Dwellers group seeks to be ‘voice’ of Downtown residents

Dwellers group seeks to be ‘voice’ of Downtown residents
Tom Dumas of The Plaza; Susan Strauss and Sandra Fradd of The Peninsula, and John Smith of The Plaza.

San Marco has the San Marco Preservation Society. Riverside and Avondale have RAP – Riverside Avondale Preservation. Numerous other Jacksonville neighborhoods have associations, but there is no organization that represents the relatively sparse number of residents that live Downtown.

Peninsula resident Sandra Fradd, and her downtown neighbors – John Smith and Tom Dumas of the Plaza and Susan Strauss, also of The Peninsula – want to change that. They want the Downtown Dwellers group to evolve into the “voice” of residents and merchants who reside within Jacksonville’s Urban Core.

“There is a vacuum right now for core residents,” explained Smith, who is vice president of The Plaza Homeowners Association. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that the key to a vibrant downtown is residents. We are the pioneers down here,” he said. “I’ve talked to residents and small businesses and I have asked, ‘Where is your voice?’ and they say, ‘We don’t have one.’ The opportunity is there to have associate memberships, sponsorships and supporters we would all benefit from.”

The Downtown Dwellers group is not new. It was started more than two years ago, when Fradd joined with Plaza resident Dorothy Merrick to provide a forum for Downtown residents on both sides of the St. Johns River to meet each other, discuss common problems, and listen to City officials speak on subjects of interest to those living in the urban core. Under the duo’s leadership, the group met twice a year, in venues that rotated on both sides of the river.

During the group’s last meeting Sept. 27, 2016 at the Museum of Science and History, Fradd shocked everyone when she announced that she and Merrick, who was moving to Atlanta, planned to step down from their leadership roles after the meeting. Not wanting to see the group slip away, Dumas and Smith stepped forward, and Fradd, who was encouraged to stay, soon found help in Strauss, her neighbor.

Since then the foursome have met weekly to discuss ways to be proactive, expand the group, and build a sense of community for Downtown residents. They plan to convert the Downtown Dwellers into a nonprofit so it can accept sponsorships and raise money to fund activities.

They also want it to become an “umbrella” organization over other subgroups such as the newfound Friends of the Riverwalk, a band of residents seeking to “adopt” the Southbank Riverwalk for beautification and maintenance. “In the past, we talked about it and negotiated quietly, but now we’re getting more vocal about it,” said Fradd.

Fradd said the group is interested in enhancing Dweller lifestyle by monitoring the area near their homes for vagrancy and picking up trash. They also want to assist the City and become involved in groups that care for the river, such as City Council President Lori Boyer’s Waterways Project. “If the City’s shorthanded and we have a direct connection to whoever is in charge, we want to be able to organize our troops to do that work. We have people who want to help,” Fradd said. “We can’t have a beautiful river and not respect and take care of it,” she said.

“We’re stepping up. There is a new energy now partly because of what is more recently happening around us. We want to create a stronger, more specific organization of people who live Downtown, one that will directly give them a voice to what the City Council is doing, as well as the various committees in City government. We think the people in charge of those committees are looking to hear the voice of the people who live here,” said Strauss.

“Everyone is talking about wanting to build up Downtown and bring people into Downtown to make it more vibrant, but there doesn’t seem to be an emphasis on the dwellers that live Downtown,” said Dumas.

He said the goal is to develop the Downtown Dwellers’ influence so it will be recognized by City officials as an important group to be consulted about aspects of the City projects such as the Shipyards and the future of Berkman 2, an unfinished building on the Northbank, which Plaza residents lovingly call “Beirut.” 

“We want to become more influential so that maybe they will listen to us,” Dumas said.

Smith agreed. “There is talk that a buyer might come and turn Beirut into a hotel. We don’t want a hotel. We want it residential, so there will be drug stores, shops, and grocery stores – things that support a community. I don’t want to have to go to Riverside to buy my medicine,” he said. “We’re interested in building up the city infrastructure for the Dwellers because we will be here every day for the merchants, not just on the weekends or when the TaxSlayer Bowl is in town.”

“They think in terms of the tourist; the City doesn’t think about the people who live here,” said Strauss. “We appreciate the revenue stream that comes in developing activities for others to enjoy who come to Jacksonville, but it shouldn’t be so important to the detriment of also providing funding and services to those who live here. We’re the ones who create the vitality that causes others to want to come, and visit, and then stay.”

As the Dwellers’ group works to “structure” itself, the foursome hopes interested residents from other buildings will contact them through email, expressing concerns, where they live and their area of interest, said Strauss.

Presently, most members live in either The Peninsula or The Plaza, but the group is also interested in reaching out to residents of The Strand, San Marco Place, The Carling and The Lofts.

“We want to encourage people, even if they are not organized in their own residence, that they can contact us and come as individuals,” Strauss said. “We’ve already taken on organizing efforts in our respective buildings, so if someone is interested in coming as an individual, we can help them with outreach in their buildings.”

Anyone interested in joining the Down-town Dwellers can email the group at [email protected]


By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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