Fascinated by Downtown’s “big-city” vibe since he was a kid, Mike Field has channeled his passion into award-winning urban core projects like Jax Truckies, Jaxson’s Night Market and Front Porch at Art Walk. His latest project, moderncities.com, is a resource that explores the underlying mechanics that have propelled the resurgence of the American city. While he’s not a psychic nor does he possess a crystal ball (or at least he didn’t bring one to the interview), Field shared his visions for 2017.
The challenge with building up the urban core, he says, is the same one that affects the city as a whole: It’s too spread out.
“There are isolated pockets of activities [throughout the Core], but nothing connecting them to each other.” In Riverside, for example, the King Street District has become a bustling strip of restaurants, bars and clubs but still remains disconnected to 5 Points. And then there’s Brooklyn, which isn’t linked to either of its adjacent neighborhoods: Riverside or Downtown.
The Hogans Creek Greenway project with construction underway will provide a much needed bike and pedestrian pathway from Springfield to Downtown, and only time will tell if the proposed modernization and expansion of the Skyway will come to fruition making our cultural pockets more accessible.
Building up the “peripheral areas” surrounding Downtown, Field says, will help direct traffic to Downtown — instead of the other way around — while filling the gaps between the popular but disjointed districts. He suggests developers, business owners and event organizers should focus on the off-the-beaten-path tracts of our urban core.
“Pick a four-block stretch and make it really good,” he says, suggesting the addition of new restaurants, bars and nightlife venues. “People will travel to try a new restaurant or bar, not for another retail store to buy a greeting card.”
As for his predictions as to what is on the horizon, Field says: “Follow the infrastructure.”
Brooklyn will continue to evolve with the city’s rezoning of Park Street north of the I-95 overpass. What is currently a mostly industrial area with a handful of restaurants and retail is poised to become a vibrant corridor of activity connecting 5 Points with Downtown. Artists are moving into the Mixon Town warehouse district and Peterbrooke Chocolatier has made the neighborhood its new headquarters.
The Doro District, which includes Intuition Ale Works, the sports complex and Daily’s Place amphitheater (currently under construction), will get a much-needed boost with the removal of a little-used off-ramp of the Hart Bridge. The construction project will also stimulate opportunities for additional development along the St. Johns River in this area.
“North San Marco” around Hendricks and Kings Avenues (think bb’s, Bearded Pig, Aardwolf Brewery, V Pizza) will benefit from direct highway access via the I-95 Overland Bridge replacement (expected completion summer 2017).
Field also sees opportunities for growth on Adams Street east and west of Main Street. Plans for opening a restaurant operated by FSCJ’s Culinary Arts program on Adams are already underway, as are a number of other yet-unnamed projects.
“So much [of the Urban Core] is blank canvas,” Field says. “And we have so many opportunities to make it a destination.”
The real question is how to make these new developments inclusive to the current residents living in the undeveloped areas of the urban core, while creating a vibrant city center. Field says that the mayoral administration seems focused on studying infrastructure needs of these outlying pockets and remedying them. This is a step in the right direction.
“Over the last four decades, much of the commercial fabric that defined these neighborhoods [Murray Hill, Brooklyn, Doro District, Durkeeville and Springfield in particular] has been torn apart,” Field says. “I think it’s the city’s job to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place for entrepreneurship to thrive in commercial areas that serve the residents of these unique urban neighborhoods, while also recognizing and appreciating the historical value these places have had on Jacksonville’s journey.”