Jacksonville is a city that’s always growing – but sometimes it’s easy to lose track of how far we’ve come. To help add some perspective, we’ve compiled a list of 15 things that Jacksonville didn’t have just 15 years ago – but that we do have now!
RIVERSIDE ARTS MARKET
Riverside Arts Market has so rapidly become such an integral part of the culture of the Riverside neighborhood that it’s easy to forget it started in 2008.
The weekly farmers’ market was launched by Riverside Avondale Preservation, utilizing space underneath Fuller Warren Bridge originally intended for a retention pond. The concept was developed by noted local historian Wayne Wood.
As Riverside has grown in popularity, and younger residents with healthier habits have moved into the neighborhood, the market has steadily grown in size since its launch. Upcoming enhancements to Fuller Warren Bridge will establish a walking and biking path from San Marco to RAM, ensuring years of future growth.
GROCERY STORE OPTIONS
Publix and Winn-Dixie are still the dominant grocery options in Jax – but 15 years ago, they pretty much had the market cornered.
Around that time, grocers Albertsons and Food Lion had exited the Jacksonville market. Harris Teeter was around, but never gained much traction here and would leave by 2006.
But now, there are significantly more options available. In addition to Publix and Winn-Dixie, shoppers can visit Earth Fare, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods Market, Lucky’s Market, ALDI, and a few others.
If you still choose one of the “Big Two”, there’s nothing wrong with that. But at least now we have options!
A NEW COURTHOUSE
Fifteen years ago, the city was in desperate need of a new county courthouse. The previous courthouse building had opened in the late 1950s, at a time when technological needs were much different and the county was much, much smaller. The building was also entering physical decline.
As a result, money was budgeted into the Better Jacksonville Plan for the construction of a new, much larger county courthouse. After a few redesigns, the new courthouse was constructed and opened in 2012.
It was one of the more controversial elements of the Better Jacksonville Plan, due to its high price tag ($350 million) and design that sticks out among its LaVilla neighbors. But nonetheless, it was an improvement that needed to happen and that was in high demand 15 years ago.
THE TOWN CENTER (OR ANY OUTDOOR MALLS)
It’s hard to imagine a time when St. Johns Town Center wasn’t the dominant retail and lifestyle center of Jacksonville.
But sure enough, fifteen years ago the Town Center was in the early construction stages. The first phase of the outdoor mall opened in 2005, followed by Phase II in 2007.
The area has grown extensively since opening, with attractions such as Topgolf and IKEA adding onto the outskirts of the center.
One year after the first phase of SJTC opened, River City Marketplace opened near the airport. This means Jax has gained not one, but two outdoor malls since the turn of the century.
Taking care of Jacksonville’s beautiful historic properties is unfortunately a fairly recent development.
In the past, old buildings were routinely discarded and turned into parking lots, garages, or even empty lots. But in the past fifteen years, the city and private developers have begun investing in historic properties and taking great care to properly restore them.
Perhaps the ultimate example is Cowford Chophouse, an upscale steakhouse located in the same beautifully-restored Bostwick Building that was once considered too damaged and worthy of demolition. It’s hard to see anything like that happening fifteen years ago.
COMPLETED I-295 BELTWAY
While many stretches of I-295 have been around for decades, the entire I-295 Beltway wasn’t officially completed until 2010.
Prior to that, only the western portion of the loop was considered to be part of I-295. The eastern portion, which had yet to be completed 15 years ago, was signed as State Road 9A.
Now, the beltway loops in a circle around the entire city – and soon, portions of it will gain express lanes supported by tolls.
Fifteen years ago, there were a lot fewer young people in Jacksonville.
Over the past decade or so, the city has become more and more appealing to the younger generation, and young people have started moving here at a much faster rate than ever before.
The influx of young people is a result of a few factors: relatively low cost of living, a healthy job market with plenty of opportunities for growth, and the ability to get involved in a city finally beginning to realize its full potential.
2 OF OUR 10 TALLEST BUILDINGS
Did you know that two of the tallest buildings in Jacksonville were built in the past 15 years?
The two buildings, The Strand and The Peninsula, are actually right next to each other on Riverplace Boulevard. They both opened in the late ‘00s, and are both condominium buildings.
The Peninsula ranks as the city’s fourth-tallest building, standing at 36 stories and 437 feet tall. The Strand is seventh on the list with 28 floors and a height of 328 feet.
LGBT COMMUNITY PROTECTION
After a lengthy fight, city council voted to expand the city’s human rights ordinance to include protection against workplace discrimination for LGBTQ+ residents.
The HRO expansion drew widespread support from both residents and local businesses. It marked a major step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Jacksonville, a city that toes the borderline between young progressives and “the old guard.”
It’s hard to imagine such a major step forward being allowed to happen here fifteen years ago.
A BASKETBALL TEAM
You’d probably get laughed at if you told someone in 2002 that, in 15 years, Jacksonville would have a championship-caliber basketball team.
While a few different minor-league expansion teams had tried out Jacksonville in the ‘90s, none of them stuck around. When the Jam of the American Basketball Association fizzled out in 2006, many figured that would be the last in a line of failed attempts to bring basketball to Jax.
Instead, a group led by attorney Ron Sholes managed to secure a new ABA team, the Jacksonville Giants. Helped by a stronger marketing push, as well as a lease agreement with Veterans Memorial Arena, the team became one of the league leaders in attendance.
It also helps that the team has won six championships, including one this year.
A VISION FOR THE SHIPYARDS
The Shipyards property along E. Bay St. has long been a problem area for the city.
After a failed project in the 1990s to turn the abandoned shipyard operation buildings into a music venue, a development company bought up the property in 2001 and knocked down everything to build a mixed-use development. It never ended up happening, and by the end of the decade the land was foreclosed on by the city.
But now, after years of trying to figure out what to do with the land, the city and Shad Khan’s development company are working together on plans to completely revamp the area along with Met Park.
There’s still a long road ahead for the project to be realized, but this is the most encouraging turn of events for the property in quite a while.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING DOWNTOWN
Despite the long-running problems of homelessness downtown, the area has long been devoid of any reasonable housing options for those with low incomes.
Luckily, this has started to change in recent years. Locally-based developer Vestcor has taken a specific interest in increasing the amount of affordable housing within the urban core, constructing Lofts at Monroe, Lofts at LaVilla, and Lofts at Jefferson Station within just the past few years. They also have plans to build a similar complex in Brooklyn.
We’re hoping that Vestcor will start a trend of affordable housing throughout the urban core – and the city as a whole.
THE EQUESTRIAN CENTER
While it’s a feature of the city that’s often taken for granted, the Jacksonville Equestrian Center didn’t exist just 15 years ago.
The center, which is part of the Cecil Recreation Complex, was built as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan and opened in 2004.
While its main purpose is, obviously, horse racing events, the venue has found other uses as well. Concerts, monster truck shows, and more have occupied the center at various times. It even almost became home to an arena football team, before the team folded without playing a game.
FIRST COAST FLYER
The addition of JTA’s new First Coast Flyer rapid-transit bus system has made public transit in Jax a little bit less of a headache.
The Flyer has modernized JTA’s bus services and makes it much easier for travelers to get to key locations and to find information about stops and other ride services available at transit hubs.
It’s all still far from perfect, and the fourth phase (the Southwest Corridor) is still being built out, but it’s definitely an improvement for those who utilize public transit routinely.
A NEW DOWNTOWN LIBRARY
15 years ago, the city’s main library was housed in what’s now the Jessie Ball DuPont Center.
While the building has been renovated and looks great now, it was too small to serve as the main library and also looked a bit dated. There were also technology upgrades needed that would’ve made it easier to simply start over elsewhere.
That’s why, as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, the city arranged for the construction of a brand new, 300,000 square foot location bordering Hemming Park. The new building was designed by national architect Robert A. M. Stern, and featured in an American Institute of Architects publication. It opened in 2005.