Downtown is made up of eight districts, flanking the River’s Northeastern curve on both sides: Brooklyn, LaVilla, Central Core, Church, Cathedral, Sports & Entertainment, Working Waterfront and Southbank. Each district offers a unique, captivating history.
Modern and colorful, Brooklyn connects the Central Core to the historic Riverside neighborhood and 5 Points shopping and entertainment district. Home to major corporate headquarters such as Haskell, Black Knight Financial, FIS, TIAA Bank and Florida Blue, to name a few, Brooklyn offers an ideal location for businesses and residents alike. The district has a mix of uses, including riverfront office, multi-family housing developments, condominiums, restaurants, retail, and light industrial. The community enjoys plentiful river access, and with various major projects currently underway, the Brooklyn district is well-positioned for continued growth and success.
East of the Central Core, LaVilla is home to a rich historic heritage. As Jacksonville’s oldest suburb, LaVilla was known as the Harlem of the South and the epicenter of black culture and commerce in Northeast Florida, as well as Jacksonville’s railroad hub. LaVilla’s vibrant music and entertainment scene attracted many nationally renowned artists who came to play at the local clubs on and off Ashley Street. In 1929, the Ritz Theatre opened, becoming an important stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit and LaVilla’s primary performance venue.
As was the case in many urban areas nationwide, LaVilla experienced a sharp decline in population and quality of life through the latter half of the 20th Century. At the start of the 1990s, The River City Renaissance (RCR) Plan aimed to revitalize Jacksonville’s downtown. The plan focused on making room for future development through the acquisition and clearing of property, many acres of which occurred in LaVilla. Much of the architecture in LaVilla was demolished, and nearly thirty years after the start of RCR, LaVilla is only now seeing the glimmers of redevelopment in the form of new workforce housing, as recommended in the 2019 LaVilla Neighborhood Development Strategy. The plan also calls for a LaVilla Heritage Trail for pedestrians and bicycles – connecting Brooklyn with the “Emerald Necklace” – and a Water Street road diet to connect the historic district to the riverfront.
The central core encompasses many of Downtown’s office towers, government services, regional non-profits, and various art and cultural centers, making it the most concentrated area of focus for economic development on the Northbank. The Central Core’s small walkable blocks are filled with historic architecture, cultural amenities, and public art. The City of Jacksonville was founded on the riverbank of the Central Core, and iconic cultural centers like the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Florida Theatre reside in the Central Core. Today, work is underway to re-establish key riverfront properties and enhance Jacksonville’s iconic skyline. The availability of several unique and historic properties provide significant opportunities for adaptive reuse.
Situated along the northern boundary of Downtown between the Central Core and the historic Springfield neighborhood, the Church District is on the threshold of a major transition. Drawing its name from the multi-block First Baptist Church of Jacksonville campus, the area is ripe for redevelopment, with nine contiguous blocks currently for sale and multiple adaptive reuse projects underway to bring residential, retail, and a hotel to the district.
Anchored by five historic churches, the Cathedral District connects the Central Core to the Sports & Entertainment District and is home to Billy Goat Hill, the highest point in Downtown Jacksonville. Beginning in 2016, the area has been championed by Cathedral District Jax-Inc. (CD-J), a nonprofit organized to foster growth as Jacksonville’s downtown neighborhood. CD-J created a master plan for the area to support development and revitalization efforts, including the continued support of the senior residents who call the district home via affordable, quality housing and amenities.
Sporting the biggest concentration of entertainment venues, the Sports & Entertainment District is home to five sports teams, major concerts, the annual Jacksonville Fair and many more family-friendly, non-profit and specialty retail events year-round. The district was once home to a thriving maritime industry, its riverfront lined with shipyards. Today, major mixed-use developments are planned to bring residents, employees, and visitors to the area.
In 2017, the Cathedral District and the Sports & Entertainment District were designated as “Opportunity Zones.” Opportunity Zones were created as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and offer investors tax breaks designed to encourage economic development in economically distressed areas. For investors to gain the maximum tax break of 15%, the investment has to be held for seven years and completed by 2026.
The Working Waterfront sits on the eastern edge of Downtown beyond the Sports & Entertainment District. Home to the North Florida Shipyards, the district primarily supports industrial waterfront uses with a special district zoning overlay to accommodate the needs of shipping, lumber, concrete, oil, and like businesses operating there.
Home to tall riverfront office and residential towers, the Southbank sits between the St. Johns River and the San Marco neighborhood to the south. It features a wealth of hotels and premier medical campuses including Baptist Medical Center, Wolfson Children’s Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Nemours Specialty Care center. The community enjoys plentiful riverfront access via the Southbank riverwalk, a boat ramp, kayak launch, and River Taxi stops.