Three solutions to turn around aging urban districts

Modern Cities shares a Spring 2017 presentation by Ennis Davis, AICP to the board of City Beautiful Jax, highlighting a few cost effective options for stimulating market rate economic development in historic neighborhoods.

12. Various programs coordinated for implementation in Weinland Park include an exterior home repair program and the use of federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) dollars for redevelopment. In addition, habitat for humanity infill houses have been designed to match neighborhood’s architectural character. Over $3 million in historic tax credits were utilized to renovate former Section 8 units into market-rate housing and $30 million was invested into the construction of additional Section 8 units. Furthermore, former industrial brownfield sites have been cleaned and redeveloped into additional market rate housing. This type of activity from various organizations has been supplemented by $14 million in the upgrade of the neighborhood’s public infrastructure.

13. As a result of this social collaboration effort, an inner city neighborhood that many felt was too far gone, has turned the redevelopment corner to a point where new challenges are presenting themselves. Instead of being in fear of criminals, many longtime residents are being priced out by rent hikes as the neighborhood increases in regional popularity.

14. So what does this mean for Jax and a neighborhood like Sugar Hill. With large swaths of vacant structures, gentrification is less a concern than methods to stabilize and encourage redevelopment of existing structures. Based off the Weinland Park experience and tools Jacksonville can access, some things that may be applicable locally include code enforcement repair, mothballing vacant structures, rehabilitation incentives, investing in public infrastructure, implementing neighborhood action plans and investing in job skills training for local residents.

15. Other unique Jacksonville neighborhoods where the Weinland Park approach could be applicable include the Craftsman Bungalow dominated neighborhood of Brentwood, Cedar Hills and its Ranch Style homes, New Springfield with its mix of early 20th century multi-family dwellings and the modest brick residential streets of Durkeeville.

16. The second concept worth mentioning is the idea of Market Urbanism. Market Urbanism is a theory that suggests removing or reducing public policies and restrictions that prohibit market rate uses from being economically viable within the local setting.

17. For a brief example on the impact that Market Urbanism can have on the existing landscape, let’s focus on the three block stretch of Main Street, between 6th and 9th Streets in Springfield.

18. Prior to the development of I-95, Main Street served as the city’s major north south commercial corridor. A streetcar corridor up until 1936, it developed as a walkable business district stretching from the downtown riverfront, through Springfield and into Brentwood.

19. Despite the revitalization of Springfield’s residential market over the last decade, redevelopment had largely failed to find its way to Main Street. For years, many felt the cost of restoring Main Street’s aging buildings was beyond what the market could naturally bear. However, recent events suggest out-of-date local regulations and local land use policy have prohibited market rate growth and redevelopment.

20. At 8th & Main, the epicenter of Springfield’s commercial corridor, three major changes in public policy and local land use regulations prove the benefit of market urbanism. They are the City of Jacksonville’s decision to finally send out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the long vacant 9th & Main property, allowing zoning modifications for craft breweries to open on Main Street and the Florida Legislature’s local bill J-2, which lowers the minimum size for restaurants to be licensed to serve liquor.

21. Since the RFP of 9th & Main and the successful rezonings to allow for Hyperion Brewing and Main & 6th Brewing to open in existing buildings, additional small development projects have materialized for several adjacent, long abandoned storefronts. These include a Walgreen’s Specialty Pharmacy, Pediatric Associates medical office, Social Grounds Coffeehouse and The Block Skate Supply. Combined, synergy and foot traffic will be created to attract addition storefront redevelopment. Also worth mentioning is Crispy’s Springfield Gallery. As one of the first recent projects announced, it will be an Italian-themed restaurant, bar, art gallery and dry cleaning service. It represents how small business owners have had to get creative to draw sufficient foot traffic to survive in an environment previously economically limited by local public policy.

22. What’s taking place at 8th & Main does not have to be an exception to Jacksonville’s rule. Similar aging commercial districts that could possibly be economically enhanced through the principles of Market Urbanism include Mixon Town’s Edison Avenue, Brentwood’s Pearl Street, Lackawanna’s McDuff Avenue and Arlington’s University Boulevard.