Don't blow it up, build it up - The Jacksonville Landing

Article by: Brittny Lowrey
Photos by: Jill Cruz

Blowing up The Landing is the absolute most wasteful thing to do in downtown Jax, and yet here we are. The City Council votes on Tuesday as to whether or not we are going to raze it. The Council has overwhelmingly supported this option and it is likely to pass on Tuesday with little opposition expected from their inner circle. Half a glance at any of the articles published online show massive dissent by the Jax population, but the disconnect is real between our local government and their constituents. The popular replacement plan? A park. A “green space and mixed use retail area”. Mayor Curry and the City Council decided on this quickly, about a month after an agreement was reached on buying out The Landing. I’m sure it’s been whispered in the halls of City Hall for many years that the only way to handle The Landing is to blow it up. But what in the world are we doing here? We have a branded, well known, established building that while needing a serious deep cleaning and gutting, has the bones to bring Jacksonville up to par with LA, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Nashville. A food hall is the answer to how to rebrand and reestablish The Landing.

Fireworks from The Jacksonville Landing after our Annual Boat Parade

A quick Google search shows that every major metropolitan area has an upscale, urban food hall established in or near their downtowns. These consist of food stalls from numerous businesses, farmer’s market vendors, artisans, and often gated off sit down restaurants. Imagine a redesigned landing where you could have Thai, cheesesteaks, grilled cheese, tacos, and enjoy a craft beer from a partnered brewery, or a craft cocktail from a local distillery. That exists all over the country. Chicago’s central business district boasts a 24,000 square foot food hall in a historic building with new concepts from chefs and quick service formats of local favorites. Atlanta has James Beard award winning chefs with restaurants in theirs. That’s just two examples. I’ve visited at least a dozen recreations of this idea all over the country. Why is it so popular in population dense cities with active downtowns? Because it creates jobs, creates active revenue making opportunities for the city with lease payments, creates a reason for tourists to visit, and creates business opportunities for local restaurateurs. For us, it would turn a usable, already built space into a destination venue that establishes downtown as progressive and hip. And yet, here we go with another park.

I know we can change the landscape of downtown, but I also know it’s a constant and ongoing
discussion and it takes being loud to do so. I know this because I run a business downtown.
We’ve fought with the city every step of the way on basic fundamental infrastructure. I’ve had
dozens of meetings with the police on safety issues downtown. This is getting off into a whole
different article that I will be writing soon on what it takes to operate a restaurant in downtown Jax, but for now I use it as a redacted example of what we will replicate with a park. It took years of an extremely active new staff at Hemming Park to make it into the beautiful and safe space it is today. It’s by far the most active downtown community space with events nearly every weekday and most weekends. It resulted in the homeless population shifting down the road to the park on Main Street. That’s now a completely unused space by the public because of this. So we want to add more of these green areas downtown? I don’t think that should even be an option. Let’s follow the successful models of other major cities. We’re not creating the wheel here. The model is tried and true, and it would make those signs on I95 and I10 with directions to The Landing a relevant instruction. Come down from Savannah and check out downtown Jax, you can eat from 25 different chefs in one place!

Liberty Public Market in San Diego
Left to Right: Roma Express, Parana Empanadas, Venissimo Cheese

It’s popular to bash millennial's’ financial decisions, but millennials and the generations below
spend money on food with reckless abandon. Foodies search out the new hot places, no matter
what side of town they’re on. Food tourism is a thing, it is a growing market. It’s trendy to place
food destinations in areas that were formerly less desirable. Jacksonville can’t afford to pass up
an opportunity that would create this much revenue, nor should we pass up an opportunity to
enliven an underused part of downtown. I certainly wouldn’t be spending my afternoons at
another city park downtown that will be nothing more than a new locale for the homeless
population to congregate. I get it, it’s pretty. But we all know it won’t be for long. If you put
upscale and passionate business people in place instead, you’ve got a management standard
set that won’t allow it to turn to ruin. Let’s raise the bar. Mayor Curry, do you want some ideas
for committed vendors? We know a few. Let’s do this.

We don’t have much time here before the City Council vote, so contact your representatives
today to let them know we don’t need or want a new park downtown. You’re already saying it on Facebook, so send it to the source! Below are your representatives by area:


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