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JACKSONVILLE JAZZ FEST MISSED THE BIG PICTURE

The city literally and figuratively turned its back on more than 30 locally owned small businesses, including specialty retailers, bars, restaurants and art galleries

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When Jazz Fest was moved from Metro Park into the heart of Downtown in 2009, it represented a bold move designed to make the festival a nationally recognized event and provide a much-needed boost to a struggling core of Downtown merchants. The move exceeded all expectations, as the streets of Downtown were filled with a palpable sense of energy, the glowing scenes of a big-city atmosphere and the sounds of commerce that rang throughout area businesses.

This year, Downtown merchants were blindsided when a new regime within the city of Jacksonville’s Office of Special Events decided to uproot the wildly successful layout of Jazz Fest and position the festival’s main stage at the Shipyards. To make matters worse, the city subsequently refused to consider the suggestions and feedback of … well, apparently most everyone who owned and operated a business Downtown.

The city literally and figuratively turned its back on more than 30 locally owned small businesses, including clothing stores, specialty retailers, bars, restaurants and art galleries. These merchants, who have come to rely on the sales generated during Jazz Fest to pay rent, were instead betrayed by a shortsighted decision. When these merchants were invited to a meeting to “discuss their concerns,” those concerns were ignored, and they were told that they didn’t see the “big picture.”

Apparently, that picture included showcasing one of Jacksonville’s pre-eminent events by wedging it between a parking lot full of cars, a manufacturing plant, that crumbling symbol of the housing bubble called Berkman II, and the jail. In fact, the best seat in the house was from the jailhouse. The last time inmates were treated to a show of that magnitude was when Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin.

The results were devastating to hard-working small business owners’ bottom lines. Most Downtown businesses saw sales drop by as much as 50 percent from a typical Saturday, when there is no large event occurring Downtown. Even some of the bars along Bay Street reported lower daytime sales than in previous Jazz Fest weekends. Quite simply, the rug was pulled from underneath them.

Clustering a mix of uses within a compact, walkable setting is precisely how urban environments thrive. Every move undertaken Downtown should above all else contribute to making the area a unique, authentic and inviting walkable neighborhood instead of a mundane, vertical suburb. Vibrant urban retail areas simply do not exist without marrying connectivity, clustering, context and walkability with a diverse mixture of uses. The new Jazz Fest organizers missed the very “big picture” they were trying to force upon the brave men, women, fathers and mothers who have risked their family’s financial futures by opening businesses Downtown in the hopes of making the urban core a thriving neighborhood.

Fixing Downtown is not a difficult proposition. However, there are some within City Hall who may need to take a long, hard look at best practices in peer communities. Downtown will continue to struggle unless genuine community engagement with a broad spectrum of stakeholders is at the root of public policy decisions such as these.
Mike Field

What About The Allman Brothers?
Good write-up about the Drive-By Truckers [Music, “Keep On Keepin’ On,” Nick McGregor, June 4]. I assume McGregor was talking about today’s music climate when he wrote, “No band has elevated the once-second-class Southern rock genre to as critically and commercially respected heights as has Drive-By Truckers,” as the fact is that no Southern rock band has ever matched the critical acclaim and commercial respect given to the early-to-mid-’70s Allman Brothers Band.
Ben Gish

Absolutely Right
Absolutely loved your article about the nude beach and the dogs [Editor’s Note, “Nude Beach? Meh. Dog Beach? Yes!” Jeffrey C. Billman, June 4]! You are absolutely right. Going to sign your petition now.
Donna Milligan
Editor’s note: A friendly reminder that you can still sign my petition to turn over a stretch of Jax Beach to the dogs. Just go to this link: http://chn.ge/1lRB6dH. Or visit change.org and search for “Jacksonville Beach.” Your dog will thank you.

Never Change
I read your story and words cannot express my gratitude for giving a voice in a situation that I feel so passionate about [Fightin’ Words, “The Outcasts,” AG Gancarski, May 28]. Your position as well as other contributing writers at Folio Weekly is well-served, as you are fearless and speak out without fear of rubbing people the wrong way no matter what their stature, unlike some periodicals that sugarcoat and walk on eggshells. Folio Weekly will continue to thrive as they stand bold and say what really needs to be said. Never change. We appreciate you!
Lisa Acker

Correction
The piano concert Four Centuries of Keyboard Music was listed at the incorrect location in an item in the Arts’ Classical & Jazz listings on Page 47 of the May 21 issue of Folio Weekly.

Tags: Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Jax Jazz Fest, Jazz, jazz festival, downtown, Jacksonville, Downtown Jacksonville
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