City to invest $750K in downtown businesses

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For years there has been talk of plans to try to jump start downtown Jacksonville and return it to its glory days. Now a new plan is offering money to small businesses to do just that.

It's an idea to return retail and other improvements downtown to take care of the area's 39-percent vacancy rate.

The Downtown Investment Authority has approved a plan to invest $750,000 into small companies, restaurants, retail and other businesses that would get assistance to rent these properties, fix them up and bring people back to the city's core.

"Our main objective is to get back to where things were in the (1960s) and actually '70s," said Aundra Wallace, of the DIA. "We have to start somewhere, and we are starting there today."

The plan would take council approval, which could happen next month, and it could help about 16 businesses.

Freddie Ghobod is one of the owners of Casa Dora Restaurant, which has been downtown for 15 years. He said he would welcome others downtown, and he likes the idea of incentives.

"I think we have to invite more businesses in, some more residential, and give them incentives so they would come to start their businesses," Ghobod said. "It's going to be great for the businesses in Jacksonville."

Tony Allegretti, of the Chamber of Commerce, focuses on downtown business. He said this plan is a start and is something all parts of the city can benefit from.

"It's a part of our community," he said. "You have your neighborhood and you got downtown, and everybody has got those two places to call their own."

The DIA said it would not give handouts without any guarantees. It would require businesses to pay back the money if they pull out early. There are other requirements as well.

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