Downtown is on fire … IAW’s Smoke IPA release

“It was called Satellite City.”

I looked over at companion as he said that, thinking it had something to do with NASA. He had just finished telling me about a large land development in northern Texas on which he had worked while employed with his father’s land surveying company.

The development of single-family homes on large lots had been planned years before he had traversed through and around the parcel in the early 1970’s, gathering trigonometric field data while at the same time working on his “savage tan”. His father’s company had been retained to survey the perimeter for the bank, the property then being in receivership.

Companion said the motivating factor for the establishment of this community 30 miles northwest of Fort Worth and 60 miles northwest of downtown Dallas had reportedly been to meet a perceived demand for residential housing brought on by “Urban Flight”.

“Urban Flight” is the mid-20th Century term for the significant exodus of people living in the city to the suburbs or further out. Follow the money – downtown businesses soon followed – or folded. For you re-run junkies, think of the tenants of the apartment houses in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window moving out to a suburb such as New Rochelle in The Dick Van Dyke Show. More room – not hearing your neighbor snore – not smelling what they are having for dinner, etc. Good times.

But this migration away from the metropolitan downtowns for wider-open-spaces had a bummer of a flip side, as well. Like Puff, the Magic Dragon losing his lifelong friend Little Jackie Paper, each abandoned city core fell into neglect. Flies on the wall of downtown establishments were probably scratching their wings saying, “What the heck happened?”

Jacksonville was not immune – it’s not hard to see buildings that had their heyday decades ago. But Jacksonville is vastly different from other urban cores in that we have such a grand opportunity of taking advantage of what our downtown has within commercial-arms-length:

The River
The Tram
JTA Trolley

When we have had our friends visit from out of town, there has never been a visit where we haven’t heard from them how beautiful our skyline is. The colors combined with the river setting they say, is magnificent. It is. You darn tootin’, it is.

Thank goodness Jacksonville has a committed “Jackie Paper”, the Downtown Marketing Collaborative – a group of private sector entrepreneurs dedicated to bringing our Puff, the Magic Dragon (Jacksonville Downtown) out of its cave by steering a promotional campaign known as “Downtown is on Fire” – named to remember the fact what Jacksonville is now rose from the ashes of the great fire which destroyed most of the City in 1901.

According to the Collaborative:

“Downtown Marketing Collaborative is a group of organizations dedicated to raising awareness about all that Downtown has to offer. For years, people have talked about revitalizing interest in Downtown, but we want to do more than just talk; we want to give Jacksonville’s residents an explosion of information that will incite them to come witness the blaze for themselves.

The embers of this campaign have been burning for some time now. Our job is to stoke the flame. Jacksonville is a city that holds a colorful history, bright future and endless possibilities. Downtown is at the center of it all, and we believe Downtown is where amazing things can (and do)happen. Where all it takes is a spark to start a flame.”

Recently, I was invited to an event by Natalie Wearstler, Copywriter & Media Strategist of Wingard Creative which is working with the Collaborative. The event was billed as the “Smoke IPA Event” since the focus of the evening would be the release of the Smoke IP by Intuition Ale Works. This tasty creation will only be sold in establishments located downtown, as is fitting. Ben Davis, owner of Intuition was motivated to work with the Collaborative from his desire to see downtown resurrected. The decision to develop a smoky-flavored brew was the appropriate path to follow. It’s a great beer. You darn tootin’, it is. I had one …. Okay, two. Well, and maybe split a third one with companion. But who’s counting?

About the Smoke IPA, Intuition states:

“Intuition Ale Works has teamed up with Downtown Is On Fire to give Downtown restaurants and bars a beer that is uniquely their own: Smoke IPA. Inspired by the Great Fire of 1901 and the Downtown Is On Fire campaign, this limited-edition specialty beer pays respect to Downtown Jacksonville’s history and gives the neighborhood’s current residents, workers and fans something to be excited about as we look to the future. Outside of the Intuition Ale Works tap room, this beer will only be distributed to Downtown accounts.”

Describing their new creation, Intuition provides the following information:

“An IPA with a smoky twist! This beer is brewed with smoked malts, for a flavor similar to a ham and pineapple pizza – a little sweet, a little savory, and a whole lot of delicious. ABV is 6.1%.”

The beer will be available at the following downtown locations:

1904 Music Hall (19 North Ocean Street)
Burrito Gallery (21 East Adams Street)
Burro Bar (100 East Adams Street)
Dos Gatos (123 Forsyth Street)
The Florida Theatre (128 East Forsyth Street)
The River Club (1 Independent Drive, Suite 3500)
Underbelly (113 East Bay Street)
The Volstead (115 West Adams Street)
Zodiac Bar & Grill (120 West Adams Street)

The event was held rooftop at the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) and the weather was beautiful. Companion and I arrived just as the live music being provided by the talented Mondo Mike and the Po Boys with Spice began.

Firehouse Subs, which had its beginnings in Jacksonville, was graciously supplying delicious salad and sandwiches to those attending that evening. In speaking with their local rep, I learned that Firehouse Subs has recently released a new selection of healthy meal alternatives for those seeking such fare.

During the evening, the Collaborative made us aware that they understood there was a perception problem which must be overcome about downtown parking and safety. The Collaborative is not a politically influencing or active group – any more so than say, you or I. They are providing the spark so that the fire which we all as Jacksonvillians can build, will ignite.

We NEED a vibrant downtown. Our businesses located there need a vibrant downtown. WE need to make this happen. So, how can we help the Collaborative change the perception of the paucity of parking and sense of uneasiness some have about downtown? Let me explore a tangent with you.

Parking – there’s gobs of parking – scattered throughout downtown. But here’s what Tinker Beer, the Brew Fairy tells me. She says women want to get DRESSED UP, lookin’ hot and hit the happenin’ spots downtown – but they DON’T want to walk a mile in heels to do it. AND, they don’t want to be leered at or hooted at by unfortunate vagrants. AND, they don’t want to be approached for a handout. AND, they don’t want to park in a dark, uninviting parking lot. AND, if they are fortunate enough to find a parking spot close to the venues, they don’t want to spend half their last paycheck to park for four hours. I think Tink is on to something here. But it takes more than an idea – and it shouldn’t be only the downtown businesses paying for it – it takes a focus by the City Council to help development and allocate taxpayer resources to light the parking lots, install better signage and to publish in print and online legible easy-to-follow maps of available parking locations. Can you say “smartphone app”? Get on that, private sector.

I hate tax hikes – but I would be willing to pay another half-cent sales tax if that money would go STRAIGHT into the planning AND IMPLEMENTATION of providing inviting, accessible and reasonably priced parking downtown. Throw in another half-cent if THAT money would be going to entice creative developers to un-blight those areas of downtown currently being described as “Ewwww”. I’m NOT talking about creating bureaucratic committees to study the issue and publish their thoughts – I’m talking about being proactive and doing it. WOW! … that is something I thought I would NEVER say – that I’d be willing to vote for a sales tax hike. But I mean it. You darn tootin’, I mean it.

Imagine the realization of what the Downtown Marketing Collaborative wishes to accomplish with “Downtown is on Fire”. Imagine the JTA Trolley haulin’ folks all over to visit the various “brews and chews” establishments both in and out of downtown. Imagine more pedi-cab rides downtown. Imagine The Tram chock-full of people EVERY run. Imagine several Jax Brew Bus-type vehicles working simultaneously. Imagine new breweries. Imagine new restaurants, bars and pubs. I salivate at the thought.

What’s standing in the way? … Right now, the perception is often “politicians” and “greedy developers” – their constant battles and finger-pointing at each other – and by the general public, as well. However, forward-thinkin’ folks like Tinker Beer realize a couple of things:

Politics – It’s easy to talk smack about the City Council. But remember, each of them has constituents to whom they have to answer (collectively over a million of them, by the way) AND we live in the largest city by land area in the United States. No wonder there are varying ideas about how, where and when precious time and taxpayer money should be spent. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the right to voice their opinion … thank God for that. So, give the Council a break – and a heartfelt thank-you if you see one of them.

The reality is that City Council members are serving to help this city – OUR city – and there is NOTHING wrong if they wish to leave a positive legacy. THIS IS A PERFECT CHANCE FOR ALL COUNCIL MEMBERS TO RALLY AROUND THE DOWNTOWN FLAG – what a tremendous legacy for ALL of them if they take the steps to put some dollars to work and send direction to City staff to get “boots on the ground” to help in this effort. The Downtown Marketing Collaborative is standing “at the ready”.

And guess what? Not every developer or business owner is a greedy “blankity-blank” who eats small homeless children for dinner. It takes profit to grow a business – and hire people – and keep them employed. They also probably like to eat at some of the places you do. And they need to make a living too, don’t forget. Give them a break, as well. More than likely, you’re living somewhere which was, at one time in history, a vision of a developer.

We have a chance. A perfect chance – right now – to all work together to help the Downtown Marketing Collaborative achieve their goal. Now is the time to start.

Companion has often said that we live in a country whose minds have bounced a basketball onto the surface of Mars, had it crack open and a traveling robot come out and send photography back to Earth. Re-vitalizing an already beautiful downtown Jacksonville with so many existing supporting features? … I think we can figure this one out. You darn tootin’, we can.

My thanks to Natalie Wearstler for the invitation for the “Downtown is on Fire – Smoke IPA Event”, to Ben Davis and his talented and dedicated folks at Intuition Ale Works for the inspired creation of the delicious Smoke IPA and to all the folks at MOSH for providing such an incredible roof-top venue from which to admire our beautiful downtown.

Let’s do our part. Make plans to have a “Downtown Date Night” – do your research – find the parking – drop your lady off in front of the venue for now. Go in a group, if that would currently make you feel more secure. But go. By all means, please go.

If we ALL work together with the Downtown Marketing Collaborative – our own “Little Jackie Paper” – will get our “Puff the Magic Dragon” – OUR beautiful downtown – to once again fearlessly roar out his name.

I, for one, will be listening for that. You darn tootin’, I’ll be listening.

Intuition Ale Works (720 King Street – 904.683.7720)

Downtown is on Fire website
Downtown Marketing Collaborative