The heART of Downtown

I recently was invited to tour the Southlight Gallery in the historic Dyal Upchurch building, right behind JAX Chamber at the foot of the Main Street Bridge, on Bay Street. Please check out their website for visiting hours and a great slideshow. This is a fabulous asset to our Downtown and accessible Tuesday through Friday as well as most every Art Walk (note: Southlight is taking off the July Art Walk- but Art Walk itself is still ON).

The line up at Southlight is a who’s who of North Florida art. Most of whom I was familiar with but I have to say I saw some stunning work by artists that I have never heard of before my tour. Downtown is fairly well stocked with collaboratives and gallery space and Southlight definitely adds cred to our stock; a legit gallery with an excellent atmosphere.

A real eye-opener for me was the prices I saw on the work. I asked the director, Michael Dunlap, why they seemed so accessible. Michael explained to me that the Southlight Gallery does not take a commission, creating an almost wholesale price point for collectors. This feature combined with the sheer number of artists and diversity of the art makes this gallery an excellent resource for those who are shopping, actively, or just strolling the gallery scene looking for a glance at a cross section of local art. Also, check out their cool brainstorming room available to rent.

If you aren’t impressed with our local art scene, I don’t think you are getting out enough. Yesterday, after I checked out Southlight, I also had occasion to check out CoRK again. We had an informal tour of the exploding district just west of Downtown in north Riverside. If you haven’t been to CoRK yet, tune in. The inside is as colorful and perhaps more interesting than the outside (if that is possible). Some may ask, why didn’t Downtown score CoRK. It is a good question. We do have a lot of studio space and have converted a lot of spaces thanks to programs like Off the Grid. I think the success of CoRK is mostly due to excellent landlords (with a vision) in quiet place without many adjacent nieghbors. Certainly we’ve got a couple of good warehouse candidates Downtown, but not central. In fact, our Downtown is so big, some of our warehouse stock is further out from the core than CoRK.  I think it really helps to have out of the way places, especially with lots of street art and loud jams; and you can’t beat the expandable parking options. I bet ya the success of CoRK will continue and more of these type spaces will flourish thanks to the vision of the coordinators and early adopters. I’ll leave you with a few pics from CoRK.

Get out and get Arty DUVAL!


P.S.- For those of you who ventured down this far. Here is a little story about my favorite neighborhood of all time.


Yep. That was just a sleepy Thursday Downtown.

The above video is courtesy of Content Design Group. You probably know them as the official design firm of Downtown’s New Front Door.

So yesterday was just another ho hum epic day Downtown. In an unprecedented yet phenomenally successful move, the folks behind Kona Skate Park (the longest running skate park in the world! Right here in Jacksonville) threw a massive skate party in our beautiful Hemming Plaza to benefit their forthcoming Kona School. Please take a minute to click and read about Kona School. 

Not since President Nixon’s 1960 address at Hemming Plaza have so many people gathered on a balmy summer afternoon. Unless you count Jazz Fest  last month. I digress. Words can’t describe the scene Downtown yesterday. So many skaters rolled in from all directions Downtown it gave the impression that our sidewalks were very fast conveyor belts.

Apart from the exceptional turn out on a school night I was excited to see such a diverse crowd, great laid back behavior, and that coveted demographic: beach people. Moms and kids poured out of the Skyway and fans got to see real pro skaters a good deal of folks got into the mix. If you couldn’t make it due to lameness, I leave you with some snaps I took of the event. Not including the one’s the Times Union took of me approaching the event! 

Make Every Weekend Your BWE!

This probably won’t come as a shock to many, but I am an advocate for Downtown Jacksonville. Sure, it is in my title, Director of Downtown Engagement and I’ve been known to get excited about things happening on the river and the Skyway and what not. Sometimes my advocacy is part of my job and sometimes its just because I can’t help but being proud of all the amazing things happening around here. I live and breath Downtown Jax.

So a couple months ago while I was stretching out for a walk on the Riverwalk, and listening to some Trombone Shorty, I thought, man, we are about to have the BIGGEST WEEKEND EVER with the US Soccer Mens National Team set to play Scotland before the largets crowd to ever see them in the south, and our epic Jacksonville Jazz Fest (among other events).

My thought was, at the time, that we need to capture the energy of that weekend because it will really be a great (albeit hyperbolic) way to expose how awesome our quality of life is here on the first coast. At the time this idea came to me while I was working for Keymer and when the filming of the BWE happened I had already started at the JAX Chamber. So anyhow, I pitched Visit Jacksonville who liked the idea and had a bit of a budget, so I introduced them to DVA and work began immediately. Obviously hundreds of thousands of jazz fans and literally thousands of kilts made for a heck of a short film. We decided to follow “visitors” and well, you can watch it above. I think it is a great example of how fun it can be Downtown, and even if it is not like Memorial Day Weekend, every weekend, it is still pretty darn awesome.

Here are some quotes that make me feel good from Visit Jacksonville’s facebook:

“This is great. I’ll share it with my clients outside of Jacksonville. Very nicely done by the way.”

“Nicely done! Great job capitalizing on a spectacular weekend. Congrats”

“We Love it!! They “didn’t get away from anything, they got away to EVERYTHING!”

“Fabulously done!”

YEAH! – Tony 

Go Skate Hemming!

The proliferation of public events held on private and public property Downtown is certain to be one of the biggest stories in 2012.

Saturday’s food truck rally and upcoming events brighten the corners of Downtown and crush the myth of the urban core’s nothing-to-do-ness.

Each great event will go down in lore but if you don’t come out and enjoy them you will have to settle for facebook, blog and twitter updates, which are really no fun at all when you can be there!

Next Thursday will be the Grandaddy of them all in terms of Action Sports. Kona Skate Park & PB&J are converting our beautiful and historic Hemming Plaza into a skate park for international Go Skateboarding Day!

The eyes of the skate world will be watching Jacksonville and I for one think the slam dunk success of this event will spur more action events Downtown and build on the growing reputation of Downtown as the greatest place to bring people together. And a large tip of the hat towards Mayor Brown and his Office of Special Events to see the value in such a great event.

Alas, you must be present to win! Make it Downtown for this FREE after work event next Thursday the 21st. I promise you’ll be completely impressed!


Things are happening!

Rain couldn’t keep hundreds of foodies from swarming Downtown for a first ever food truck rally in the Burrito Gallery parking lot (it is only the Burrito Gallery parking lot on nights and weekends! Be careful at lunch during the week, they tow!)

Despite rain and threatening weather many trucks sold out early and by all estimations this was a huge success for the Jax Truckies group and for Second Harvest Food Bank which benefited from the highly accessible $1 entry fee. 100% of the fee went to Second Harvest!

I think we will see a great deal more public events on private and city space. In fact, stay tuned to this blog for more information on an event that will bring the eyes of the world Downtown next week!

Before I let you back to your internet, I thought I’d share some stories from this week that involve other positive news, from your Chamber, in our region.

Check these out:

Economic Development

Duval County’s unemployment rate continues to drop, falling to a seasonally adjusted 8.57 percent in April from 8.97 percent in March and 10.51 percent in April 2011. JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot said the recession has been over for a year or more. “The level of confidence in our economy has not been this strong since about 2005 or 2006,” Mallot said, referring to the peak years for area economic indicators.

Full Story 

JAXUSA Partnership, a division of the JAX Chamber, welcomed American business magnate Robert L. Johnson as its featured guest speaker to the JAXUSA quarterly luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront.  Johnson is best known as the founder and former chairman of Black Entertainment Television (BET).

Full Story 

Opportunities for minority business owners and entrepreneurs are critical for global competitiveness, businessman Robert L. Johnson said Thursday at the JAXUSA Partnership quarterly program.

Full Story 

The Port of Jacksonville

Faced with a congressional freeze on earmarks, two U.S. representatives from Jacksonville found a novel path to House approval for a $35 million project at Jacksonville’s port.

Full Story 

Entrepreneurial Growth 

Entrepreneurs can start applying June 18 for a new JAX Chamber training program called Get Smart, made possible by a $60,000 grant from Fifth Third Bank. The bank made the donation this week to the JAX Chamber Foundation Inc. Entrepreneurs selected for the program will get 30 hours of classroom training and an additional 48 hours of mentoring.

Full Story 

#ilovejax (Community Pride)

Lauren Weedon Hopkins, a member of the #ilovejax committee, shared #ilovejax with a group at Cox Radio on Thursday.

Jacksonville is featured in AirTran’s Magazine, go, as one of its great destinations.


Have a great week!



Friday I wanted to update about JAX Chamber’s Downtown Council after a great morning meeting. But things were just too busy and I had to literally run from meeting to meeting. You probably will see me doing that from time to time Downtown. Please, feel free to honk.

Today, while I’ve got a couple minutes, I thought I’d catch you up. It had been a while since I’ve been to a Downtown Council meeting. There were a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new faces since my last meeting. The crowd was robust in the University Club, which provides excellent views and inspiration. Our speaker was Michael Butterman, our new conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. It was very interesting to hear Mr. Butterman’s behind the scenes look at how we put our symphonic season together. Most impressive to me was how many symphonies Mr. Butterman works for. He is not only our conductor but also conducts for Boulder, Rochester and Shreeveport!

I was also impressed with the Downtown Council calendar. If you are interested in Downtown and are a member of the Chamber (you should be, I can help if you need info) I highly recommend taking in a Downtown Council meeting and joining this thriving crowd of professionals with an affinity for the urban core.

Here is a glance at what they have coming up:

Downtown Straight Up– Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse- Thursday, June 14th, 5:30 to 7:30pm – FREE (with happy hour prices!)

Downtown Council Breakfast Meeting– University Club- Friday, June 15th 7:30am – Speaker: Larry Payne – Jacksonville Sharks- $15 Members $20 Non-Members

Jacksonville Sharks vs. Philly!- Saturday June 16, 2012, 6:00pm- Arena- $30

More info on these events (and they have a lot more coming up!) available at