For the past several years, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral and other stakeholders have been working to redevelop a single neighborhood in Downtown Jacksonville.
Known as the Cathedral District, the 36-block area of Northeast Downtown is anchored by five historic churches: The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, First Methodist, First Presbyterian, Mt. Zion AME and St. John’s. All draw congregants to the district, but few of their members live Downtown.
With the support of the churches, the city, and the private sector, our recently created nonprofit — Cathedral District-Jax, Inc. — is working diligently to make the district bloom again. It is a heavy lift but we believe it is worth the effort. Why? Because the Cathedral District is an important part of Downtown, and Downtown is crucial to our city’s future, as every mayor since Jake Godbold has confirmed.
We know that development in an urban area requires more than just free-market forces. Strategic planning, government investment and visionary private sector leadership are all essential to jump-start projects like this and keep them alive until the community can realize a return on its investment. Fortunately, the Curry administration and JAXChamber are both on board for Downtown, and their focus has helped the district get off to a great start.
Once a vibrant neighborhood of housing and retail, primarily occupied by residents who worked Downtown, the Cathedral District today contains over 600 senior apartments, 51 market-rate townhomes, a nursing home/rehab center, a grocery store, a few offices, and far too many surface parking lots. Also present are numerous ministries serving the homeless and working poor.
A key part of our redevelopment strategy involves keeping faith with those communities, guided by the practical and caring philosophy articulated in Robert D. Lupton’s books, including “Toxic Charity.” Another guiding principle of the effort is basing decisions on strategy and facts, rather than wishful thinking.
Cathedral District-Jax began by inviting nationally recognized urban planning experts to create a road map to success. With that master plan in hand, we are making progress. We are making plans for 120 apartments, plus a K-8 school and public art to brand the district.
A crucial determinant of success will be making sure that the increase in housing and amenities does not lead to gentrification — which would propel prices out of the reach of many of the 55,000-plus people who work Downtown — but result in “mixed-income residential.” Mixed-income residential reflects the Traditional Neighborhood Design concepts that governed all of urban American in the last century and has particular merit today.
Housing will be needed as other Downtown projects move forward with hotels, tourism and a new convention center, all on the Northbank.
Our thanks go to the current and past leaders in Jacksonville who understand the need for a thriving Downtown, affordable mixed-income neighborhoods (apartments and owner-occupied) and putting property back on the tax rolls for the benefit of all of our community.
By creating neighborhoods where residents of varying incomes can live, work, shop and worship together, we can make the Cathedral District a go-to neighborhood in Downtown again.
Written by Ginny Myrick. Myrick is president and CEO of the Cathedral District-Jax, Inc.