Over the past decade or two, thanks to population growth and shifting demographics, Jacksonville has seen several of its historic neighborhoods and districts experience something of a renaissance.
The once-struggling Springfield neighborhood has seen renewed interest thanks to its historic houses and local business-friendly residents. Murray Hill has become a hipster mecca adorned with boutiques and great food. LaVilla is becoming an affordable-living center. And Brooklyn has been semi-gentrified into a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle center, complete with a national grocer and a YMCA.
The activity in those areas will likely continue for the next few years, but eventually, developers will seek out the next neighborhood that can be improved by renewed attention. And when that time comes, o
The district, which encompasses 4.5 square miles around a railroad junction near the I-95/1-10 interchange, originated in the 1850s with businesses and residences popping up around the railroad tracks. It’s been home to Jacksonville Farmers Market since 1938, and it’s also home to local businesses like Eco Relics, Battalion Airsoft Arena, Peterbrooke Chocolatier, and Rethreaded that altogether generate billions of dollars for the local economy.
Like several other Jax neighborhoods, the Rail Yard District has also benefited from the rise of local breweries. Engine 15 set up shop in the area in 2014, and Tabula Rasa Brewing opened near McCoy’s Creek last year. A third brewery, Lemonstreet Brewing Company, plans to open later this year.
And within the next decade, the city and Groundwork Jacksonville plan to make the area part of the Emerald Trail, a giant mixed-use path looping around the city’s urban core. Improvements will also be made along McCoy’s Creek, which sits near the center of the district.
The district’s many vacant, historic warehouses and factories begging for a new purpose, along with the natural beauty of McCoy’s Creek, give it just as much appeal as other similar neighborhoods that have experienced a revival.
There’s still work that must be done if the Rail Yard District is to catch fire, though. Infrastructure upgrades are needed to fix the many bumpy, pothole-ridden roads in the area. And beautification and branding efforts are needed to put a brighter face on what’s become a rather blighted Beaver Street corridor.
Last year, the Rail Yard District Business Council was formed to address the area’s infrastructure issues and to work on creating a cohesive sense of identity for the district. The council just finished its first year in operation, in which it was able to speak with city leaders about the area’s problematic roads and received grants to support branding projects such as street banners.
The district may still be a few years away from being ready for a revival of interest on par with Springfield or Murray Hill. But don’t be surprised if, five or ten years from now, you start hearing people refer to the Rail Yard District as the place to be.