Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Is Downtown Revitalization Important to Jacksonville’s Future?

I recently read an article titled "Apartment-Poor NY Suburbs See ‘Brain Drain’" on It reported that, “Affluent suburbs to the north and east of New York City are experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of younger residents …” My first reaction was oh well, too bad for them, what does it matter to me. What got me thinking about Jacksonville was this quote further on in the article, “Studies of millennials—those born between 1978 and 1996—indicate they prefer lively urban environments to suburbs, rental housing and are more comfortable with racial diversity.”
The bright lights of Jacksonville
Why could this be applicable to Jacksonville? When I moved to Jacksonville in 1982, Jacksonville was experiencing a brain drain as many baby boomers were moving to major metropolitan areas like Atlanta and New York seeking a more vibrant environment. However, many moved back in the late eighties as economic development picked up and amenities previously only available in those other major metropolitan areas became available in Jacksonville. This was because of the aggressive growth policies adopted by the City administration.
Jacksonville has long been a multiple nuclei city. In addition to the Downtown, the Jacksonville Beaches have been a nucleus for many years. More recently, another nucleus has developed in the St Johns Town Center area of southeast Jacksonville. We may be seeing a nucleus developing around the River City Marketplace in north Jacksonville. And soon another nucleus for the metropolitan area could develop in St Johns County. As additional nuclei have developed, Downtown has declined further and further.

“So what,” many say, “who needs Downtown?” Maybe if we want to keep those millennials, they may want a revitalized downtown. Studies have shown that the millennials want arts and culture to be available. Most of Jacksonville’s major arts and cultural resources are located in or near Downtown. To name just a few:

·         Times-Union Performing Center
·         Florida Theater
·         Ritz Theater
·         MOCA
·         Cummer Museum
·         MOSH
·         Riverside Art Market
·         Storefront art galleries

None of the other present or potential Jacksonville nuclei come close to Downtown in their offerings of arts and cultural resources.

“Who cares about Downtown, we need to spend our scarce resources in the suburbs where voters live.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that statement. If we don’t care about a revitalized Downtown and creating an environment attractive to millennials, and Jacksonville starts experiencing another brain drain, here are a few potential consequences (amongst many that could be conceived):
  • Suburban moms and dads, maybe get ready to say goodbye to your sons and daughters as they begin moving away from Jacksonville like the baby boomers did in the past, a situation I know no parent relishes;
  • Jacksonville aspires to improve its economic base, but if we can’t keep our own millennials, let alone attract more, were does the talent come from to develop industries such as biotech or space launch; 
  • For those of you worried about tax dollars, consider this statement from the article: “Those that are losing younger residents … have begun paying a price. The areas hardest hit are already closing schools and sharply reducing their projections of school children… Volunteer fire departments may become a thing of the past, and office vacancy has reached 19% in Westchester County and 11.5% on Long Island…” That has direct impact on community services for the remaining residents and both municipal government receipts and expenses. And Downtown has historically generated more revenue than expenditures in the area, the surplus of which goes to the suburbs.

So, maybe Downtown is important even if you don’t live there or ever go there. My colleague, Ramonda Fields, recently blogged that Downtown is Developing!. I would suggest that even more effort and resources are needed to revitalize Downtown if we don’t want to go the way of the New York suburbs. A revitalized Downtown may be necessary for the City as a whole to reach its potential.

If you would like to discuss these thoughts in more detail, please contact me:

            Paul B. Hazlett
            Real Estate Investment Advisor
            Coldwell Banker Commercial - Benchmark

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