Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Secret Weapon to Revitalize Downtown; New Group Sees Hope in Redefining Urban Core with Historic Neighborhoods

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Secret Weapon to Revitalize Downtown; New Group Sees Hope in Redefining Urban Core with Historic Neighborhoods

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy J. Gibbons

Talk to any downtown revitalizer long enough and the issue of residents will come up, part of the chicken-and-egg problem of getting a moribund downtown back on its feet.

Without residents, there's no business ... and without businesses, residents aren't interested in moving to the area.

That's one reason downtown Jacksonville isn't thriving. With only a few thousand residents and little room for more, there's not the customer base needed to attract retail or pressure commercial tenants to move jobs to the area.

But as the city embarks on a new push to revitalize downtown, it might have one secret weapon: Depending on how "downtown" is defined, the broader urban core already has a residential component, with the historic neighborhoods of Riverside, Springfield and San Marco home to thousands of residents.

With the proper linkages to the center city, development in the historic neighborhoods might serve as launchpads for downtown revitalization, say those who study the issue, attracting residents who then attract businesses and help the entire urban core grow.

Downtown isn't just downtown, in other words, but the areas around the center city as well.

"They are our resources," said Melody Bishop, an architect and board member of the newly created Downtown Investment Authority.

Donald Harris, appointed Monday as chairman of the new board, said the historic nature of the nearby neighborhoods brings with it a certain appeal.

"We have so much history, but not everyone knows about it," he said, adding that Jacksonville could look at cities like Savannah and Charleston as examples of historic areas leading to revitalization.

In many cities, including Jacksonville, the innermost suburbs decayed in the decades after World War II as residents fled further afield. Rebuilding the housing stock in those areas often has been a spur for downtowns, creating strong neighborhoods connected to the urban core.

If the inner suburbs don't come back, they can form a moat that keeps downtown separated from the rest of the city.

"Most downtowns that are strong are characterized by strong inner-ring neighborhoods," said Don Shea, another Downtown Investment Authority board member. "We're blessed by having strong neighborhoods near our downtown."

And those neighborhoods provide a pool of housing when residential space in downtown proper is scarce. …

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