Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Council Wants Spark to Energize Downtown; but Its President Says No Matter the Dream, Magic Comes Down to Money

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Council Wants Spark to Energize Downtown; but Its President Says No Matter the Dream, Magic Comes Down to Money

Article excerpt

Byline: TIA MITCHELL

Don Redman spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, recovering from a nasty bike accident on the Southbank Riverwalk that left the City Council member with a broken leg - and a new cause.

Redman says the warped, wood-planked path needs an overhaul to bring it up to the standard set by the pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly Northbank Riverwalk.

"I feel like if you don't have a really great downtown area, you're not going to have a city that you can show off to anybody," said Redman, whose district includes the largest chunk of downtown and parts of the Southside.

An overhaul of the Southbank Riverwalk has languished on downtown's project wish list for years, even though the City Council controls a billion-dollar budget and capital spending.

Several council members, responding to The Times-Union's recent series on the troubled state of downtown, said more needs to be done - from bringing back the Downtown Development Authority to solving the homeless problem.

For years, city incentives and resources have been directed at development in high-growth suburban areas, but council members are now sharing ideas about how best to move ahead with downtown revitalization.

Councilman Warren Jones believes that it's time for the city to redirect its focus back on downtown. For too long suburban sprawl has consumed the bulk resources, he said, draining funding and other support from the aging urban core.

"Every neighborhood is going to get old at one time," said Jones, who represents neighborhoods just west of downtown. "Even the ones that we're running to now. So the problems are going to follow you. We have got to start investing more dollars in our core city areas."

Jones blames a lack of attention from city leaders.

"It's less about money and more about the focus and the priority of working with companies that are looking to develop a project," he said.

The Downtown Development Authority should be re-established as an arm of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission to focus solely on downtown, Jones said. The authority, a powerful force in many cities with vibrant downtowns, was eliminated by Mayor John Peyton in 2006 during a cost-cutting reorganization approved by the council.

Council President Richard Clark said the focus for improving the core should not just be on luring the next Fortune 500 company.

"We're always going to be out there working as hard as we can to bring the next Fidelity, but what we can't forget about is that we need to encourage the Dalton Agencies of the world and the Perdues [Office Interiors] of the world."

Companies like those, with 50 or 60 employees apiece, don't generally require incentives to locate downtown, Clark said, but still contribute heavily to the local economy.

Councilman Kevin Hyde, one of five at-large members, wants the city to do a better job of attracting the type of small business that makes downtown a destination for visitors, such as stores and restaurants. …

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