NAIOP Commentary: Revitalizing Downtown: Power on and don’t let up

A healthy and vibrant Downtown is needed to attract a 21st century workforce.

By Steve Crosby, Former national NAIOP chairman

Cities and regions are defined by many things.

Some are God-given, like our beaches and waterways. Some are enhanced by generations of care and attention, like our natural and historic preserves. Others are of our own making, like our growing airport, competitive seaport, extensive highway system, responsive public utility, increasingly innovative bus system, fabulous cultural resources, world-class recreational opportunities, an NFL team to be feared, a baseball team with a catchy name, and so on.

But as anyone who has been involved in economic development, business recruiting, conventions or investment attraction in the past 10 years will tell you, cities and regions are defined by the vitality of their workforce and their downtowns.

If we want to grow into a competitive 21st century economy and attract a 21st century workforce, we have to have a healthy and vibrant Downtown.

Strong downtowns mean new companies, new jobs, new developments, new amenities, new energy and new taxable value. Leveraging the in-place infrastructure and growing this tax base helps us all.

A Downtown revitalization is possible. Tampa has done it, Orlando has done it, Fort Lauderdale has done it and even Sarasota has done it.

Jacksonville is starting to do it too — and if we want our region’s economy and quality of life to stay competitive, we can’t let up.

Jacksonville has a strong spirit and an ability to accomplish things that even larger cities have not. We have a strong sense of community and entrepreneurs who want to work and live in an urban environment.

We have a large stock of older buildings that lend themselves to adaptive re-use and the creation of fun and innovative spaces. There are more than a dozen empty buildings within just a couple of blocks of City Hall.

Private-public partnerships are how development projects get done in up-and-coming cities across America. Small local developers and entrepreneurs you’ve probably never heard of are taking the pioneering risks.

Our elected officials and local advocates are pulling on the same oar. Maybe most importantly, a legion of deeply caring folks toil tirelessly in the background connecting, collaborating, innovating, problem-solving, cheerleading and supporting this restoration of a healthy Downtown.

There are lots of reasons to believe in our Downtown renaissance. Most indicators are back to pre-recession levels according to the upcoming State of Downtown report from local nonprofit Downtown Vision Inc. Critical infrastructure and environmental improvements continue as well.

Development is on the rise thanks to crucial investment by the city’s Downtown Investment Authority. The DIA has been very successful in leveraging private investment and in positively affecting the region, but it needs continued and sufficient funding.

We have the talent to make this happen. We just need the will and the commitment.

Like my trainer says at the gym, we make progress one pushup at a time. Or in this case, one project at a time. The result will be worth it.

We need to stay the course, fund the effort appropriately and power on.

Steve Crosby is a retired CSX real estate executive and volunteer CEO of local patient capital initiative, InvestJax.