About a year and a half ago, business owners in the area west of Downtown Jacksonville came together to rebrand their neighborhood as the Rail Yard District.
The Jaxson’s Ennis Davis and I visited one of the longest-running of those businesses, the Jacksonville Farmers Market, so we could learn how the Rail Yard District Business Council defines success.
Beaver Street Fisheries is a global seafood and meat distributor that started from humble beginnings as a local fish market. For the past 33 years, the company has been running the nearby Jacksonville Farmer’s Market.
“This is one of the few places in the city of Jacksonville where you can come out on a Saturday morning and hear multiple languages being spoken in the same place,” Davis said.
It started operating in 1938, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in Florida, Davis said — helped by its setting.
“It's a location where the majority of rail traffic actually enters the state. And during the early 20th century this area developed as a logistics and industrial and wholesale district for the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida,” he said.
But today, the area suffers from an unearned negative image, said Jeff Edwards with Beaver Street Fisheries. He sees the comments on social media.
“‘It's sketchy’ would be probably the kindest comment I could repeat,” he said. “But, you know, having worked in the neighborhood for decades, I’ve never had any problems driving through the neighborhood or visiting businesses.”
But Edwards said he fully understands the negative perception. Just look at the main drags, Stockton and Beaver Street. They’re full of pot holes and not wide enough for vehicles, by today’s DOT standards.
“It's in such bad shape that one section of it recently they couldn't repave,” he said of Beaver Street.
About 18 months ago, he and other business owners joined forces to try to advocate for better roads and ultimately make the Rail Yard District the desirable destination he says it deserves to be.
“So we came up with the name Rail Yard District, and good part of the community now refers to this area as the Rail Yard District. We're working with Visit Jacksonville. And we have a grant from LISC [the Local Initiatives Support Corporation] for some branding projects and putting up banners… on Beaver Street… and we're already seeing a positive response to those efforts,” he said.
Successes, he said, include new murals, like the colorful aquatic scene on the side of Beaver Street Fisheries. And a tree planting project should start soon. All of this is happening as the business council looks forward to the completion of the Emerald Necklace trail, which will connect the Rail yard District with the rest of the Urban Core.
Ennis Davis said that’s why he sees mega potential for development here, where the zoning favors a little bit of everything, unlike places like the St. Johns Town Center.
“You not only have manufacturing tied into it, but you also have retail mixed,” he explained. “And it's also important that a lot of these companies also employ people who work in these neighborhoods, so it really is the true ingredient for the live-work-and-play philosophy.”
For anyone interested in learning more about the Rail Yard District Business Council, its next quarterly meeting is at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6, hosted by one of its members, Tabula Rasa Brewing at 2385 Corbett St.