Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Downtown's Aspirations Must Be Bold

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Downtown's Aspirations Must Be Bold

Article excerpt

All Jacksonville residents should be heartened by Mayor Alvin Brown's plans to pump $9 million into revitalizing downtown, which is showing early signs of revival after struggling for years.

Downtown is often described derisively as a challenge. In fact, it represents a splendid opportunity in need only of imagination, investment and commitment.

Fortunately, the city has civic, business and elected leadership in place that is capable of imagining and implementing a course that could make Jacksonville's one of the best downtowns in the country.

Public support for investing in downtown is substantial and growing.

Brown campaigned with a promise to improve downtown and was applauded for creating a strong Downtown Investment Authority, a nine-member board charged with invigorating downtown.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Vigorous community support for downtown was also evident when the Jax2025 visioning process announced that downtown was listed as the top issue when 14,000 survey responses from throughout the region were tabulated.

Finally, while JaxChamber and Civic Council leaders have long championed downtown revitalization, it now appears the business community is ready, even committed, to invest in downtown and nearby.

Against that backdrop, other things needs to come into play as city leaders take advantage of the alignment of opportunities.

The Downtown Investment Authority must invest carefully while being mindful this city and others have demonstrated too many times that investments aimed at downtown revival don't always pay off.

At the same time, it would be a terrible mistake to move forward in only incremental steps, reacting to this good project and that good project without having bold and ambitious aspirations for what Jacksonville's downtown can be.

If city leaders look around in 10 years and everything is better but downtown is not achieving its potential or moving toward the magnificent, then that cannot be called success.

Downtown's leadership should begin by surveying the best downtowns in the country and elsewhere to identify those elements that are most prized and most viable and that might be achievable here.

What, for example, have cities on waterfronts, with under-utilized spaces and with wonderful climates accomplished with their downtowns?

BEST IDEAS

The city's leadership needs to be resourceful in soliciting the best ideas from planners and architects from here and elsewhere to identify the best concepts for what in many ways is waiting to be designed and implemented.

How, for example, to maximize the riverwalks on both the Northbank and Southbank? How best to leverage the riverfront for events and activities, or to complement nearby cultural institutions, businesses and parks?

Any review of thriving downtowns across the country finds many with assets that are present in downtown Jacksonville, are emerging or are within reach. …

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