2015 was another big year for the city of Jacksonville. The steady pattern of growth continued, as new housing developments sprung up in the Baymeadows, Brooklyn, and Riverside areas. There were plenty of news stories this year, both positive and negative. Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest stories from the First Coast this year.
One of the year’s most interesting stories was the dramatic (offensive) improvement shown by the hometown Jaguars. For the first time in five years, the Jags managed to reach five wins (with one game left to play). For a brief time, the team even found itself in playoff contention in the abysmal AFC South. Many of the team’s wins came in dramatic fashion; of their five wins, three of them were by a margin of 3 points or less. This includes a game-winning field goal against the Ravens by the much-maligned Jason Myers.
The Jags still have a long way to go in their development. They allowed the second most points of any team in the league, and the running game continues to be mediocre at best despite encouraging signs from rookie back T.J. Yeldon. Nonetheless, this year certainly gave Jags fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful for next season.
Scum of the Earth
Beginning in late July, the city was captivated by the search for missing toddler Lonzie Barton. The police searched for weeks as hope continued to decline, but Lonzie remains missing, now presumed to be dead. It was a sad story that only got sadder as more details emerged. The boy supposedly went missing under the care of his mother’s boyfriend, Ruben Ebron. Ebron has remained silent and refused to help with the investigation, despite widespread speculation about his knowledge and culpability. His own mother has referred to him as a “pathological liar”, and has repeatedly condemned his actions. Lonna Barton, the boy’s mother, was shown on video shooting up drugs with Chris Barton. Chris was later proven to not be the boy’s real father. Lonna is currently pregnant with what is believed to be Ebron’s child. She also has a younger child who was also left with Ebron at the time of Lonzie’s disappearance.
Overall, as Lonzie remains missing and criminal proceedings begin, the only thing that’s clear is that this is an incredibly sad story of what can happen when an innocent child falls under the care of criminals.
Lost at Sea
The story of SS El Faro gathered attention both locally and nationally. El Faro, a cargo ship with a crew of over 30 people, departed Jacksonville on September 30, as the threat of Hurricane Joaquin loomed. The ship’s captain, Michael Davidson, insisted upon completing the ship’s path to Puerto Rico, plotting a course that would supposedly keep the ship a safe distance away from the storm. Nonetheless, crew members expressed concern and disbelief over the idea of trying to complete the trip. The ship passed inspections, but former crew members lamented after the fact that the ship was likely not in good enough condition to travel in such rough weather.
The ship set sail, bafflingly deviating from course and heading into the storm. The ship would not be heard from after October 1, and the search for the ship and its crew began almost immediately. After about half a week, a body was found. Soon after, life vests and a damaged lifeboat were discovered. After a month of continued search efforts, what is believed to have been the sunken remains of El Faro was located on October 31. The ship was searched, but its data recorder was never found. As a result, we will likely never know what happened in the ship’s final hours, or why its captain steered forth into the insurmountable storm.
Hot, Hot, Hot
2015 was a year of record-setting temperatures in Jacksonville. While the year started on a note of record lows, with temperatures in February dropping as low as 21 degrees, this would essentially mark the end of the cold weather for the remainder of the year. In early March, temperatures went as high as 85 degrees, just short of the record of 86.
The record heat became further pronounced in recent months. A heat wave in early November brought about temperatures of up to 89 degrees, breaking records for that time of year that had previously stood since 1871. The hot weather has continued into December; in fact, yesterday marked 7 days in a row of the weather either tying or setting daily heat records. It has been easily one of the hottest winters on record in Jacksonville’s lengthy history.
Rock the Vote
Jacksonville held its municipal elections in May 2015. In the mayoral race, incumbent Democrat Alvin Brown faced off against Republican challenger Lenny Curry. The election focused largely on the key issue of public safety. Under Brown, the city’s violent crime problems only became more pronounced; Brown was often criticized for not doing enough to ensure public safety. Other key issues included LGBT rights and campaign funding sources. Brown secured an endorsement from former president Bill Clinton, while Curry received endorsements from several Republican presidential candidates. The candidates were rather evenly matched, but ultimately Curry emerged victorious with only about a quarter of the city’s population voting.
On the city council side of things, Democrats gained one seat, with Republicans still retaining a 12 to 7 majority.
In perhaps the most exciting announcement of the year, IKEA disclosed plans to expand into the Jacksonville area by 2017. The future store will be located on Gate Parkway near I-295. IKEA will offer a major boost to the market; their stores bring in hordes of shoppers on a daily basis, with many traveling from other cities just to shop there. Jacksonville’s location will be the only one in northern Florida, meaning shoppers from the panhandle and nearby cities in northeastern Florida will now flock to Jacksonville rather than Orlando or Tampa for their IKEA visits. Additionally, IKEA is known for its exclusivity in choosing its locations, with their general requirement being a metropolitan population of around 2 million. While Jacksonville doesn’t quite reach that number, it comes closer each year, and clearly IKEA recognized the area’s growth and vast potential. Landing an IKEA location will only further boost the city’s reputation among other retailers that may debate entering the First Coast market.
Overall, 2015 was an interesting year for Jacksonville’s development. While there were a few notable sad stories that captivated the city, there were also plenty of things to be optimistic about going forward into 2016.
The Coastal wishes you a safe New Year’s Eve, and a happy new year! We have plenty of exciting new things planned for 2016, so stay tuned.