If the latest brainchild of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce takes off, the city will soon be lighting up the night with permanent event lights shimmering from a downtown skyline silhouette.
At a meeting of downtown business owners Tuesday, Austin Gwartney of Gwartney Enterprises proposed a plan to an enthusiastic crowd to trim each building along Commerce Street, from Sadler's to the Tomato Bowl, with LED lighting that would remain in place year-round. The lights, which would turn on by satellite remote control every evening at dusk, could be customized to spotlight different city events throughout the year, such as twinkling blue and gold for football game nights, red for Tomato Fest, or pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"I think it's a great idea to light up downtown Jacksonville to make it stand out," Gwartney said. "To make a beautiful downtown at night."
Business owners from along Commerce Street were well-represented, along with members of the Keep Jacksonville Beautiful committee and interested business owners in outlying areas, such as along the Loop.
Reception was positive, with interested parties from along Commerce Street suggesting other corporate sponsors for empty buildings or businesses.
Each building would be responsible for their own lights, at the cost of approximately $7 per square foot per year, said Gwartney, who is offering his design, parts and labor services at cost in support of the city. Each business would run the lights off a small transformer and Gwartney Enterprises would be responsible for the professional installation, three-year maintenance and troubleshooting for the lights.
The LED lights, which boast up to 215 different colors, are weather-rated to withstand rain and winds up to 100 mph.
"Jacksonville would be a showcase," enthused Robin Butt, owner of Boogie Butt Productions, who threw out the idea he could help synchronize music to the lights for special events.
City officials were also in support of the idea, but were meeting with Gwartney later in the week for a more detailed explanation of the plan.
Director of Public Works Will Cole said he didn't think there were any city codes or ordinances that would prevent the project from moving forward.
"Generally speaking, with such low voltage, permits are not required," he said, emphasizing that he had not met with Gwartney to learn specifics.
"I don't know of anything prohibitive," he said. "But the Yum Yums building is still on everyone's mind and I know we'd need to be cautious...but this project should have a positive effect on the community."
Jacksonville Fire Chief Paul White said he was not aware, either, of any codes that would adversely affect the light campaign and that as long as the lights were weather-rated and low voltage, he didn't see a problem with the plan.
City Manager Mo Raissi is also in support of the project, calling it a "good idea" for the City of Jacksonville and stressed that he would be meeting with the Chamber and with Gwartney later this week for more details.
Business owners at the meeting also suggested lighting up the Landmark building on the corner of East Rusk and South Jackson Streets and also the Greenhouse Mall, just east of the Landmark.
"The whole point of this is to unify Jacksonville," Gwartney said.
The Chamber's goal is to have lights on the downtown area, with 100 percent participation by all businesses, by the Nov. 16 Christmas On Commerce event.