A Creative Pioneering the New South: Steve Williams isn’t waiting for change

Creative Steve Williams is a doer. He is one of those rare people who act on what he believes in and embraces change. He is the successful CEO of Harbinger Sign, owner of the Florida Mining Gallery, a painter and he is now digging into the real estate scene in Riverside. He purchased the Peterson’s 5 & Dime building on Park Street and Richard’s Sandwich Shoppe on Oak Street, planning to bring new life and restaurants to the area. We wanted to know what inspires him to help transform our city. Here are his answers.


jack: Why did you decide to throw down in 5 Points and purchase two buildings?

Steve Williams: I adore the buildings all throughout the downtown core. I’m fascinated by the fact that we have so many historic boroughs, each with its own distinct personality. Also the neighborhood is at a tipping point. I wish I could claim to be more strategic, but it was more intuitive. My love of its aesthetics, coupled with passion, drove the decision.

jack: How have you evolved as a successful creative in Jacksonville?

SW: Over the past 25 years, I have worked diligently, again, without much strategy, to create and survive. It’s all been trial and error, where the only constant has been change. I have worked as a full-time painter, a gallery owner, business person, and entrepreneur as well as many other side gigs. It takes a very diverse perspective and creative effort.

jack: All these years you’ve held strong in this area. Why haven’t you given up on Jacksonville?

SW: I almost moved to Atlanta several years ago, because its aesthetics quenched my thirst. But it already had all I wanted. Then, when I travelled back to Jacksonville, my creative brain awakened. As a painter, I saw a bare canvas, and that’s why I find this city so fascinating. It’s so full of untapped potential. So, guess you could say I am addicted to its limitless possibilities.

jack: How have you seen the city change since childhood?

SW: I really don’t think this city has changed very much since I was a child. There have been ebbs and flows in terms of its development. Still, the city hasn’t progressed to a huge metropolis anyone could point to on a map. The change I’ve seen is within its people, who thrive on hope, and ideas that lead to limitless possibilities.


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jack: What are your thoughts on the city council having such a hard time giving the LGBT community protection under the HRO?

SW: As a member of the LGBT community, I have witnessed mistreatment of LGBT people and have heard many stories of mistreatment. I cannot understand why our city council would not want to pass the changes immediately to protect all citizens from harm. I can’t imagine that I could possibly go to a restaurant with my children and be kicked out, or that I could be fired from a job that I was performing well at just because someone didn’t like my “lifestyle.” I am perplexed that this discussion is still going on.

jack: Any tips on how to be super Southern and cool-as-hell?

SW: I think it takes squinting one’s eyes a bit before the limitless possibilities take form. It takes shifting perspective towards love, while fighting hate, to be proud of our sleepy little home. In doing so, we transcend the typical southerner’s deeply rooted cultural shame. Our story is full of pain, and hope, and it is told through art, using vivid colors and unique patterns. Jacksonville can’t be replicated. We’re uniquely exotic, and that’s cool as hell.

Illustration by Roosevelt Watson III

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