With an ethos akin to the most impactful central parks on the globe, at its heart Unity Plaza will provide meeting and entertainment space overlaid by uplifting events supporting and showcasing the individual threads of our society, therefore visually and verbally expressing the strong, rich, historic and textured story of Jacksonville’s entire tapestry.
Most significantly, Unity Plaza is a capital improvement for Jacksonville and a place to elevate and connect change agents for the betterment of Jacksonville, Florida’s downtown. It provides a physical space for advocacy meant to usher a WORLD CLASS downtown into existence by 2025, in concert with JCCI’s JAX2025 plan and the Downtown Investment Authority’s forthcoming CRA. The DIA’s CRA is the sole business plan for downtown Jacksonville, specifically outlining the planned improvements beginning in 2014 and culminating no later than 2025.
Enter in World Class Jax: Leaders in Action
It is 5:30 on a perfect spring afternoon in Jacksonville, and eighty people are indoors breaking into six action teams and discussing the future of Jacksonville’s Downtown.
The intensity is palpable as ideas are floated, debated, weighed, given the seal of approval or dismissed.
“That is a nice idea, but we need to stick to projects we can accomplish,” says one Jax business leader batting down an overly ambitious offering. Not everyone in the group agrees, but a quick tally of support ends debate allowing the conversation to move on.
The group, World Class Jax, is the product of the 2013 JAX Chamber Leadership Trip. Aundra Wallace, Oliver Barakat, Alex Sifakis, Jen Jones, Janet Herrick, John Hirabayashi and many other JAX Chamber board members and stakeholders formed the group to keep attendees engaged beyond the break out sessions of the excursion and to become volunteer leaders to facilitate the final Downtown Investment Authority business plan after it is approved this Spring.
“We didn’t want what we learned to stay in Charlotte,” says Sifakis. “The group that attended the trip left with an appetite for action. World Class Jax meetings promote vetting ideas, assigning tasks and accomplishing those goals to move our downtown forward.”
World Class Jax is initially focusing on six initiatives selected by the group:
- Downtown Engagement & Information
- Downtown Development Finance
- Health & Wellness
These areas were chosen based on research done by urban renewal experts and according to the assets the group felt they could impact. If the Downtown Investment Authority is the team on the field, World Class Jax are both the players and the boosters organization making sure there is top notch equipment.
WJC’s Board of Directors marries high level leaders of local government, business, real estate development and civic leadership to the table together.
“We didn’t want to operate rogue, the goal here is to make things happen by working alongside DIA leadership, Aundra Wallace and Oliver Barakat and ensuring the holistic efforts required are met.” says Sifakis.
The World Class Jax Board Members include Aundra Wallace, Nat Ford, Dawn Emerick, Alex Coley, Oliver Barakat, Alex Sifakis, Paul Astleford, Terry Lorince, Jen Jones, Jennifer Hewett-Apperson, Mike Balanky, Dave Auchter, Dane Baird, Bill Kilgannon, Kristi Lee Schatz, Janet Herrick and JAXChamber President & CEO Daniel Davis.
Despite the firepower present at an average meeting, the environment is far from stuffy. CoWorkJax, the modern location of this meeting, invites collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Collaboration is a big deal in World Class Jax. there is a real dedication to increasing the communication between those making a difference downtown by breaking down barriers.
States WCJ VP of Communications, Jen Jones, “We are no longer working within silos. World Class Jax: Leaders in Action is a 280 member-strong (and growing) citizen leadership group supporting the vision and business plan of the Downtown Investment Authority. WCJ provides the energy and manpower to make visible, monthly progress toward our downtown initiatives. We work together with over 50 individual urban core based corporations and industries, businesses, the City of Jacksonville government and citizen-developed agencies and task forces to solve difficult problems for downtown.”
Just walking around the room you can see this principle in action.
“There is a misconception that downtown is dangerous but in reality that is far from the truth,” says a twenty-something to an ad-hoc group composed of everyone from engaged business people to curious first timers. “Most of Jacksonville doesn’t know there is a 94% occupancy in Northbank apartments and 98% in the Southbank. People want to live Downtown and need more options.”
This environment has attracted a large following with over 280 regular and semi-regular attendees. Anyone can attend, the only requirement is a desire to see Jacksonville’s Urban Core thrive and to work toward it.
“We’ve all heard the prognosis from the doubters,” says Sifakis. “But we love our city, and like anything worth doing there is a lot to be done. Every member of this group is dedicated to accomplishing great tasks to make Jacksonville a world class city by 2025. ”