2 min read September 2022 — The pandemic was a game changer for Jacksonville as the region was able to capitalize on the variety of opportunities that were presented. According to Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision, the influx of new people and businesses that have relocated to Jacksonville has provided a lot of opportunities for growth and development to the city.
How has the city of Jacksonville navigated the challenges of the last few years?
The 2008 economic collapse was much more dire. That resulted in a financial crisis and the State of Florida was hit hard during that time. When I got to Jacksonville in 2015, the city and Downtown were still bouncing back from 2008.
This pandemic hit differently. We’ve actually benefited in Florida and in Jacksonville because of the number of people who have relocated here. And now we’re working to manage this significant growth. All of this growth is driving significant developer interest and investment in Downtown. I used to be able to keep up with all the projects in Downtown, which is only three-square miles, but now I can’t.
What are currently the most significant projects and milestones for Jacksonville?
We’re an amazing city, and for a long time we’ve flown under the radar, but now the secret is out. In Downtown, we have $1.4 billion currently under construction. That is a huge change because 10 years ago there was almost nothing under construction. And there’s also another $2.7 billion in projects in review. Even with everything that’s happened the last couple years, we’re building nearly 1,000 residential units and 540,000 square feet of office space, even when the office market is very challenging.
A lot of today’s significant projects are embracing our incredible riverfront – creating mixed use developments with riverfront dining. Investors are also taking advantage of our rich, historic building stock in the surrounding blocks. And today, the City of Jacksonville is investing more than $380 million in capital improvements to create more access to the river, enhance our parks and create walking and biking trails that are really going to enhance the quality of life for everyone in the community.
Jacksonville is in the middle of an incredibly positive transformation with no displacement of all the amazing people that have already lived here for a long time. More new people than ever before has been very positive. There’s this infusion of new excitement and new ideas. I think it’s going to benefit everyone in Jacksonville.
How are you supporting small businesses in the Downtown area?
We have a very supportive environment in Northeast Florida. While it feels like a very small community, we have over 1.7 million people now living in this metro area. That said, we always need more support for the small business side of the city. That is why our COVID dollars that came through were heavily invested in supporting that community. I think that Florida itself has an incredible proposition in terms of recruiting businesses as we have the perfect mix of regulation and also a supportive business environment.
Our Downtown Investment Authority has numerous small business incentives to recruit new business and to help existing businesses improve their space and storefronts. And recently we were able to lower seating requirements so restaurateurs can take advantage of smaller available storefronts.
How is the Downtown vision working to attract new talent to the city?
It is really about the continuous efforts of the City of Jacksonville, the agencies like JaxUSA Partnership, along with higher education institutions and the local businesses. The city also needs to make sure we are attracting the right talent, to bring the best and the brightest to our city, to provide the fuel for our continued growth.
The fact that today people can work from anywhere is an opportunity as Jacksonville offers a terrific quality of life with a great climate and lots of recreational opportunities that make it a very attractive option for people.
What does vacancy look like right now for retail, and is it improving?
Like most downtowns, we were hit very hard during COVID. Many big office tenants are still not fully back, but the reality is we have a fair amount of destination retail that isn’t dependent on foot traffic, at least not the same way a lot of other cities are.
This crisis has led to increased focus on the residential side. Our number of residents has doubled in the past decade and right now, we have a clear path to 10,000 multifamily units, which would give us 16,000 residents. That’s going to be a huge difference. It’s been exciting to have all these new residents, and with them opportunities will come as they are going to need more places to go, they need more things to do and that’s a good problem to have.
Thanks to the growth, there’s a lot of interest in Downtown and movement on spaces by retailers who are new to the market. You’re going to see a lot of announcements in the coming months.
With all these new residents how do you see the infrastructure transportation needs developing?
Public transit is a key issue for us. We just passed the gas tax that is going to help us fix our public transit system. We’re trying to be forward-thinking and consider other transportation options like trails and bike paths. We have a big bike plan that the city just finished a couple of years ago, but it hasn’t been implemented Downtown. The reality is we are trying to be open-minded and creative in terms of things we can do to improve transportation for our citizens.
What is your outlook for Jacksonville over the next three to five years?
With the extraordinary increase in public and private investment, and the influx of residents and retail, I think we are poised for another eight to ten years of growth. It is key to make sure that as a community we are focused on all those growth drivers. Led by our elected officials, and business leaders, we just have to keep pushing forward.
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