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The EVEN BETTER Jacksonville Plan

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By ROGER BULL

The Times-Union

It's a wish list. Ten things that we wish Jacksonville had -- stuff like more riverfront parks, or at least one really good one; or a late-night/early-morning place for dessert and coffee.

The kinds of things that would make living in Jacksonville just a little better. And we were looking for specific things: Not "more concerts" or "a better attitude about ..." And, no, we are not bashing Jacksonville. You could put together a list for any city. Here is ours for Jacksonville:

1. Real college hangouts

Let's start with college commercial strips near Jacksonville University and Edward Waters College, but particularly the University of North Florida. You know, a bunch of bookstores, pizza places, clothing stores and bars.

The few scattered restaurants up on Beach Boulevard and the Tinseltown megaplex do not count. And there should be a bunch of student-only housing, so that every college student can live within walking distance of cold smoothies, cheap beer, live music and used CDs.

That's simply part of the experience. Unfortunately, there is no town around UNF. No funky little storefronts to convert into funky little restaurants. It would have to be a strip mall there on St. Johns Bluff Road. But that'd be better than nothing.

2. Northside movies

There's been a lot of talk about a movie theater on the Northside. But it needs more than that. Make it an entire Tinseltown kind of area up there -- movie theater, restaurants, a whole entertainment district.

"We need more choices on the Northside," said Vicki Seymour, a real estate agent who has lived on the Northside all her life. "A movie theater would be nice. We need more entertainment, sports bars and something for the children.

A Dave & Buster's atmosphere like they have on the Southside. The Northside is growing, but everything we do, we have to do on the other side of town." "It'd bring a sense of pride to the area," said Reggie Fullwood, District 9 city councilman.

"It would show that these areas aren't forgotten." Actually, Fullwood said he'd really like to see that entertainment area closer in, maybe in the Brooklyn or LaVilla areas just southwest of downtown.

3. A place for art

An art district, where you can wander from gallery to gallery. "There have been numerous attempts to create an area in the city where artists can find workspace and a venue to exhibit their work," said George Kinghorn, chief curator of the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art.

"There's movement now that Downtown and Springfield are becoming the first real art district. "Studies have shown that artists are often the first to arrive to revitalize an area." So he'd like to see an area where artists live and work, a place with galleries and coffee shops and shops that sell art supplies.

4. Downtown, of course

That district Kinghorn spoke of would not be limited to art, of course. "It's not only art," he said, "but other entertainment venues need to work together to create a lively downtown. In any great city, there are pockets of convenience where you can make an evening out of it. Come to a museum, have a drink, go to dinner, listen to jazz."

Downtown needs to be a full entertainment district of its own. It needs to be the kind of place where people can wander from club to club on foot, not having to get in their cars and drive 30 minutes to check out another band.

Jacksonville, said Florida Theatre Manager Erik Hart, needs "a plethora of downtown amenities."

"There are two aspects," Hart said. "First, we need more destination attractions. More restaurants, bars, coffee shops, galleries.

"Then we need the amenities for the neighborhood that's developing here. Dry cleaners, drug store, a corner store to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. A place to get your dog groomed. All the things that are part of a neighborhood, just to make it more complete for the people who live here and the people who come in from other parts of the county.

"At least that's what I see looking out my window."

And Tim Hall, nightclub owner and music promoter, thinks what downtown really needs is a movie theater (maybe that one we wanted to go on the Northside.) And he thinks it ought to go right next to The Jacksonville Landing.

"I guarantee that all the Landing's woes would go away if they had a theater there," Hall said. "Who doesn't want to take their date and walk along the river afterward?"

5. Live music

And speaking of nightlife, how about a real listening room? Not just another bar, not a singles meat market, not a place to pose, but a place where people really come to listen.

That's what Mike Shackelford, a longtime local musician who plays and encourages others to play, would like to see.

"It only works if you tell people who come in to be quiet and listen," he said. "And if they do talk, someone will come over and ask them to be quiet and listen.

"It'd be national and local acts, but supported primarily by local acts. There are a lot of people who have been around who are still viable. And all those older cats have their own following."

"Oh," Shackelford added, "and I'd like to see the [Jacksonville Suns owners] Bragans get a Triple-A baseball franchise. It's such a great park, and they're such great people."

6. Late-night sweets

After that night in the galleries or the listening room, we need a coffee and dessert place that stays open until it's time for breakfast. And, no, Waffle House, bless its heart, doesn't count.

We need local places, conceived in and unique to Jacksonville. That's how local character is built, after all.

Actually, we need more than one. We need them scattered all around town. You shouldn't have to drive too far for local character, even if it is 3 a.m.

7. Electric trains

Light rail coming in from Clay County, St. Johns County and the Beaches will be needed soon, if not now. Yes, we know that we've got the Automated Skyway Express and no one rides it. But traffic is only going to get worse. Have you been out to Fleming Island lately? There's a whole town out there, and they all drive up U.S. 17 to Jacksonville every morning. And Blanding Boulevard is even worse.

And figure that Nocatee and other planned developments will increase the population in North St. Johns County by about 10 times or so over the next 10 years. Interstate 95, U.S. 1 and San Jose Boulevard will turn into parking lots by then.

But light rail would help. (Yes, we know it's ridiculously expensive. But we're just coming up with ideas. Somebody else has to pay for them.)

8. Variety on the dial

Do we really need so many radio stations airing religious music, oldies and country? Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but how about a little variety? Maybe Americana, Adult Album Alternative, an alternative rock station that plays deep cuts, classic country, jazz that isn't smooth, alternative urban, FM Latin, world music ... maybe a real college station?

And in addition to variety, how about something ahead of the curve?

Give Tim Hall, the owner of Jack Rabbits and a promoter of other shows, half a chance and he'll really lay into Planet Radio, which calls itself the New Rock Station.

"It's not the new rock station," he said, "it's the old rock. They think everyone wants to listen to Sevendust all day, and they don't. Everyone around the country is on the third Modest Mouse single. They're hardly on the first.

"Three years ago, when I was bringing John Mayer in through the clubs, everyone was playing him around the country. But not here."

9. Eating Chinese

There is no shortage of Chinese food in Jacksonville. It seems like every strip shopping center has one. Unfortunately, some of the best comes from takeout places, where any of 85 dishes are available. We're not talking cooked-to-order.

So we'd like a real Chinese restaurant. Where the meals are served family style at big tables with lazy susans so everyone can share. Where the dim sum cart comes by. Where you might have to ask for a fork, and you don't get a fortune cookie at the end. Where the fish is served whole, with its eyes. And the chicken might even come with its head intact. And there is not General Tso's Chicken because no one in China ever heard of that dish.

Where there are many types of noodles and many types of soup. Where they understand that Hunan is not Szechuan and that neither is Cantonese with extra pepper.

10. Down by the river

Finally, it only makes sense that the folks right here in River City should have more opportunities to see that river from someplace other than driving high above it on a bridge.

We need a centerpiece riverfront park. Sure, Metropolitan Park is a really nice place for its half-dozen concerts a year. But does anyone go down there to have a picnic and just hang out along the river? We need a park where people can do that.

There are a few scattered here and there about the city. There's a particular shortage on the Southside, where County Dock is the only access between Downtown and Julington Creek.

It's a big, wide, pretty river. It's the reason that Jacksonville is here in the first place. We should celebrate it, or at least get to it.

--------------------------------------------------

CONTACT US

What's on your list?

You've seen our thoughts about a few things Jacksonville needs. Now we're interested in yours. Share them with us, and we'll share them with our readers in a future article. Remember, we're not talking about the impossible, like installing a big Plexiglas hurricane shield over the area or how nice it'd be if there were mountains just the other side of Baldwin. And we're not talking about the vague, like wouldn't it be nice if people didn't litter as much. We're looking for specific places and things that Jacksonville needs. Send your suggestions to tom.szaroletajacksonville.com or to Wish List, The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231, and we'll publish some of the best ideas. --------------------------------------------------

roger.bulljacksonville.com, (904) 359-4296

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stor..._16924408.shtml.

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Wow, I totally agree. I'm especially fond of the movie theatre in downtown. And as for the Chinese restaurant, I think Jax is getting a PF Changs, and that's not take-out. And let's not forget the lightrail! Anyways, I would add a new/expanded Convention Center to the list. In fact, I might email my suggestion to the T-U....

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Interesting article. Here's my comments concerning his top ten choices.

1. Real College Hangouts

I think the problem is there aren't any historically large universities in town. UNF and JU were primarily developed in the automobile era, therefore, they're campuses are suburban oriented. There's not much the city can do here, imo. There is potential for a college strip along Kings, near Edward Waters, but the college is just too small to support a college strip.

2. Northside Movies

I believe a movie theater should be built downtown, at the Landing. It would lift sales at that center, become another downtown destination center, and greatly enhance nightlife and non-work day foot traffic in the downtown core. IMO, the perfect site would be The Landing's current surface parking lot or the vacant lot where the Westin Hotel was supposed to go. There is a need for a northside theater and now's the time to act, if people would like to see it downtown. Because, if one opens North of Dunn, you can forget about seeing one downtown anytime soon.

3. A place for art

As of today, the best place for an arts district is the Springfield, in the vicinity of 8th & Main Streets. Park Street, in Brooklyn may be a potential spot in the future.

4. Downtown

If we support and encourage, urban affordable housing, more restaurants, bars, coffee shops, drug stores, cleaners, etc. will naturally come. The key: more affordable market rate housing in downtown.

5. Live Music

If local residents support the Bay Street Town Center, then I think the need for live music, street performers, etc. will take care of itself.

6. Late-night sweets

There are already some scattered around town. If you would like to see some in downtown, support the Bay Street Town Center, a downtown movie cinema, etc. then these types of establishments will be sure to follow.

7. Electric trains

IMO, supporting a light-rail system in a conservative and spread out city like Jax, is a waste of time. Our energy should be spend on getting the Skyway expanded to Springfield, Five Points, & San Marco Square, getting the BRT system going, and using existing railroad tracks to run commuter lines to Orange Park, North Jax, and St. Augustine. A line, from downtown to a tourist mecca, like St. Augustine, would be pretty successful with stops near Emerson, University, Baymeadows, Avenues Mall, Batram, CR 210, etc. Likewise existing rail to Orange Park would provide direct access to Jax NAS, Ortega, Roosevelt Square, Riverside, Murry Hill, etc.

BTW, if BRT proves to be successful, then it can be converted into light or heavy rail in the future.

8. Variety on the dail

This will take care of itself as the population continues to grow and diversify.

9. Eating Chinese

I'd like to see a district of local ethnic restaurants bloom somewhere in the city. Someplace where you can get Chinese, BBQ, Italian, Soul Food, etc. As of today, Five Points probably leads the way, but I'd keep an eye on Adams Street in the future, as many of the residential developments come on line.

10. Down by the river

A nice public riverfront park would have been great, if it were located where the Landing now sits. At this point, I'd rather see public money pumped into Confederate park, with a strip of parkland following Hogan's Creek and terminating at the proposed riverfront park located on the Shipyards site. Restoring Confederate Park will also go a long way in connecting Springfield with downtown.

I also think its time to spruce up the Friendship Fountain area into a nice park on the Southbank.

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Yeah, pretty much all of our cities are doing just about the same thing in their efforts to grow and densify their downtowns. However, instead of just developing common elements, such as urban movie cinemas, all should attempt to focus on incorporating what's unique to their regions, as they build and attract new businesses.

IMO, unique things Jax should attempt to capitalize on include its history (such as jazz & blues), architecture (Prairie/Spanish styles), waterfront (cultural, entertainment & recreational opportunities), seafood (coastal location means its as fresh as it can get), & BBQ (local mustard-based low country style).

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My comments, for what they're worth.

1. Real college hangouts

Never been to Jax schools, but I assume they're like UCF, USF, FIU and FAU.

The best thing to do might be to zone some areas to help stimulate such hangouts to take place. Zone some high density areas on roads leading up to school and force them to build to street and provide ground retail. Create a student a ghetto if you will. Strip malls just don't cut it.

2. Northside movies

3. A place for art

5. Live music

6. Late-night sweets

8. Variety on the dial

4. Downtown, of course

9. Eating Chinese

All things that the free market will have to take care of. They city could certainly encourage and help faciliate such places, but in the end it'll be the people of jacksonville that have to open these stores/venues/stationes, run them and most importantly patronize them if they truly want them.

Bring more people downtown, put them in a walkable 24 hour environment and we'll see a lot of these things happen on their own.

7. Electric trains

Lakelander summed it up pretty well. Nothing wrong with planning now though. Get the BRT and right of ways taken care of now, so it's not a problem when land values are higher and congestion is worse.

10. Down by the river

Probably the best real idea. There's a Riverwalk in progess right? A nice big open space would be perfect for the dowtown area. Most importantly perhaps is to make it accessible.

My suggestions (as an outsider):

Boat tours

downtown observation deck

expanded skyway

image upgrade (most people i know troughout florida just don't think about jacksonville that much. They need to highligh what makes Jax special)

urban growth boundary ?

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10. Down by the river

Probably the best real idea.  There's a Riverwalk in progess right?  A nice big open space would be perfect for the dowtown area.  Most importantly perhaps is to make it accessible. 

My suggestions (as an outsider):

Boat tours

downtown observation deck

expanded skyway

image upgrade (most people i know troughout florida just don't think about jacksonville that much.  They need to highligh what makes Jax special)

urban growth boundary ?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You mentioned something Jax really needs to do a better job of:

That is promoting and marketing what it already has. Many of the things this editorial mentioned are already here. With both riverwalks being expanded, both sides of the river are just about competely accessible to the public in the downtown area. I don't know if the city has boat tours, but it does have river taxis and the Jacksonville Princess dinner cruise line. We could definately enhance our marketing efforts.

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My friends and i have been talking about putting in something big at the Landing for a long time. Either a movie theater or a big club would really attract a consistent crowd of people.

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You mentioned something Jax really needs to do a better job of:

That is promoting and marketing what it already has.  Many of the things this editorial mentioned are already here.  With both riverwalks being expanded, both sides of the river are just about competely accessible to the public in the downtown area.  I don't know if the city has boat tours, but it does have river taxis and the Jacksonville Princess dinner cruise line.  We could definately enhance our marketing efforts.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Some great posts on this string.

I agree wholeheartedly on Lakelander's point above. Jacksonville for the most part is an unknown entity. The expansion of promotion and marketing should be all encompassing.

There needs to be more promotion of the city regionally and even nationally. A more unified effort needs to be made to promote what is already here. Advertisements(including websites) and visitor guides need to be coordinated and utilize a common theme/design and slogan. Attractions like the Zoo and Musuems should offer packaged ticketing.

Also, the little things matter too. I have yet to see one t-shirt that says "Jacksonville", (not even at the Landing) let alone one with an icon or emblem representative of the city [Jaguar items notwithstanding]. Souvenirs such as caps, shirts, sweatshirts, magnets, promote the city and increase the revenue intake from tourism.

Extending the Riverwalk is great, and is long overdue. However, it will take more than just the sidewalk itself to make it successful. First, plant some shade trees along it! Also, the walk needs to be more than a walk, it needs to connect residences, offices, retail outlets, galleries, etc. throughout its length, not just in disconnected spots. It needs to be an alternative to driving, not just a place for rollerbladers and power-walkers.

The city could have gotten a Wet 'n Wild water park for just one million dollars in incentives a few years back. That would have been an excellent additional attraction to extend and enhance visitor stays. Too bad the city turned them down.

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I wish we had Wet 'n' Wild! All we have is Adventure Landing, and the cheesy "water-playgrounds" at Kids Kampus and Hanna Park. BTW, do you know where they were planning on building Wet 'n' Wild?

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That is definitely something that jacksonville needs to work on. Wet N' Wild would have been awesome and would have helped to entice people to visit and stay longer in Jacksonville.

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I wish we had Wet 'n' Wild!  All we have is Adventure Landing, and the cheesy "water-playgrounds" at Kids Kampus and Hanna Park.  BTW, do you know where they were planning on building Wet 'n' Wild?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I don't recall any specific location for the wet and wild being mentioned. But it would have been inside Jax proper.

Adventure Landing was instrumental in stopping the project.

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