales price in the neighborhood rose nearly 39 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors’ annual report.
The median price rose from $72,000 to $99,000. It jumped to $101,250 by February.
At the request of residents, the city plans to build a playground at Four Corners Park, said Council member Jim Love, whose district includes Murray Hill.
The community along Edgewood Avenue South, bracketed by railroad tracks just west of Roosevelt Boulevard and Interstate 10 to the west, is ripe for economic development, Love said.
He attributes the growth to an improving economy, the availability of starter homes, nearby shopping and the rising cost of homes and commercial leases in the Riverside and Avondale communities.
“It just makes sense to go down Edgewood Avenue,” Love said. “You can find an equal size house for less money.”
Alex Moldovan, who moved to Murray Hill from Riverside in August, can relate. He and his wife not only bought a home there, they’re investing in a business as well: Town Beer, a tap room and retail store that will sell only local craft beer and libations.
“We’re loving it,” said the 28-year-old Moldovan. “I fit in Murray Hill. It’s a younger, creative crowd.”
Built in 1921, the structure facing Mayflower Street around the corner from Moon River Pizza, has exposed brick and roof rafters that appeal to Moldovan.
“We’re all about carbon footprint and boosting the local economy,” Moldovan said about Town Beer, which he plans to open in late April.
The timing also is right for Schwartz, a chef who is bringing El Jefe, a Tex-Mex restaurant to the former Curry-Thomas Hardware store at 947 Edgewood Ave. S. He said he plans to invest roughly $750,000 in the project, which he plans to open in October.
“Right now is a great time,” said Schwartz. “We will have to put a lot of money into the building, but we think it’s money well spent.”
Schwartz became familiar with Murray Hill last year doing farm-to-table dinners at Community Loaves, an organic bakery on Edgewood Avenue.
“I really just loved the culture and community,” he said. “It’s like a small town in the city.”
The Murray Hill Preservation Association is encouraging economic growth through its Mural Project, said Tetlak, a graphic designer at the Shepherd Agency. Cobbling together money from businesses, a Kickstarter campaign and other donations, the group is working on its sixth public art installation.
Tetlak proposed the concept after learning about Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, a former warehouse district that has become the city’s arts hub.
The murals create pride, deter graffiti and attract business, Tetlak said.
They also tend to counter crime, which Love said seems to have stabilized.
Stephenie Anastassiadis, the general manager at J&W Discount Store — a business being renovated on Post Street — said she used to be afraid to walk to the parking lot by herself. That’s no longer the case.
“I’ve seen a change for the better,” Anastassiadis said. “A sense of community has come back to Murray Hill.”
Love said that Murray Hill’s residents are excited about the growth.
“It’s good to see people happy where they live,” Love said. “I’m happy to see Murray Hill moving forward.”
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