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Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 11, 200612:00 PM EST

Springfield advocates want in on Downtown growth

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission’s retail task force met Friday and heard a presentation about why Springfield should be a part of the process.

Jennifer Holbrook, a marketing consultant who is working with SRG Homes & Neighborhoods and the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council, Inc., said, “Despite the past perception, Springfield is open to progress.”

Holbrook presented the results of a demographic study that determined that 73 percent of Springfield’s residents are between the ages of 25 and 54; 53 percent have bachelor’s or advanced degrees and 93 percent are “very” or “somewhat interested” in Downtown cultural, entertainment and sports events.

She also pointed out that Shands Hospital is expanding its campus, including a new Veterans Administration facility and a hotel to provide housing for the expected influx of patients at the new proton beam therapy center and that students at Florida Community College at Jacksonville are also what she called, “an economic engine.”

SRG CEO Mack Bissette said he is selling quite a few new homes in Springfield to professionals who are being priced out of Avondale and his sales are having an impact on the historic properties in the neighborhood.

“For every new home I sell, three are renovated. I’m a multiplier,” said Bissette.

After the presentation, task force chairman Ben Carter commented, “What Springfield needs is for Downtown to be successful.”

JEDC Executive Director Ron Barton took exception to a remark that suggested Springfield is being ignored in terms of Downtown development.

“Springfield is integral to Downtown,” he said.

Also at the meeting, Hallmark Properties Principal Alex Coley presented an overview and update of progress in Brooklyn. He said half of the 150,000 square-feet of office space his firm plans to build has already been committed and construction will begin within eight months.

Carter pointed out that the development of Brooklyn will contribute to the task force’s mission for the urban core.

“The reality is if Riverside doesn’t grow toward Downtown, there is a no-man’s land,” he said.

Carter also said that while development in San Marco, Brooklyn and Springfield is important to the Downtown core, more could be done.

”It needs a lot of help,” he said. “We have to change the mindset to make people want to come Downtown. The hole in the donut is still dead.”

The retail task force will hold its last meeting Jan. 19 to finalize its recommendations to the JEDC.

“We’ve gotten more input than I thought we would,” said Carter. “I’m totally impressed with the level of commitment and the people who are involved. There is a lot of energy.”

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