JEDC Retail Task Force adjourns

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Any time you’re formulating a plan – whether it’s a battle plan, an attack plan or an action plan – one of the first things you do is make a map and start drawing lines.

That’s exactly what happened at Friday’s Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Retail Task Force meeting.

Geneva Henderson, executive vice president of real estate development and brokerage management company Lat Purser and Associates, presented an overview of the current Downtown retail environment and recommendations to bring more businesses and shoppers to the city’s core.

She said Downtown needs, among other things, a grocery store in the business district for the growing residential population, a clinic for non-emergency medical care and more housing for independent seniors.

“They [seniors] have the time to support restaurants and shops,” said Henderson.

She also pointed to the large amount of space the City owns, which could be leased to retailers. She said the space represents a unique situation when it comes to making it available to potential tenants.

“If the taxpayers own it, there shouldn’t be any kind of deal we can’t make,” she said.

Task force chairman Ben Carter, Palmer Carter, vice president for leasing for Ben Carter Properties, and Henderson then began planning future sites for Downtown retail with Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision, Inc.

After a few minutes, Ben Carter commented, “This town is full of transactional planning,” referring to Jacksonville’s history of developers acting independently of each other without a comprehensive plan. He said that approach must change.

Henderson also said the current escalation of lease rates in suburban shopping centers means established businesses who can’t afford to expand to suburban properties might want to open additional locations Downtown – and bring their customers with them.

Now that all four of the task forces are completing their recommendations, Barton said the next step is to send the combined work to the JEDC’s Downtown Committee.

“The committee will roll it all up into a more accessible version that will be easy to read and understand,” he said. “We’ve never really had anything like that for Downtown, and I think we need it.”

Barton added the comprehensive plan that will come out of the task forces’ efforts will implement improvements for a variety of reasons.

“We’ve had tremendous input from industry experts in many fields and that has given us a set of definitive action steps,” he said. “We will have a coordinated plan that will tell taxpayers, property owners, lenders and retailers where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

“We will have not only an advocacy document, but the ability to capture capital for a budget for Downtown. We have to know how much it will cost before we ask for the money to make it happen.”