Downtown has been on the cusp of a renaissance for decades, but revitalization plans never panned out as planned. However, with stakeholders and city leaders on the same page, Downtown Jacksonville has been steadily improving its key statistics—mainly, those who live and work in the core—for years. Even COVID-19 couldn’t slow residential growth.
There are multiple key drivers for this growth, but one thing is for certain: access to the river is finally being seen as a priority, not an afterthought.
The demolition of the Landing has opened the way for further riverfront access. And while there may be some division among Jaxsons when it comes to what should eventually fill the newly renamed Riverfront Plaza, Downtown leaders are wasting no time programming the space for the summer. Jax River Jams, a free concert series featuring local and national acts, is slated to begin in April.
“The location of this concert series is not by accident. It’s about showcasing this beautiful green space and showcasing the river,” said Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision, Inc., a nonprofit representing Downtown business owners that is organizing the series, along with many sponsors.
Gordon acknowledges the river is an asset that has not been “leveraged enough” and wants to activate the entire Downtown waterfront.
The concert series features a diverse lineup of headliners, but local bands, artisans and vendors will also be well represented at the shows. “Promoting local artists was one of the goals. Let’s try and get the best possible local bands we can get… and also pay them,” Gordon said.
Partners for the event include the DuPont Fund, the Florida Theatre, VyStar and the Cultural Council.
For many local residents, Riverfront Jams concerts will be the first large event they’ve attended since the start of the pandemic. And though the series is outside, social distancing and masks will still be important tools to make sure everyone is safe, “The concert we’re able to gate off and have very specific points of entry, so we can check for masks, which we will, and we can make sure everyone is abiding by social distancing,” said Katherine Hardwick, vice president of marketing for DVI.
In the coming year, Downtown Vision and its partners are focused on expanding offerings Downtown, like events, retail, and park amenities, all while creating a place that every Jaxson can be proud of. “We are trying to put more stuff Downtown,” said Gordon, “and a huge consideration of that is that we’re supporting local.”
Country singer Chase Rice headlines the kick-off concert on April 8 with local band Firewater Tent Revival opening. The remainder of the series features punk gods New Found Glory with opening act Universal Green on April 15; hip-hop headliners Quad City DJ’s with LPT opening on April 22, and SoCal pop stars Sugar Ray closing out the event on April 29 with Honey Hounds opening.
Entry to the Riverfront Jams series is free–– but why stop there? While in the area have dinner at a local restaurant or head to a museum or gallery. After all, for Downtown to succeed, it needs you.