Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BELLS SOUND DOWNTOWNIN SUPPORT OF GROWTH; Cathedral District Takes Next Step to Join Revitalization Effort

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BELLS SOUND DOWNTOWNIN SUPPORT OF GROWTH; Cathedral District Takes Next Step to Join Revitalization Effort

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Pantazi

On the eastern edge of downtown, Vernon Garrett pushed a cart and his oxygen tank down a sidewalk covered in holes. He moved here, in the Cathedral District, back in 2012, and he says he likes it.

St. John's Cathedral officials have tried for years to improve the district for residents like Garrett, and they took the next step April 21 when leaders at the cornerstone Episcopal church voted to form a for-profit corporation solely focused on development in the Cathedral District.

The home of Jacksonville's main Episcopal church since 1834 sits on Billy Goat Hill, Jacksonville's highest natural point, in an area east of downtown called the Cathedral District. That district is home to five historic churches: Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Historic Mount Zion AME Church, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church and the Episcopal cathedral.

In the 1960s, when Jacksonville began moving into suburban neighborhoods, St. John's Cathedral stayed.

"Part of the reason is they believed Jesus would want them to do that," said the Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, dean of the church since 2009. "To be in the urban core gives a chance to serve the poor."

Since arriving in Jacksonville from Wichita, Kan., Moorehead preached her vision of a downtown where neighbors could hear the cathedral bells, walk to church and walk to ministry opportunities just blocks away.

In January, the church commissioned a study from the Urban Land Institute North Florida to look at what needs to be done to grow the district's population and businesses.

The first step, the study said, was to create a community advocacy association and bring together a unified voice for the churches, nonprofits, businesses and residents.

"I've been here for 7 years, and it seemed we couldn't get the ball rolling," Moorehead said, but with a for-profit dedicated to the issue, she said redevelopment should have a better chance. "Now that we have the vision, it's just a matter of raising the funds."

With that organization, the district can court new businesses and residential developers, the study said. Right now, the district features a 51-unit townhouse project, the Parks at the Cathedral, built in a partnership between the city, St. John's Cathedral and a bank.

One of St. John's Cathedral's nonprofits also runs about 750 rent-subsidized apartments for the elderly in three buildings.

The district houses many nonprofits, including the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, but few businesses. The study said the area needs to do more to attract for-profit businesses to diversify district offerings. The nonprofits don't, however, reduce the neighborhood's tax revenue.

In the meantime, the district's vacant properties and empty parking lots could be better used by housing gathering places for food trucks, a community garden or weekly farmers markets, the report said. …

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