Cathedral District-Jax, Inc. Progress Report
When the Urban Land Institute (ULI) led a powerful deep-dive into the vision for the Cathedral District neighborhood in January 2016, Dean Kate asked me to spearhead the implementation of ULI’s 34 recommendations to invigorate our neighborhood, the approximately 33 blocks surrounding our cathedral. In the spring of 2016, with incredible pro bono support from Holland & Knight LLC, we formed a state registered 501c3, Cathedral District-Jax, Inc., which will lead the effort. There are now many projects in the infant stage and I wish to share them with you. Not all of these projects will grow legs and stand up but they are all worth pursuing.
I have been working with and advising developers and planners for over 25 years, long enough to know these things take time and patience. I wish to manage expectations, but can see that in only a short time, there is a great sense of promise to energize our neighborhood and have the cathedral play a leadership role in creating a “sense of place” for the stakeholders who have been here a long time.
Not long after ULI’s 2-day charrette we hosted an ecumenical meeting at the cathedral where we learned of all the other churches needs in our district. Following this meeting I individually met for over an hour with four of the pastors from these churches. They have all signed on to an ecumenical letter in support of our activities to work toward the same ends to enliven what was once a vibrant neighborhood. This type of support will bring strong faith-based partners to the table to focus on growth and stability. We are blessed to have five Christian churches in the district, all of whom are strong in their own way and bring different talents to the table.
We were very blessed again to have received a substantial grant from the Plummer Foundation, which allowed us to pursue one of the top recommendations of the ULI Study: a Master Development Plan for the district. In December, we released a Request for Proposal to several nationally recognized urban planning firms with the hope that they would bid on this work. In January, we received three bids and awarded the contract the second week of February. These bids were from nationally recognized and award winning firms. After committee review, the contract was awarded to Torti Gallas + Partners. Torti Gallas, a firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., with office locations in Silver Springs, MD, Los Angeles, Tampa and Istanbul, formed a team to lead the master planning process which includes Genesis Partners, a Florida firm with a large Jacksonville presence. Their team demonstrates extensive experience working with urban neighborhoods and coalescing stakeholders. Their proposal calls for a 3-6 month process of data collection, stakeholder meetings, identification of several catalytic projects, market analysis and a final report with renderings. All along the way I have kept the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) and other government entities briefed on where and what we are doing.
You may remember that our immediate neighbors, Community Connections, recently announced they were closing as a temporary housing solution for homeless. This long-standing non-profit organization, immediately to our east, owns the entire city block that contains their buildings; they are hoping for a buyer. Over the past 10 years federal and state support for temporary housing for the homeless has been refocused to permanent housing. This change was brought about by evidence which demonstrated that temporary housing did nothing to stem the tide of homelessness, but immediate permanent housing makes significant gains. (Locally this was demonstrated at our ULI stakeholders meeting. Cindy Funkhouser, CEO of the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, testified to the fact that homelessness in Duval County is dropping because of new directions to solve this problem with permanent housing.)
I approached a former client who has experience with downtown residential projects to see if there was interest in acquiring the property to develop a mixed-use residential project. In early February, a Purchase & Sale agreement was presented to the Community Connections Board, which has now been accepted. A due diligence period of at least 60 days will follow before anything concrete will happen. This project is fraught with a lot of issues such as debt and deed restrictions, but because of this buyer’s experience and belief in downtown Jacksonville, he is willing to pursue the project.
In February, we also completed a survey of the downtown large employers and Springfield residences to ascertain a market for a K-8th grade charter school in the district. The survey garnered over 300 responses. This idea came from the City of Jacksonville during our ULI charrette. Education is a leader in neighborhood rebuilding and a very important connector to our Cathedral School (birth through 4 years of age). I have been working with a leading national charter school company that is experienced in working through the government approvals necessary to build a charter school in Duval County. A charter school is a free public school approved by the School Board but built and managed by an independent board. The survey is being conducted by Dr. Michael Binder, Faculty Director of the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida. I thought it was necessary to have this market study performed by neutral and experienced professionals to give the results credibility. The results of the survey should be out by end of February, so stay tuned!
Part of the initiative for urban renewal of our neighborhood is branding the Cathedral District as an identifiable area of activity. Jan Hirabayashi, President of Broadband Communications, has been working on a volunteer basis so far, to develop a branding strategy. This will include a logo representative of the district, a web site, and other specific efforts to bring light to our strengths and projects.
One of our strongest partners is Aging True, which houses over 600 seniors in the district. In their strategic planning process for 2017 they have included support for our non-profit’s efforts. Aging True is a major stakeholder not only with land and buildings, but people. They have a vision of developing some of their property for active use for their residences and we are committed to assisting them with this process.
All of this has been done with volunteer and professional pro bono talent so far. We will certainly need to strengthen this administrative effort as we go forward. Many of you who know what has been started have asked me, "What can I do to help?" The best things to do now are to talk up our efforts so far, being strong in your facts, and pray for financial support to move forward in a professional and thoughtful way. Don’t hesitate to write me for accurate information ([email protected]).
Dean Kate has repeatedly spoken of our Christian responsibility of living in community with our neighbors. What better way can we demonstrate this responsibility by leading our neighbors, collectively, to a better and more vibrant future?
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