Sidewalk Dining, Riverfront Restaurants To Be In DIA’s Post-Pandemic 5-Year Plan

Apr 13, 2021

Changes to shopping habits, fewer people commuting to Downtown Jacksonville offices, and more people enjoying the outdoors will all factor into the Downtown Investment Authority’s upcoming five-year plan, according to DIA CEO Lori Boyer. 

It’s an acknowledgement of the changes to Downtown brought by the coronavirus pandemic by a key figure in shaping the future of the Bold New City of the South. 

“There are employers that have decided to have entire divisions work remotely in the future. They just don’t need the office space,” Boyer said in an interview with WJCT News Tuesday. “We’ll probably see smaller footprints of some of our major Downtown employers. Obviously, that creates a concern for us about vacancy rates.” 

To combat that, the DIA will likely propose new incentives for commercial office tenants. There will also be support for retailers, Boyer said. 

“Some of it relates to sidewalk and outdoor use, that’s the easy thing,” Boyer said. “But there’s also the acknowledgement that you’re not going to get - in the short term - the quantity of traditional retail that we had in the past. That just changed as we all learned to order everything from online.” 

That mean we could see more restaurants and stores expanding onto sidewalks as soon as October. 

The DIA also wants to see an incentive specifically to bring new restaurants to the riverfront and one or two new grocery stores Downtown, although neither of those are specific to the pandemic, Boyer said. 

But, Boyer said, any potential declines in people commuting to work Downtown will likely be offset by people living there. The number of people living in Downtown neighborhoods has tripled since the DIA filed its last five-year plan, from 2,000 to 6,000, and there are still more apartment complexes being built. 

“The people living Downtown impact those restaurants and storefronts as much or more than the people working Downtown, because there are a lot of us, myself included, who don’t make it out of the office every day to patronize a lunch establishment, but bring lunch, or eat in our building. Having Downtown residents really helps support our downtown businesses.” 

The five-year plan update will also address an ongoing initiative aimed at building distinct brands for Downtown neighborhoods, so that each area has its own unique character. 

Coming Wednesday on WJCT.org, Boyer discusses the status of several key development projects Downtown.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.