Whether you crave a bird’s eye view of the St. John’s River from the terrace of a high rise condo, an historic mansion with live oaks full of Spanish moss or ocean waves lapping at your door, Jacksonville, Florida can fill the bill. This is a place where you can spot fabulous condos similar to those in parc central residences ec in Singapore. There is such a diverse real estate market to be found here and the population continues to grow by leaps and bounds, seventy six people per day are discovering this hot new market. Not bad for a town known not too very long ago as a sleepy little hamlet. Sleepy that is until Central and South Florida’s more populated big cities, bursting at the seams let loose and sent new retirees and young professionals seeking the famous Florida sunshine spewing north to a city not quite ready for prime time.
Still today if asked most people would have no idea where in Florida Jacksonville is located, oh they certainly know where Tampa, Orlando and Miami are but Jacksonville has been a well kept secret waiting to be discovered for decades and discovered it has been. In the proverbial blink of an eye shrewd developers are ravaging the landscape at break neck speed, city government and members of the local chamber of commerce struggle to keep up with the growth. Just a few short years ago this beautiful river city lay quietly in slumber, now high rise condominiums dot both the North and the South banks of the St. Johns River and the newly built sports arenas and outdoor amphitheatre are evidence that Jacksonville may never sleep again.
The first sign of a rebirth was the renovation of some of Jacksonville’s oldest buildings into condominium style apartments and the formation of a new version of the “Welcome Wagon” of the fifties, they are glorified tour guides called city Ambassadors. Men and women wearing brightly colored orange shirts, khakis and donning safari hats, these city workers roam the streets at the disposal of city dwellers, downtown workers and newcomers/visitors to this fine city. They give much needed directions, walk women to their cars in the evening and are very visible during “special events”. Last year’s Super Bowl was this task force’s biggest test, one they passed with flying colors and the actual event was such a roaring success, (much to many nay sayers chagrin), that there is talk of other major sporting events in Jacksonville’s future.
Locals have mixed feelings about the whole growth idea, they know that with growth comes greed, corruption and crime but renewal has also been touted as a part of the “Big picture”. Jacksonville’s Downtown Vision Plan has sparked a renewed sense of pride in its wealth of older buildings and neighborhoods. Such is the case with the city of Springfield, an area that dates back to the 1800s, fell upon ruin in the mid 1980’s and was quickly forgotten. Today, the Ritz Theatre is alive with African American art exhibits, jazz concerts and other special events just like the old days. Beautiful old schools and warehouses are being renovated into apartments and business is returning to the area at an astounding rate. Enterprising developers are quickly realizing that Springfield is within one mile of all the action on the St. Johns River and are currently building historic looking replicas of row houses in an attempt to breathe fresh life back into Springfield’s real estate market.
Springfield is not the only neighborhood on the North Bank to benefit from the renewed interest in downtown Jacksonville; the Avondale/Riverside neighborhoods, also within one mile of downtown, once enclaves of the ultra wealthy are seeing a resurgence of renovations of their turn of the century mansions on or near the river. Chic new restaurants and high end boutiques open their doors on a daily basis. Thirtysomethings are jumping on the “flip this house” band wagon and are making small fortunes all the while enhancing the area, returning it to its former status of the “IT” place to live and shop.
San Marco, a quaint community founded by immigrants on the South Bank is much the same as it has always been. The beautiful fountain of three imposing lions made of bronze still stands guard over town square and the art deco apartment buildings and larger Italian style villas still stand as sentinels on the river. This area draws its share of the real estate focus, after all this part of Jacksonville is where the DuPonts chose to build their family estate, Epping Forest.
The beaches have always been a huge draw, not too much has changed there except that the real estate prices rise higher by the minute and the resort type communities get more elite and unattainable to common folk by the hour. Cookie cutter neighborhoods and shopping malls spring up in between and developers can’t seem to keep up with the suburban sprawl, although I don’t hear anyone crying over their bloated bank accounts.
In a way it’s a shame that Jacksonville couldn’t have remained the best kept secret in Florida but that’s just the way of the world. Progress cometh, you might as well carve out your piece of the pie and maintain forward motion. If your hearts desire is to live in the Sunshine State and you yearn for the culture of a big city with the charm of a small town, then Jacksonville is the place to be. But you’d better hurry, there is plenty to do and it continues to grow but as far as I know they’re not making anymore land
Within the first three months of 2005, Jacksonville hosted the 39th annual Super Bowl, the hit television series “Extreme Home Makeover Edition” came to town and Hollywood movie star John Travolta began filming a new gangster movie outside the historic Florida Theatre. Now that’s progress.