Last month, 140 Jacksonville leaders spent two days in Toronto to experience how that dynamic city has built its vibrant downtown and maybe bring home some good ideas.


It turned out that the most talked-about session was a luncheon at which several of the leaders described the bevy of projects planned or underway right now in Jacksonville. The attendees knew about the work to revitalize our downtown, but some had no idea of its scope and intensity.

They need to read J, our magazine for the rebirth of downtown.

Before I tell you what a treat you’ll have with J in your Times-Union next Sunday, let me frame it with my impressions of what we learned up north:

  • Toronto has made great progress because its leadership segments — national, provincial and city governments, business, nonprofits — work together, closely and sincerely. That’s helped the downtown blossom (and now they’re attacking poverty together).
  • Such a partnership transformed Toronto’s version of our old industrial shipyards into Harbourfront Centre, a model of revitalization offering more than 4,000 arts, cultural and recreation events every year. It has inspired similar projects in London, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities. Activate the waterfront, in our case riverfront, and private development will follow.
  • The Centre capitalized on the idea of combined uses. A parking building sits on an underground stormwater reservoir. Treated wastewater is used for fountains and other water features.
  • “People on the street” is the key to a revitalized downtown, urban planner Joe Berridge told us. “Culture, entertainment, food, walking, talking, part of the chemistry.” This came more naturally in Toronto, with its breathtaking housing and office boom.
  • “Placemaking” is the planning, creation and management of public spaces that connects an area’s identity with how people want to use and enjoy the space. That is Harbourfront, but also could be neighborhoods. Rob Spanier’s firm develops “iconic and thriving mixed-used neighborhoods where people love visiting and wish they could live that life.” College and resort towns are examples, and Spanier said, “Jacksonville is poised for that.”
  • Retail is a key to placemaking, but not T-shirt shops or the usual chain stores. “Best-in-class independents,” Spanier said. “Interactive retail, things to do not just buy. Adventure experiences. Pop-up shops. “It’s happening everywhere. Jacksonville is perfect.”
  • Food halls can make a place. If you haven’t heard of them, you will. They are markets consisting of unique little eateries and retail food stalls that draw crowds, including the much-desired millennials who made food trucks so popular.
  • Our Toronto hosts were honest in acknowledging they fell short in providing adequate infrastructure, “the stuff you can’t see,” and transit, parks, schools and affordable housing. “We should have been much more European,” Berridge said. “The Swedish way.”

Returning from Toronto, the Jacksonville leaders can look at our progress, or lack of progress in some ways, with fresh eyes.

You can, too, by contrasting the concepts above with the broad, intense work in our Downtown as reported, analyzed and critiqued in the third issue of J, which will be included in home-delivered copies of next Sunday’s newspaper and available at some Publix, Gate and Daily’s stores and at the T-U and on

A story by Marilyn Young challenges the longstanding belief that downtown development is so slow because of bureaucracy and red tape at City Hall. In fact, our processes apparently have become much more efficient than Toronto’s.

Young also writes about the determination of Steve Atkins, who suffered years of ups and downs before he put together the renovation of the iconic Laura Street Trio and Barnett Bank buildings in the heart of downtown. Work has begun!

You’ll be fascinated to read Ennis Davis’ about this city’s history, much of it as a sort of African-American cultural capital.

Jacksonville has razed most of its historic buildings, but we identify 10 that still stand, awaiting preservation or reuse by a city that cares about where it came from.

You may think that the only way to get across the river is by bridge or boat, but maybe we ought to be able to fly. Mike Clark writes about the possibility of a gondola.

What’s the most interesting company downtown, or maybe even in Jacksonville? Paula Horvath will tell you.

I’ll try to pique your interest with an exploration of museums that we have, soon will have or should have. Ever heard of a Navyseum?

And there is much more in J’s 100 pages, including our Thumbs Up/Down feature and Progress Report updating all the projects downtown.

One, of course, is The Shipyards, which remains in seemingly endless “negotiations” and “due diligence” between the city and Shad Khan’s Iguana Investments.

But in Toronto, Jaguars President Mark Lamping gave us some tantalizing hints about what might come next. He said Iguana has been talking to consultants and site planners and visiting other downtowns and has concluded, “We need to broaden our scope of what we’re looking at.”

Lamping said he wouldn’t be surprised if, even before the Shipyards, there is construction next year on the “north side of Gator Bowl Boulevard” and east of EverBank Field and Dailey’s Place.

Now, what could that be? (904) 359-4197