JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Alvin Brown plans to inject $11 million this year into both downtown revitalization and job-creating economic improvements across Jacksonville.
Brown will invest $9 million for private investment and an additional $2 million for economic expansion throughout the city.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, the mayor said his goal is for downtown to be a 24/7 destination.
Business owners already downtown would like to see that, too. Ron Chamblin, who owns a bookstore on Laura Street, said although his business is successful, he understands why people don't want to start up downtown.
"No one wants to open up downtown because there is no foot traffic," Chamblin said. "There's no foot traffic because no one wants to open up downtown."
One way to increase foot traffic? Get people to move downtown, which is one of the mayor's hopes.
"I would love to see students living downtown, I would love to see a college life downtown, I want more restaurants downtown, more retail," Brown said.
Piggybacking the mayor's idea of college students living downtown, Chamblin suggests some type of rent assistance.
"Using some of that money to encourage residents to move downtown," Chamblin said. "People don't move down here because there is nothing down here much."
Brown said there is no specific project the city has the $11 million assigned to. Some hope something can be done with the abandoned buildings downtown, like the Laura Trio. Brown said he won't count it out, but there are several options.
"Some of these vacant buildings around, use that money to encourage certain office-type businesses to come downtown," Chamblin said.
Chamblin had one more idea: Help the homeless problem by constructing a day center out of one of the abandoned buildings.
"New people coming downtown, they see all the 60-70 people camping out, you might say, so the removal of that situation would be good," Chamblin said.
Gregory Vaccaro, who owns a shoe and luggage repair shop on Laura Street, said he also thinks the homeless population turns people away from the city's core, as do parking issues. Vaccaro said he has told the mayor his concerns and is glad downtown is being focused on.
"He's come in and asked, and I've told him what I think, the same as I'm telling you, and in my opinion, he listens and he's trying," Vaccaro said.
Vaccaro said as far as investing in certain types of businesses, he thinks any business, whether clothes or a chain restaurant, could help bring more people to the area.
The money is coming from a round of debt refinance at the direction of the Brown administration. The $11 million will be managed by the Downtown Investment Authority and Office of Economic Development, but is subject to City Council approval.
"I've balanced two budgets without raising taxes and tapping into the city reserves, so living within our means effectively and efficiently, but letting the private sector be the engine of our economic opportunities," Brown said.