As I intend to write about more in the future, Jacksonville need only look a couple of hours Southwest to Orlando to see what can happen when a region’s business, civic and government leaders share a vision and do what it takes to get big deals done. In a matter of about a decade, Central Florida’s leaders brought in regional commuter rail service in the form of Sunrail, a stunning downtown performing arts center, an incredible downtown arena that houses the Orlando Magic as well as cultural events and concerts, a revitalized Camping World stadium and a tremendous new MLS soccer stadium. It only takes a quick drive on I-4 to see how Orlando has transformed its downtown into a hub of world class amenities.
These amenities have turned downtown Orlando into a magnet for investment. The City ‘s leaders imagine a “Creative Village” adjacent to the downtown office buildings and just across I-4 that has in many ways begun to come to life. The University of Central Florida and Valencia Community College opened a joint campus with 8,000 students, faculty and staff there, and companies are making investments there—video game maker EA are investing in a downtown hub of 700 with employees within the Village. Restaurants, housing, hotels and everything else one would expect in this sort of environment are springing up.
I will not get on a soapbox in this post about whether public funds should be used for any specific project and, if so, how much funding is appropriate. Nor am I suggesting Jacksonville should be a clone of Orlando. I’m just pointing out that with Jacksonville’s current momentum, it’s important that we recognize the need to seize the moment and let this decade be OUR decade of positive transformation. COVID-19 is a stumbling block, but we as a community must be prepared to emerge from the pandemic ready and able to execute on our potential.