To many, Springfield’s collection of empty storefronts and care-worn homes looks like urban blight.
To Christina Parrish, it looks like an opportunity.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” she said.
Parrish became the new executive director of the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council on April 1. It’s the first time in many years the job has been a paid position.
One would expect Parrish, as such, to be the neighborhood’s loudest champion.
And that she is — rattling off such assets as open-invitation porch parties and an annual Eastside-Westside baseball game played in vintage uniforms.
There’s a dog park and Klutho Park. Empty storefronts, but also a corner coffee shop with a Zen garden, the Shantytown Pub and the Uptown Kitchen & Bar — the picture of modern urban revitalization.
There’s the trash left by vagrants wandering between Springfield and Downtown shelters, but also residents who pick up the trash every day on their morning walks.
The community is a bicycle ride from Downtown jobs, sports arenas and the Riverwalk. Some of its residents are hospital and city employees, artists and symphony musicians.
And, it’s Jacksonville’s oldest historic neighborhood, with grand Victorian-style homes unmatched anywhere else in the city.
Parrish is more than a fan of Springfield, though.
A closing attorney with ties to Realtors and a property investor who owns several rentals nearby, Parrish can make the business case for why her neighborhood is a good bet.
Springfield’s greatest opportunity now lies in residential development, she said. Home values in have risen dramatically in the last two years.
“The rental market in Springfield is extremely strong,” she said. “The supply is much lower than the demand.”
Investors can pick up an old duplex for $30,000 or $40,000, renovate it for $100,000 and sell it to a landlord for $190,000 to $200,000, she said. Units may then rent for $1,200 a month each. The investor makes money and the landlord has a rental with cash-flow.
The renovated rentals draw high-quality tenants, Parrish said.
“As a landlord myself, I get phone calls on a daily basis from people who are looking for a place to rent,” she said. “When I do have something, it rents very quickly.”
Parrish’s job with SPAR isn’t just a good fit. Her background is almost a complete playbook for the position.
As a child, Parrish would amuse herself by drawing pictures of historic homes.
She bought her first one in Savannah, Ga., when she was 18, a rehab that allowed her to live in a nicer neighborhood while she built equity.
She’s renovated almost 30 houses since.
Parrish fits that in around a career that has included banking, law school, a series of jobs with large firms as a real estate attorney, and finally, opening her own residential real estate practice.
While that was happening, she raised a family and pursued her passion for historic districts, serving on boards and committees. She’s lived in the highly sought historic neighborhoods of Riverside, Avondale and San Marco, but left for Springfield after attending several events and getting to know the people who would become her neighbors.
They were a diverse group in every way — income, race, gender identity — and the most inclusive community she’d ever known. They were from all over the country and even other parts of the world. And, they were devoted to the neighborhood.
Among Jacksonville’s historically designated neighborhoods, Springfield is the farthest behind on revitalization. One reason why is because the others never declined as far, Parrish said.
“Avondale has all those riverfront properties with the really big grand houses,” she said. “The folks who stayed in those homes and continued to support the neighborhood made a huge difference.”
The same strong community effort that guided other districts to recovery will lead Springfield there as well, she said.
In between work, kids and guiding community preservation, Parrish will continue to rehab homes, though she doesn’t do as much of the work herself as she used to.
She still finds time to take a sledgehammer to a wall at the end of a long day. And painting, she said, is therapeutic. It gives her time to think.
“I can paint and solve all the problems of the world while I’m doing it,” Parrish said. “In my mind, anyway.”