It’s hard to believe that the stretch of Philips Highway from I-95 to Emerson Street was once referred to as the Miracle Mile.
This was back when Interstate 95 was freshly built, as was the Philips Mall down at the Emerson St. intersection. A stretch of restaurants, shops, apartment and condo buildings, and hotels quickly sprung up in between the two developments, on what was previously undeveloped land. It was a thriving area seen as a key destination for visitors to Jacksonville.
That was in the sixties. By the 1990s, the mall was dying after a decade of trying to live on as a discount-oriented center. The stretch of land once known as the Miracle Mile had taken on a decidedly less appealing nickname among locals: Hooker Highway.
Today, while local police have largely curbed the significant prostitution issues the area once faced, the reputation lives on among long-time residents.
It certainly doesn’t help that there’s still plenty of other crime issues in the area. A man was shot at the Mount Vernon Motor Lodge this past August, and News4Jax reported at the time that 13 thefts and 23 robberies had been reported in the area in the past six months.
So what can be done to fix this once-thriving part of the city that now clearly is in desperate need of revitalization?
Completion of I-95 Construction
One thing that will definitely help will be the eventual completion of the I-95 Overland Bridge Project. Once completed, there will be a significantly easier flow of traffic from Philips Highway to San Marco and vice versa. Any future developments along the Miracle Mile corridor would have the benefit of easy access to that area and to downtown, as well as the Kings Avenue Skyway station.
Two developments, the Daily’s station at the beginning of Atlantic Blvd. and the Hilton Garden Inn, have already appeared in recent years in anticipation of these changes. When combined with future improvements in public transportation, this area could become quite attractive for developers.
Cleaning It Up
If this area wants to thrive, Mount Vernon Motor Lodge needs to go. The other run-down properties along Philips Highway must go as well.
Several of these motels are still operating, so a developer would have to be willing to try to buy them out of their business and purchase the land.
There are plenty of properties in the area that have long been abandoned, but there’s no appeal to developing there either if sketchy places like Mount Vernon are their future neighbors.
Emerson St. Development
Demetree Brothers Inc. has taken up the task of rejuvenating the Philips and Emerson intersection. Their planned Shoppes of Philips development could eventually include a hotel, a pharmacy, and two fast-food restaurants. In fact, one of those restaurants (Wendy’s) is currently under construction.
They also sold a chunk of their land to GATE Petroleum, which then constructed a large convenience store and gas station.
When you combine these two developments with a relatively new Dunkin Donuts down the street and the mainstays of McDonald’s and Taco Bell, that small stretch of Emerson St. is looking pretty strong. You know, aside from the infamous Wacko’s strip club down the street.
Jackson Square and Beyond
One project that we’ve noted before, Jackson Square at San Marco, would have had the potential to completely change the Miracle Mile if it had been realized.
The project, which would have sat right off of the I-95 exit, called for an influx of young professionals living in a transit-oriented development. It was stunted by complaints from neighbors over the street designs and traffic implications.
The project has been dead for the better part of a decade, but signage for it is still up around the property. Presumably, the property owners are just waiting for the right time and the funding to make it happen.
If realized, the final version of Jackson Square would probably need to be significantly different. The developers would have to find a way to address the legitimate concerns raised, and it won’t work unless the seedier elements of the area are eliminated first.
After all, you can’t pitch the property as a walkable area if the only things within walking distance are abandoned buildings and no-tell motels.
If Jackson Square were to be constructed, and was successful, it could easily be the final step in prompting the area’s revitalization. Development would be spurred by the potential influx of young people living in the area.
With the crime element removed (or at least significantly decreased), opening a business there would be much less of a risk for the reward of being located right off of the interstate.
It’ll be a while before any of this is able to happen, but there’s a clear path to revitalization for what was once the Miracle Mile.
What do you think this area needs to be revitalized? Do you think it even can be revitalized?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!