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Mixed Reactions From Downtown Business Owners To Jax Jazz Fest Venue Changes

Jacksonville Jazz Festival

The annual Jacksonville Jazz Festival will have a change of scenery this year, and local businesses have mixed reviews.

The layout and location of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is being changed from downtown’s core, with a footprint focused around Hemming Plaza and The Landing, to a three stage linear set-up along Bay Street stretching from The Landing to the Shipyards.

Tonisha Landry-Gaines, director of special events for the city of Jacksonville, says the new setup is for the good of the city and that businesses should benefit from the change.

"We’re really excited about the new footprint this year, it’s really given us an opportunity to expand the festival, bring some more exciting opportunities for vendors, a different kind of setup, a different layout and give some opportunities to really kind of highlight the entertainment district in our riverfront of Jacksonville which is a really beautiful part of Downtown Jacksonville," she said.

The move away from Hemming Plaza has left some businesses in the core fearful about what it might mean for their bottom line.

Chamblin’s Uptown was in the middle of the festival action in the past. General manager Jennifer O’Donnell says they include the Jazz festival in their budget every year.

"We’re at least seven blocks away and people tend to stay in the same area, I know that we will not get the sales from our regular customers because they tend to not want to come into downtown when there are events going on," O'Donnell said.

"I’m not really pleased, very disappointed with the city’s response, very displeased with the move without discussing it with anybody, or letting us have any input and we’re going to look at losing $20,000 from last year, and the year before that, and we rely on that and we hire local people. We have 13 employees at this store, it matters, It really matters," she said.

Another downtown business owner upset with the new layout is Jason Albertelli of Dos Gatos.

The business is located just one block north of Bay Street. The festival is now several blocks closer to his bar. He doesn’t think the change will affect his business one way or the other, but he’s still concerned about what it means for other downtown business owners.

"I’m a champion of downtown, I believe in making downtown better in any way that we can and it’s frustrating when the business owners voice their opinion and the city says 'well we’ve thought about it and this is what we’re going to do,'" he said.

Gaines from special events says the city did hold meetings with several downtown business owners and gave them the opportunity to voice their concerns. She says the move is necessary to keep up with the festival’s growth.

And some downtown business owners are happy about the change. Greg Desanto, chef and owner of Olio Restaurant, says it’s great news. His restaurant is located on Bay Street near one of the festival stages.

"Spreading it out allows people a chance to see more of the city, experience more of the city has to offer," he said. "I mean Hemming Plaza is a location for quite a number of events and everyone congested in that one area, there’s too many people in that small confined space and by spreading it out, it’s not only going to be beneficial to all the surrounding areas, but it’s going to be beneficial to the guests, which is really the point."

"Spreading it out is going to allow easier traffic getting around, it’s going to allow people to walk and not be so clustered together and I think it’s a great decision," Desanto added.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival will begin Thursday, May 22 and go through Sunday, May 25.

You can follow Lindsey Kilbride on Twitter @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.