JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has created a group that will focus on revitalizing Downtown Jacksonville and the Urban Core.
The people on the board of the taskforce include John Rood (Chairman of Vestcor Comapnies), Aundra Wallace (President of JAXUSA Partnership), Nat Ford (CEO of JTA), Lori Boyer (CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority), and Amy Mergan (CEO of FIS).
The focus of the first workshop was to bring up topics on which they can focus on and to ask the community to bring forward any problems they see that can be fixed.
While there were several mentions of development, riverfront parks, transportation, and bike/street safety, the largest topic was homelessness.
“We’ve got to address the possible decentralization of homeless assistance ecocenter within our Downtown Northbank,” Wallace said. “Homelessness is a real issue and we have to work with that ecosystem to make sure that we get as many people off the street and into shelter, and get them the help they actually need. I think when you have six to seven different centers in under, when you just look at the Northbank itself, within a two to three square mile radius - that’s a lot of homeless assistance right in one location.”
One LaVilla resident, Shelby VanDervort, says she loves Jacksonville. Late last year, she started an Instagram page that highlights areas of Downtown Jacksonville. However, she did tell the workshop that when she tells her friends that she lives in Downtown, they immediately worry for her safety.
“I have homeless that sleep on my front porch, I have needles in my parking lot, there are beautiful parks in the urban core of Downtown that I don’t feel safe walking through,” VanDervort said.
Dawn Gilman, the CEO of Changing Homelessness Inc., spoke up during the public comments section of the workshop and said that homelessness is a completely solvable problem.
“Homelessness, as we see it today, is a completely solvable problem. The only cure to homelessness is a home,” Gilman said.
Representatives and leadership from Jacksonville’s Historical Society, Scenic Jax, Real Estate companies, Jacksonville’s Urban League, and the Jesse DuPont Fund also spoke up on ways their organizations have helped in the past and what they want to focus on.
The next meeting is scheduled for March 8. During that meeting, the group will discuss more specific plans that they can bring forward to the City Council or undertake as businesses, that will help make a direct impact in two years or less.