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bobliocatt

improvjacksonville coming downtown

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by Kent Brockwell

Staff Writer

Off-the-cuff comedy is coming to downtown.

An improvisational comedy group, improvjacksonville is planning to open a 125-seat comedy theater near Hemming Plaza.

Gary Blevins, sales manager for improvjacksonville, said the comedy group has leased the 10,500 square-foot basement of Park Place at 140 W. Monroe St.

Blevins said he and the troupe are excited about the new West Monroe Street location.

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Here comes another night time entertainment oriented business coming to the Adams Street/Hemming Plaza area. This further proves my theory that Adams Street, and not the Bay Street Town Center, will be the true authentic hotspot for dining, nightlife, and entertainment in downtown, outside of the Landing.

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Today's Business Journal has a cover story and an editorial about the improvjacksonville group. This is certainly great news.

The Journal's Biz! column has an item about Springfield's efforts to eliminate chain-link fencing in the neighborhood. There is also an article on the new Bond issue included in the next year's city budget.

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This is good news. The new club will provide more "destination" entertainment that people can't get anywhere else but downtown. Too bad it didn't go to Bay St. lol, I think The Lakelander should write an "I told you so" letter to whoever planned the Bay St. Town Center. But nevertheless, It's good to see more nightlife. Does anyone know if this club is associated with Improv, the chain of high-profile comedy clubs? They have a club at Cityplace in West Palm, and a bunch of other locations.

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OPINION

From the July 30, 2004 print edition

EDITORIAL

The punch line is worth the joke

Downtown entertainment is no laughing matter.

ImprovJacksonville's new theater at Hemming Plaza will work well with the area's growing base of entertainment venues.

The comedy troupe plans to perform six weekly shows, with one each on Wednesday and Thursday nights and two each on Friday and Saturday nights. The group could bring 750 people a week Downtown if it fills its 125-seat theater each time.

That's far from a Jaguars crowd, but it's a nice figure for the businesses and attractions near Hemming Plaza.

ImprovJacksonville also offers an alternative to the existing entertainment Downtown, which includes nightclubs and sports. The broader the area's appeal, the more potential it offers.

This is especially important with Super Bowl XXXIX looming about half a year away.

Similarly, the wider the "Downtown" area, the better. Past efforts to make single attractions such as The Jacksonville Landing a focal point have failed to generate the desired Downtown development.

The city's current focus on its Bay Street Town Center project at the expense of others is dangerous because it could impede a more sweeping resurgence. That project is to bring needed stores, restaurants and music clubs to an important part of Downtown. But the rest of Downtown counts as well.

Bay Street is a piece in a larger Downtown puzzle that also includes The Landing, Hemming Plaza and other key areas.

The city has been slow to approve a package of low-interest loans, tax breaks and parking that Sleiman Enterprises has sought to help defray the costs of the $250 million in renovations that it plans for The Landing.

And ImprovJacksonville owners say city officials declined to offer them incentives for moving to Hemming Plaza because the city is focused on Bay Street instead. The renovation costs quoted to the group by Bay Street landlords also were too high -- in one case more than $200,000 -- more than the fledgling theater company was able to spend, said ImprovJacksonville's director, Scott Abrams.

Downtown redevelopment must be as affordable to a small business as a large one. And although we don't condone city handouts, as long as the City Council has approved them the city should help whenever it can, regardless of the area.

Downtown entertainment is serious business.

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I don't think Bay Street is going to be the hotspot they all hope for, but I do commend the property owners involved for having the foresight to try to create a plan before all of their tenants vacate for locations closer to the courthouse (and for successfully exercising their political muscle to get COJ involved.)

I agree with Lakelander on the potential of the Adams Street/Hemming Plaza area. Right now, this is the corridor poised to be the entertainment hub. I've talked with the owners of the ethnic restaurants in this area (International Cafe, Magnificat, Zodiac, De Real Ting) and they all have plans to open a few nights a week within the year. Add to that Burrito Gallery, La Cena, Mudville, London Bridge and the Landing and we've got a lot going on. But there aren't enough residents living in Downtown proper to support these guys, so we have to get the word out and bring folks in from the nearby neighborhoods.

FYI- the next episode of Downtown Now has a segment focused on this very topic. Catch it on Channel 7 (PBS) at 10 a.m. next Sunday, Aug. 12.

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I'll definately support them, if they decide to open on nights or on the weekends. I went to try out the new Pizza joint on the corner of Julia & Adams, on Saturday, but they were closed. So in the end, I ended up eating at the Landing again.

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