Downtown Vision, Inc. recently released its 2019-20 State of Downtown Report highlighting and analyzing the growth of downtown Jacksonville within the past year.
The overall highlight of the report, as with last year’s report, was the update on downtown residential occupancy. Last year, downtown Jax topped the 5,000-resident mark; this year, the number of residents living downtown surpassed 6,000, increasing 18% to 6,100 residents and creeping ever-closer to the “magic number” of 10,000 residents, often cited as the minimum population required to sustain retail developments in a downtown area.
Likewise, the number of available residential units increased this year by 20%, led by recently completed developments like The Residences at Barnett. The report also notes that 652 additional units are currently under construction, including the 308-unit Vista Brooklyn on Riverside Avenue.
It also lists over 4,000 units proposed as parts of various projects – but that tally includes over 2,300 units from large-scale projects like Lot J, the Shipyards, and The District that may still take years to deliver.
Despite the increased residential population downtown, satisfaction among those residents – and those who work downtown – dropped slightly in the past year.
83.5% of residents indicated that they like or love living downtown; that’s down from 89.9% in last year’s report. Likewise, 76% of downtown workers reported liking or loving downtown, decreasing from 82.2% last year.
While the numbers have changed, the primary complaints have not. Residents still complain about the transient population, empty storefronts, and the lack of a nearby grocery store; workers still cite feeling unsafe, the transient population, and panhandling.
It’s certainly not all bad for either group, though. Residents say the best things about living downtown are its “city-living” atmosphere, the entertainment options and events, and its walkability. The report notes that downtown Jax is rated as the city’s most walkable neighborhood by Walkscore.
Workers, meanwhile, enjoy the restaurant options, the walkability, and its proximity to where they live. According to data gathered for the report, over half of employees who work downtown live within a 10-mile radius of the city center.
Hotel occupancy was, on average, also slightly down this year after huge growth the previous year. Nonetheless, downtown Jax still welcomed more than 20 million visitors in the past year.
The report also highlights commercial growth within the downtown area. Office vacancy rates are down to 14.2%, compared to 14.8% last year, with major projects like the new JEA and FIS headquarters buildings in the pipeline. Retail highlights included upcoming additions like Anejo Cocina Mexicana, Panera Bread, The Bread & Board, and Ruby Beach Brewing.
Other highlights from the report include innovations in transportation, with a profile of the newly-completed Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center as well as JTA’s planned revamp of the Skyway system.
“Downtown is on an excellent trajectory,” Mayor Lenny Curry wrote in a letter attached to the report. “I look forward to further strengthening the heart of our vibrant city and maximizing the potential of our bold Downtown.”
It’s worth noting that the data used for the report was compiled prior to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly affected downtown spaces throughout the country including here in Jacksonville.
“Pre-pandemic, Downtown Jacksonville was growing rapidly,” said Jake Gordon, Downtown Vision CEO. “Despite the severe impact on many businesses, major construction continues and the stimulus support is helping. The public and private sector are pulling together to keep Downtown growing. And as we recover, the more successful our Downtown is, the more competitive we are as a city, the more talent and jobs we recruit, the more our city thrives, and our tax base grows to fund even more improvements all our residents deserve.”
Overall, more than $6.5 billion in downtown investments, varying from completed to proposed, are detailed in the report, up from $4.8 billion last year.
With multiple big projects set to wrap up this year, and others just getting started, it’s likely that downtown Jacksonville’s growth pattern will continue, at least in the short-term, despite the current economic and societal uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.