Over the past few decades, the Brooklyn neighborhood has gotten quite a makeover.
The once-modest suburb was absorbed into downtown Jacksonville and gained a row of high-rises, a set of trendy apartment buildings, and a park that was supposed to serve as a “central park” to the revamped neighborhood.
And the development projects don’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Vista Brooklyn, a 10-story, 300-unit apartment tower, is currently under construction along Riverside Avenue, as is Brooklyn Place, a commercial development featuring Panera Bread and Chipotle. Financial technology company FIS recently announced plans to build a new, 12-story headquarters building along Riverside Avenue. Marriott will start construction soon on a Residence Inn next to Unity Plaza. The Vestcor Companies is building Lofts at Brooklyn, an affordable-housing apartment community next to Brooklyn Park.
And several older commercial and industrial properties along Park Street have been purchased by a mystery development group, with plans for mixed-use development down the line.
But as the neighborhood grows and redevelops, it does so increasingly at the expense of preserving any of its history.
Most of the old houses of Brooklyn are long gone, and those that remain are starting to wither away as ongoing gentrification pushes out the neighborhood’s oldest residents.
FIS’ expansion will likely bring about the demise of the neighborhood’s historic Fire Station No. 5 building. Unless the city can find a buyer willing to relocate it to a nearby parcel of land, the 109-year-old building will be demolished next year.
And then there are the old Buffalo Soldiers’ cottages. In the late 1800s, many former black Union soldiers – often referred to as Buffalo Soldiers – lived in Brooklyn, mostly in cottages in the northwest quadrant of the neighborhood. Today, just one of those cottages remains – a small, boarded-up building at 328 Chelsea Street that’s been condemned by the city and, without someone fighting for it, could eventually be torn down unceremoniously as well.
Even more recent developments, such as the mid-‘60s-era Times-Union building, aren’t safe from the chopping block. That property is likely to be redeveloped in the near future, as the local paper has since moved elsewhere and its old parking lot interferes with the planned revitalization of McCoys Creek.
It’s part of a city-wide mentality – subverted only downtown and in designated historic neighborhoods – that calls for new, sprawling developments in place of adaptive reuse and historic preservation. But preservation projects are often tedious and expensive, and while attitudes toward the city’s existing throwaway culture are shifting rapidly among residents, many developers have yet to get on board.
Brooklyn’s growth is undeniably great for the city and the neighborhood appears to have a bright future, but that growth and future-planning doesn’t have to erase all remnants of the area’s history. Buildings like the Chelsea Street cottage or Fire Station No. 5 can be repurposed and reutilized, perhaps as a museum explaining Brooklyn’s history as a black suburb and a busy industrial and commercial corridor. There’s still a surprising amount of undeveloped land in the neighborhood that could certainly be used to house these historic structures and turn them into something unique – something that helps give the neighborhood a sense of identity beyond high-rises and wacky-colored buildings.
Brooklyn’s development boom doesn’t have to erase everything from the neighborhood’s past. But if we don’t pay attention, it will.