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Did the Towncenter Ruin Downtown Jacksonville’s Chance for a Revival?

The ever thriving St. John’s Town Center… with its hustling and bustling sidewalks, hour long parking-space battles and lines at the purchase counter… Jacksonville really hit a home run with this retail mecca. Or did they? With the growing popularity and widening expansion of our Town Center, I can’t help but wonder… as this shopping center grows, will its draw only further cripple downtown’s chances of revitalization?

I have no doubt that the introduction, popularity and growth of our Town Center fosters further financial stability for our city, as well as, our very own fancy attraction for current residents and distant travelers alike, but what does this mean for the future of downtown?  I fear that as the perceived incentives grow to bring stores or restaurants to the Town Center area, fewer “name brand” businesses will see our downtown as an appealing location to set up shop.

But then, my fears turned to optimism, and actually brought me to an interesting question. What if… just what if… due to the fact that these businesses are, in fact, doing so well… could it, in turn, strengthen mainstream corporation's faith in the Jacksonville market; potentially leading them to open additional stores in other new locations throughout the city? If that were the case, then a solid argument could be made to create a new retail district, in an area where space is cheap and there's a lot of it – but where could that be..? Oh, I know!  How about our very own downtown!  An area I know we are all desperate to see come back to life.

Bear with me here…  We have several store front properties that are vacant, countless empty lots begging to be developed, corner store locations which would be perfect for any pharmacy or corner market, among a painful amount of other real estate opportunities in a reasonable square block radius.  (Do me a favor and Google Map our downtown and give it a one over, you will see SO many vacant lots and undeveloped buildings it will make your head spin… mainly West downtown).  So, if the right retail businesses could be coerced into investing a little money, (and I know our city is already offering incentives for businesses to move downtown) I think our downtown has massive potential to support this type of growth, and to create our own areas like Chicago's Michigan Ave or NYC's 5th Avenue…  With so many “conversion friendly” properties and vacant lots, to me, it's a no-brainer.  Do I even need to mention how much potential The Landing holds…?!

Now, the argument that America is a consumer driven, materialistic, buy now – pay later, “in over our heads” in spending debt – type of society is beside the point. My main focus in this is… if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!  And, as our Town Center has proven, Jacksonvillians like to shop… so lets spread the wealth, shall we?  There are plenty of business men and women who believe it or not, don't live at the beaches… therefore; they might need to head north, or west to get home. What if they need to stop and get a new suit jacket due to spilled mustard, or replenish that make-up supply? Please forgive the stereotypes, but this is simply my way of trying to get a point across that these types of retail providers would do well in our downtown, just as they have in countless other metropolitan cities.

So, this is my plea… Lets pull together and bring our downtown back to the roaring 20's – or maybe revitalize by looking ahead to the roaring 2020's! I think it can be done. I think it should be done. Let's stop talking about the new courthouse and get some outsiders to start putting their dollars into our city, dollars we might actually see a return on…  Let's not let the Town Center kill our downtown – let's let it inspire its comeback!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.