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Keep 'em coming back downtown

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bobliocatt    0

Keep 'em coming back

City officials explore how to keep the Downtown party going

Ann Luce

Staff Writer

JACKSONVILLE -- Now that the city of Jacksonville has seen Downtown's potential, it's planning ways to recreate the crowds.

Turning Downtown and Bay Street into an entertainment zone that attracted local residents as well as many of the 100,000 visitors who came for Super Bowl XXXIX helped introduce the city to itself as well as the world.

"Talking about exposure, it wasn't just Philadelphia and New England, but it was the people from Fernandina, the Duval beaches and even the people in San Marco that we got to come out and see what was going on," said Bob Rhodes, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority and a member of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. "We definitely introduced ourself to ourselves."

Susie Wiles, spokeswoman for Mayor John Peyton, agreed.

"The Super Bowl was so widely enjoyed by Jacksonville people," Wiles said. "If it took a Super Bowl to do it [expose locals to Downtown], then so be it."

In the end, it's area residents who could benefit from a stronger, economically viable Downtown.

"This [super Bowl] reassured me how successful Bay Street can become," said John Ream, who plans to turn his building on Bay Street, near Newnan Street, into a mixed-use project, subletting the first floor to a coffee shop or a boutique while he and his wife turn the second floor into a loft for their own use.

"You have to have the residents, though," Ream said. "Once we get residents established Downtown and the Downtown is full and they can occupy the streets, then the rest will follow."

Jessica Lee plans to open bars on the first and second floors of The Warehouse building across from the Duval County Courthouse while leasing out the top two floors as office lofts.

"We planned this before the Super Bowl," said Lee, who owns the building with her mother, Julia Suddath. "But the week went well, so we will reopen in the next month or so with our neighborhood bar, more like an upscale Cheers."

Entertainment will help draw people to Downtown, Lee said. "People will come from the beach if we have something down here for them."

Peyton would like to recreate the entertainment zone, Wiles said, and the city is looking at other Downtown festivals. "We are taking a look at the Fourth of July, but even though the event is free with no admission price, there is still a price to the taxpayer."

Downtown Vision Inc. also is looking at maybe recreating the zone on a smaller scale at least once a week, said Executive Director Terry Lorince.

"We're thinking street festivals, the Art Walk, things like that," she said. "Maybe we have a shuttle bus to bus you from one venue to another. We had the opportunity to bring 100,000 locals to the area; now it's, 'Did we provide you with enough entertainment while you were down here?' "

Lorince said housing also is key to developing a Downtown entertainment hub.

"People say we need the numbers -- 10,000 housing units -- and you can't force the market," she said. "But we also have the opportunity to offer a product that is unique to the region: the Downtown experience."

City officials say Jacksonville has only a short time to implement ideas before the Super Bowl buzz dies down and things go back to normal. However, the executive director of the JEDC, Kirk Wendland, is set to leave the commission Feb. 25 and the managing director of the DDA, Al Battle, has left the city to take a job with the city of Fort Lauderdale. JEDC Deputy Director Jeanne Miller will replace Wendland on an interim basis.

"We have a great board at DDA and JEDC," Rhodes said. "We are going to help Jeanne Miller and we are just all going to have to work a little bit harder these next months."

Although businesses along Bay Street and city officials are happy and looking to the future of Downtown, businesses off Hemming Plaza are not so pleased.

Three or four owners of restaurants on Adams and Market streets said they are not happy with the way things turned out with the Super Bowl and feel they were duped by the city into believing the big game and visitors would have a bigger economic impact on the Downtown area.

None of the business owners would talk on the record, saying they feared retribution from the City Council. But they did say foot traffic was poor and they did not recoup the money they put into their small businesses especially for the big event.

"We made a concerted effort where vendors were concerned, but before I could comment, I would want to know who and in what context are these statements being made," Wiles said.

Janice Donaldson, the regional director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida, said she feels for those businesses off the beaten track, but it is just one of the risks a business takes in an event such as the Super Bowl.

"The main risk that faces all small businesses is the risk of the uncontrollable variable," she said.

"You have to make sure you look at the worst-case scenario: 'Will this opportunity bring me too close to the edge of my limited resources?' "

Donaldson said when making general announcements the city probably thought that people would wander all around Downtown but could not predict the extent of the overflow. Knowing that, smaller businesses like the ones on Hemming Plaza should have decided for themselves if they would benefit from the entertainment zone on Bay Street.

"It can be disappointing being a business owner," Donaldson said. "But you do what you can afford and you don't overcommit yourself."

Despite these complaints, city officials said Super Bowl XXXIX was a success for the Downtown area but now it's time to get to work.

"This was real estate exposure," Rhodes said. "Now it is time to figure out how the JEDC and DDA can further the strategy plan for Downtown. We need to focus on attracting market-rate housing and the retail to complement it.

"We need to send the message that the lights are definitely on Downtown."

[email protected] | 265-2239

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I feel bad for the Hemming Plaza businesses. When this town center actually makes progress, I hope the Hemming area isn't left in the dark.

As far as retail goes, I'd like to see some large specialty retail like Barnes & Noble downtown. I mean, I like going downtown and all, but I could spend way more time there if there was a large store like that.

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scongro    0

Even in some very vibrant downtowns, there are area that are dead after the banks close. I think people need to think about that. For example, in Chicago, near the area around the Daley Center (their government center), there is not much going on in the evenings, save for the Clark/Lake transit station, since it is the closest thing Chicago has to a City Rail Hub.

Restaraunts usually can do well, if people know about them. This is not the first report of restaraunts off the path not doing well. I think some of these business owners thought that people would arrive in Jacksonville, and know exactly where to go, and that simply wasn't the case. Visitors know about Bay St. and the Landing, and that was about it.

In my opinion, to create a good entertainment district, we need to (not at first, but slowly) enhance the side streets around Bay, like Ocean, Newnan, etc. This will cause foot traffic to bleed over off of Bay St, to the side streets, and then on to streets like Forsyth and Adams (although Adams seems to have enough restaraunts either planned or opened to sustain itself. There need to be some sort of connector, and the natural connector seems to be Ocean, Main and Laura. Eventually, I'd like to see the Bay St. Town center extended to Laura. By doing this, we would have a connection to the Landing (Laura), and with Main and Ocean, we can connect Adams St. to Bay St. However, three major things need to happen.

1. The new structure on the Library site must be pedestrian friendly.

2. The Two parking garages must be demolished.

3. The Modis building needs to have retail along Bay that opens out to the sidewalk, not the building lobby.

Only time will tell...

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wolfdawg54    0

Well, I think that we need to get more people living in the downtown area from Riverside to downtown and the Southbank. That will help to encourage more businesses and places to stay open later or come to the downtown area. Maybe then, it will start a chain-reaction.

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JaxNole    0

I agree and think it is well on its way. The Riverside Ave widening is approaching completion and the extension of the Northbank Riverwalk to Riverside Park from its current terminus is not too far away. Can you imagine having drinks after a hard day's work at the Twisted Martini and shopping at a revitalized Jacksonville Landing with semi-permanent merchants then walking to Five Points to begin the night with more drinking at Fuel? I walked the Riverwalk the week preceding the Super Bowl and I felt so much pride.

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wolfdawg54    0

I agree and think it is well on its way.  The Riverside Ave widening is approaching completion and the extension of the Northbank Riverwalk to Riverside Park from its current terminus is not too far away.  Can you imagine having drinks after a hard day's work at the Twisted Martini and shopping at a revitalized Jacksonville Landing with semi-permanent merchants then walking to Five Points to begin the night with more drinking at Fuel?  I walked the Riverwalk the week preceding the Super Bowl and I felt so much pride.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

It is definitely feasible. You are right when you said that it is not far away. Maybe within five to ten years Jacksonville will have an established 24 hour downtown that we can all be proud of.

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