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Jacksonville readies for spotlight

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From Orlando Sentinel

JACKSONVILLE -- When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rejected the 2004 nomination of this town's classic Southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, lead singer Johnny Van Sant hit a sour note.

"Skynyrd just hasn't gotten its just due," he lamented.

The same has been said of Jacksonville itself.

Spruced up from the days when it was disparaged as the smelliest city of the South, Jacksonville is hoping to win millions of new friends and lure corporations to town when it hosts Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6.

"We've always said that if we can get people here and get their attention, they'll like what they see," Mayor John Peyton said.

Poor-mouthed for years, Jacksonville is a newly ambitious but insecure city that has managed to play both the overachiever and the underdog as it prepares to host the nation's premier sporting event.

It will be the smallest metro area -- 1.2 million people -- to stage a Super Bowl. But so far officials appear to be compensating with innovative plans.

A gussied-up Main Street Bridge will serve as the city's Super Bowl centerpiece. It will be closed to vehicles and recast as a promenade for events along the St. Johns River.

Because Jacksonville lacks enough hotel rooms, five luxury cruise ships will be docked along the river as lodging for visitors. To make up for its notoriously sparse nightlife, the town will transform vacant lots on both sides of the St. Johns into entertainment centers serviced by taxi boats.

Even with those promising plans, the mayor expressed only "cautious optimism" that Jacksonville will pull it all off for the city's long-term benefit.

"Our biggest risk is weather," said Peyton, 40. "If the sun is shining, this will be a spectacular venue."

Noxious past

For decades, Jacksonville was more of a spectacular mess. Among Florida's boom towns, it stood out as the Sun Belt city most plagued with Rust Belt blight.

Though it has nearly 70 miles of Atlantic beachfront, 72 golf courses, the nation's largest public park system, and the scenic St. Johns swirling through its downtown, Jacksonville has found it hard to shake a toxic past.

Two riverfront paper mills and a pair of chemical plants emitted a rotten-egg stench that lingered both in the city's air and image long after the industries closed.

City government also was contaminated with corruption and racism until reformers stepped up and began a healing process that has taken decades, said Jim Crooks, author of two local histories. "Longtime Jacksonville residents have an inferiority complex -- and rightly so," said Crooks, a retired University of North Florida history professor.

Jacksonville's crime rate is second only to Miami-Dade's in Florida. In addition, the city still has challenges in race relations. That problem was reflected by recent NAACP protests and federal investigations into a pair of December incidents in which two black men died in Jacksonville police custody. One was arrested for drinking a beer in public, the other for lying on a sidewalk.

Even with those matters pending, black leaders say environmental and government cleanups have cleared the air and greatly improved this city's quality of life for everyone.

"This was a pretty rough place for people of color during the '60s, and we've worked hard to improve our lot and build a new image for Jacksonville," said Alton Yates, 68, who led the first anti-segregation protests here.

Many residents now regard the cleaned-up city as a "well-kept secret," Crooks said. "And some of us would like to keep it that way."

A better plan

The arrival of its National Football League team, the Jaguars, in 1995, and the awarding of the Super Bowl were just capstones to an extreme municipal makeover rooted in Jacksonville's consolidation of the city and county governments in 1968.

More recently, in 2000, the city got a boost with passage of a referendum that boosted the sales tax by a half cent and raised $2.2 billion. The Better Jacksonville Plan has used that money for new roads, bike paths, bridges, a library, courthouse complex and an arena.

Mayor Peyton, whose father founded the local Gulf Petroleum Co. that boasts annual sales of $600 million, is among those hoping that the Super Bowl exposure will spur long-term benefits.

The Republican mayor noted that Fidelity National Financial, the nation's largest title-insurance company, relocated here from Santa Barbara, Calif., last year. It joined CSX Corp., the nation's third-largest railroad, as well as Winn-Dixie Stores, Armour Holdings Inc., and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.

Even with all of those corporate headquarters, three U.S. Navy bases, a Marine command and an NFL franchise, Jacksonville has yet to make it as a destination city, said Jim Dalton, president of a local advertising agency.

His company was paid $91,000 to assess that town's public image and raise its profile. Its branding gurus came up with the slogan, "Jacksonville: Where Florida Begins" after focus groups revealed that many people were aware of the town but few knew where it sat on the map.

"Our challenge is to make sure they know that long after this one Super Bowl game is over," Dalton said.

On the waterfront

One of Jacksonville's most visible and perplexing flaws -- its failure to fully develop the potential of its downtown riverfront -- may prove to be one of its greatest assets as a Super Bowl host city.

A closed shipyard near Alltel Stadium and the long-struggling Jacksonville Landing downtown mall will offer SuperFest entertainment, booths, displays and activities on the north side of the river. The opposite bank will be home to the NFL Experience interactive theme park.

Few other cities would have so much undeveloped prime waterfront land available, said Mike Kelly, president of the Super Bowl XXXIX host committee. "From an operational standpoint, it is good news that they haven't developed the waterfront. We wouldn't be able to make use of it without the extensive open space," Kelly said.

And the benefits of the event will extend beyond Jacksonville's expansive borders. More than 35,000 rooms up and down the Atlantic coast are still waiting for the Super Bowl contenders to be named. Fans will vie for rooms from St. Simons Island in Georgia to Daytona Beach and Orlando.

Along with the standard array of Super Bowl golf events and happy hours, they will be able to cast their lines at the Super Bass Tournament in Palatka and partake of local color at the Super Shellfish Feast and Hermit Crab Races in Fernandina Beach.

Still, those who've waited years for Jacksonville's day in the sun remain guarded in their optimism.

"We don't know what the Super Bowl will do for us and the city since this is our first time for it," said Ann Farah, owner of Ann's Sandwich Shop, a block from Alltel Stadium. "But tell everyone they are welcome here."

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That's a pretty good article. Regardless of how things turn out for the Super Bowl, the city's quality of life has been forever upgraded by all of the lasting improvements being made to host the big game, especially in downtown.

After the game we'll have a new entertainment district, an extended riverwalk, new bike racks, enhanced landscaping, new public trash cans, sidewalks, benches, repaved streets, and three newly lighted briges in downtown. All of these improvements will greatly benefit urban living in the city of Jacksonville.

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That's a pretty good article.  Regardless of how things turn out for the Super Bowl, the city's quality of life has been forever upgraded by all of the lasting improvements being made to host the big game, especially in downtown.

After the game we'll have a new entertainment district, an extended riverwalk, new bike racks, enhanced landscaping, new public trash cans, sidewalks, benches, repaved streets, and three newly lighted briges in downtown.  All of these improvements will greatly benefit urban living in the city of Jacksonville.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree. very well said. I also thought the article was well balanced.

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Nice Read I enjoyed it! The Smeliest city in the south, I remember driving through on 95 in the 80s and early 90s, papermill stench, have to hand it to Jacksonville they have really polished themselves off, I can relate coming from a town that still gets the "smelly, dirty" rap that was only relevant generations ago. :thumbsup:

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Nice Read I enjoyed it!  The Smeliest city in the south, I remember driving through on 95 in the 80s and early 90s, papermill stench, have to hand it to Jacksonville they have really polished themselves off, I can relate coming from a town that still gets the "smelly, dirty" rap that was only relevant generations ago.  :thumbsup:

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Fair warning--

There is still a paper mill on I-95 in Brunswick GA, about 40-50 miles North of Jax. If you drive down, you may still smell it.

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There's also a large chemical plant in operation in North Jacksonville (near the RR tracks just SE of the I-95/Norwood Ave interchange, near Gateway Mall). When the wind blows its putrid stench, still engulfs that area.

However, I'm sure this is a common thing in certain areas of any significantly large industrial city. As for the article, I know where the old Jefferson Smurfit mill is, off Tallyrand Ave., but does any have an idea of who the other smelly culprits were and where they were located?

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Jefferson Smurfit was the main culprit, I think. At any rate, I know there were (and still are) a few chemical processing towers visible from I-95 on the Northside. My childhood memories are that the stench would blow all over the Northside and even into downtown. I don't think many of the towers have closed, rather, they agreed to use more expensive filtration to keep out the smells.

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Never heard of the Maxwell Coffee plant, that was on the river close to downtown? From the way your putting it in your posts it shut down? I wonder how the Airport is getting ready for the big game, I don't believe most will be driving to the game down I-95 but you never know.

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Built in 1901, the large Maxwell House plant is alive, well and still going strong. As a matter of fact, I believe they even expanded it about a year or two ago. Its the last peice of what was a bustling waterfront industrial area along Bay Street, between downtown and Alltel Stadium. When the wind blows west, the smell of coffee still totally takes over downtown. However, depending on if you like coffee or not, that can be a good thing.

link to cool night waterfront pic of the Maxwell Coffee plant

http://mk29.image.pbase.com/u39/mypics/lar...G_0015Large.jpg

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