2010 will be remembered for me as a tipping point for downtown. Several large companies decided to move their operations to the suburbs. The rest of the Jacksonville office market finished off 2010 without too many bumps and bruises. Absorption is stabilized, and we are seeing signs especially on the south side that the Jacksonville market is picking up. Landlords are still offering very attractive terms and concessions especially downtown where some Landlords are offering free parking for two years.
Jacksonville’s Class “A” suburban market is filling up and Landlords are starting to hold firm again on their rates. With the success of St. Johns Town Center, businesses want to locate in or near Deerwood Park because of its close proximity to the beach and world class shopping and restaurants. St. Johns Town Center has become Jacksonville’s new Downtown. I am ecstatic we now have such a vibrant retail mecca. This is a positive for Jacksonville and should actually complement our downtown. I love downtown Jacksonville! I have worked downtown most of my 18 years in Jacksonville and have seen the rise and fall of vacancy several times.
As I mentioned above, several large companies have announced they are moving and will be doing so in the 1st quarter 2011. This concerns me, but then again as I mentioned, this could be a turning point for downtown to reinvent itself. Several of my colleagues and I agree that what we need downtown is a large college. Imagine how this could change the landscape if we have a large college occupying space with lots of young energetic people walking the city. These sharp minds would shop in the retail establishments and rent apartments near the college. Jacksonville has some the best health care options in the Southeast. People travel across the globe to come to Mayo Clinic. Jacksonville’s downtown is perfect for a medical college! I may be dreaming, but this seems like the optimal solution to downtown’s vacancy problem.
I also agree that a new convention center in the location where the existing courthouse sits could breathe life into downtown. We should already be working on plans to scrape the site and build a new state of the art convention center. I can see our location rivaling some of my favorite convention cities – San Diego and Toronto. They both have convention centers on or near their waterfront and have been a huge success.
We have a huge opportunity downtown with existing infrastructure in place to redevelop it for today’s needs. I encourage everyone to consider downtown as our “gem” and focus on it now. This quarter we need to elect a Mayor and City Council with a passion for downtown that will do what it takes to tip it forward. All great cities have great downtowns. So as Governor, Rick Scott says “Let’s get to work!”