Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Downtown Shaking off Image as Abandoned; City's Center Adding New Places, Events

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Downtown Shaking off Image as Abandoned; City's Center Adding New Places, Events

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Kelli Bridges Palka, Times-Union staff writer

Downtown Jacksonville has changed so much recently some would say if you haven't been there lately, you haven't been there at all.

That's the message business owners and city officials hope to get to the people who live in and around the city. They hope the message is delivered by next month, when the two-month-long Festival Downtown 2003 kicks off with the opening of the new baseball stadium on April 4.

The concept is new but many of the events aren't, such as the weekly Downtown Farmers Market, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra performances and Suns baseball games.

City officials lumped the events together this year in hopes of pointing a spotlight on downtown.

"I think you're going to see such success that people are going to want to make this, in some shape or form, an annual event," said Audrey McKibbin Moran, chief of staff to Mayor John Delaney.

As with most major cities, there was a time when Jacksonville's downtown was the place for people to turn for good shops, fine food and a show or two. Then in the 1970s, suburban subdivisions and malls took center stage and as in many cities, the need to drive downtown faded.

Now more than $2 billion has been thrown into public facilities and private residences in the heart of the city at the same time that historic-looking lighting fixtures were installed, flowers planted, sidewalks fixed and roads were resurfaced. Officials hope the people will follow.

There's no shortage of things to do, especially in April and May, said Theresa O'Donnell Price, chief of the city's special events division.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival is April 10-13 at a variety of places, including The Jacksonville Landing, Metropolitan Park and The Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum. Delaney plans to announce the lineup for the festival tomorrow. …

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