Downtown – Finally! |
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Downtown – Finally!

By: Alex Sifakis, President

As most of you know, here at JWB we are heavily involved in the community.  We want to better the city of Jacksonville and all in it, so we volunteer some of our time to help out the community.  We do this by building houses for habitat for humanity, stacking cans in a soup kitchen, and providing presents to underprivileged kids (in some instances, the only gifts they will get for Christmas).  Those activities were all purely altruistic – the only thing JWB received from doing them was the satisfaction of helping out another human.  Occasionally, however, opportunities crop up that are both altruistic AND opportunistic – and one of those opportunities is one that I am EXTREMELY passionate about – revitalizing downtown Jacksonville.  

Overview

Revitalizing downtown has been a topic of conversation in Jacksonville for decades now, with seemingly little progress… but that is not really the case.  While there has been slow visible progress to this point, the foundation has been set for downtown Jacksonville to start improving by leaps and bounds. The current revitalization push is different than in times past – and I will explain why that is later in the article.

Cities are defined by their urban core, and Jacksonville needs a world class downtown to break out from its designation as a “second tier” or “tertiary” city.  This would have profound economic impacts on everyone in Jacksonville, and not just those who live downtown. I would like to explain why Jacksonville NOW has all the ingredients to bust out, and some exciting projects that are currently going on downtown.

Every year, the Jax Chamber takes a group of city leaders (roughly 130-140 individuals) on a Leadership Trip to another city. The trip is organized to be a case study of the successes the host city has had in areas that Jacksonville is looking to make progress – education, sports and entertainment, downtown revitalization, etc. The group meets with the city leaders of the host city, and gets to tour areas of interest in that city.  I have been on the last two Chamber Leadership Trips, to Cincinnati, O.H. and Charlotte, N.C. (which have seen tremendous growth in their downtowns over the past 10 years).  What I found interesting was that in both of these cities there was a strong government entity that oversaw downtown and was capable of making decisions for that downtown.  Jacksonville has never had that strong government entity that oversaw its downtown. Any decisions that had to be made outside the scope of normal development – such as whether to grant incentives to a developer who wanted to build downtown – had to be run through city council, which was a process that took a very long time and didn’t provide constructive feedback to the developer – it was a process that didn’t work.  However, now, with the creation of the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) in 2012, Jacksonville has been working to give itself that government entity that will provide consistency, direction, and accountability for downtown. With the help of Jacksonville’s residents and some outside consultants, the DIA has been creating a new CRA plan (which follows all the “best practices” that were learned in Cincinnati, Charlotte, etc).  Once the plan gets approved by city council (hopefully in early 2014) the DIA will have the ability to make decisions that impact downtown, without having to go through city council.  THIS is why the current revitalization push is different than in years past – the DIA gives it some teeth – and that is a GREAT thing for Jacksonville.

Some Current Projects

So the DIA is great in concept – and I have great faith that those concepts will come to fruition.  However, people want to see action – shovels in the ground and projects getting done!  Here are a few of the many exciting projects currently underway in downtown Jax:

Brooklyn Developments- 220 Riverside, Unity Plaza, Beacon Riverside, and a Fresh Market: Brooklyn is an area of downtown Jacksonville between the Urban Core and Riverside.  Largely vacant, a local developer, Hallmark Partners, has started some impressive developments over there, including 220 Riverside and Unity Plaza (a mixed use development with 16K+ ft. of retail space, 285 residential units, a 385 space parking garage, and a park with a giant central water feature (Unity Plaza).  Right next door to 220 Riverside, Freshmarket (slated to open October 2014) is going to anchor a new retail center which is being developed by Regency Centers.  Hallmark is also building Beacon Riverside, a 55 unit luxury condo development on the St John’s River.

The Landing Re-Imagining: The Landing has been a Jacksonville Landmark since the 1980’s.  However, it is in need of some serious re-imagining and re-development.  The owner of The Landing is currently in open talks with the DIA and the public to come up with plans to redevelop the site in a way that will serve Jacksonville for years to come.  Among the ideas being discussed are opening the landing to Laura St, adding a residential component, and widening the riverwalk.

World Class Jax: Leaders In Action: World Class Jax (WCJ) is an organization I started that is made up of ~130 of Jacksonville’s leaders.  We are committed to serving as a volunteer workforce for the DIA, and meet twice a month to work on projects that will have an immediate impact downtown.  Some of the projects we are currently working on are: 1.) Bringing free Wi-Fi to all of downtown, 2.) Creating win-win solutions to impact the homeless problem downtown, 3.) Bringing a non-commuter institute of higher education to downtown, and there are many more!

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, my interest in downtown is both altruistic and opportunistic- a strong downtown will bolster Jacksonville’s image, and attract the type of young, bright talent we need to continue Jacksonville’s great economic growth. This will provide more opportunities for EVERYONE in Jax (altruistic) but will also more than likely raise property value all over Jax (opportunistic)! This short article has barely scratched the surface of everything that is going on downtown.  For those of you who would like to learn more or get involved, please email me at Alex@JWBCompanies.com.

 Alex Sifakis is the President of JWB Real Estate Capital. JWB serves clients in 10 countries and 32 states who have invested in over 700 investment properties since 2006. In 2012, JWB was recognized as the #12 Fastest Growing Real Estate Company in the US by Inc. Magazine. To learn more about our team and our investments, please call (904) 677-6777.

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