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March 5, 2013

Destination Downtown

Chamber shares some of the '20 Ingredients of an Outstanding Downtown'

JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce's Monday luncheon started out with a limited presentation of “the 20 Ingredients of an Outstanding Downtown.” But it ended with a friendly – but lively – debate about the city's ultimate destiny as a tourist attraction.

In the process of debating the best ways to attract visitors to the city – its tomato heritage being the frontrunner – members of Jacksonville's Chamber of Commerce made it clear Monday they are determined to transform downtown into a "must see" hangout place for visitors.

Kathleen Stanfill, the chamber's membership development chairwoman, moderated the meeting.

But "how?" is the big question right now.

"It doesn't have to be new – it has to be what we want, and that is the standard we will hold people to," asserted Rob Gowin, local restaurateur and mayoral candidate.

Over 30 people attended the chamber's Monday lunchtime meeting, munching on turkey sandwiches and potato chips as they watched the video by Destination Development International outlining 20 ways to make a downtown a thriving proposition.

The video, which costs $295 as listed on the DDI site, was narrated by tourism and designation expert Roger Brooks.

"There is a new shift taking place across North America and downtowns are back," according to the Destination Development International video literature. "Over a five-year period, we surveyed more than 400 successful downtowns and downtown districts in the US and Canada. What we found were the 20 most common ingredients that led to their success."

The lunchtime period only allowed Stanfill to play six of the 20 steps. She selected steps 15 through 20, which include:

• Visible signage – Suggesting that downtown areas can advertise themselves.

• Outdoor dining – Suggesting residents can band together to change existing ordinances about outdoor patios so that there can be more outdoor cooking in the downtown area.

• Retail beautification – Suggesting that every downtown needs colorful vibrant buildings to attract more people.

• Activities and entertainment – Suggesting cities create more spectacle by recruiting musicians to perform amplified music; recruiting artists to create art in the streets; and acquiring interesting pottery wheels to attract attention.

• Districts with names – Suggesting monikers for the downtown area such as San Antonio's "River Walk."

• Experimental marketing – Suggesting a blend of "fine culture" with "counter culture" to create a fascinating draw for more visitors.

After the meeting, Stanfill said she intends to connect with all the owners of downtown buildings and show them the same video in the hope they will help with the efforts.

After that, she said, she intends to meet with city officials, elected city representatives, and city staff  to outline further plans.

During the debate at the end of the Monday meeting, Stanfill suggested creating a blog using the city's tomatoes as characters with observations about the city.

"They will have their own voice," she said.

Gowin said the other attributes of the city – activities such as zip lines and geocaching – need to be emphasized to the public as well.

Stanfill said, ultimately, it is important residents embrace the Jacksonville heritage and not be ashamed of what makes the city unique.

"Everything I need I can get right here and if I can't, I probably don't want it," she said.

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