West Beaver Street, surrounding area create new business district

West Beaver Street, surrounding area create new business district
Rail Yard District Business Council officers and board members: Thomas Duke, Jeff Edelson, Kirk Sandifer, Jeff Edwards, Annie Murphy, Chef Chriss Brown, Chris Webster, District 9 Councilman Garrett Dennis, Kara Scremin; board members not present were Don Gibson and Kristin Keen.

Embracing that strength is, indeed, found in unity, nearly 350 businesses in a 4.5-square-mile area bisected by West Beaver Street compose the Rail Yard District Business Council, a newly-formed nonprofit. West of I-95 and north of I-10, the area includes neighborhoods such as Mixon Town, New Town, Brooklyn and Lackawanna.

At the new council’s May 9 meeting, approximately two dozen of those businesses sent representatives to learn about the group’s leadership, the history of the railyard area and the opportunities to join committees to make positive change in the area.

The newly-coined district is not a small one in jobs and sales, reported Jeff Edwards, president of the nonprofit and chief financial officer for Beaver Street Fisheries, where the meeting was held. Nearly 6,300 people are employed in the Rail Yard District, bringing in more than $2.6 billion in sales.

The business council has plans for the district, but even before the meeting, several items were accomplished, including repairs of viaducts, street lights, roadways and railroad crossings. In addition, the Rail Yard District Business Council was the winner of the LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Community Development Award.

With its 501(c)(3) status approved, officers and a board of directors were named. In addition to Edwards as president, Annie Murphy (Eco Relics) will serve as vice president; Chef Chriss Brown (Beaver Street Commissary) as secretary, and Chris Webster (Battalion Airsoft Arena) as treasurer. Board members include Kara Scremin (Engine 15/The Glass Factory), Kristin Keen (Rethreaded), Kirk Sandifer (Cain & Bultman), Tom Duke (Thomas Duke Architect, PA), Don Gibson (Big D Building Center), and Jeff Edelson (Mixon Studios).

“It was a fantastic meeting to officially kick off the RYD Business Council,” said Edwards. “We had 55 attendees…lots of new faces.”

Calling themselves “yardies,” members of the business council are signing up to serve on any of three committees: infrastructure, membership and marketing, all of which will foster and advocate for making the district the best possible business environment for the area’s companies and new businesses.

In fact, the Planning Commission recently approved a zoning exception for a fitness center at 546 Myrtle Ave. in a vacant warehouse in a Light Industrial zoning district. The almost 13,000-square-foot warehouse, built in 1950, will be used for an indoor soccer training facility with three fields, exercise and locker rooms and a clubhouse area.

The Rail Yard District was one of the first to be recommended for funding for improvements through the Emerald Necklace project, according to Janet Owens, LISC executive director. The project will connect 14 miles of trails, parks and waterways that surround the urban core and will link at least 14 neighborhoods, including those within the Rail Yard District.

“This is one of Jacksonville’s most impoverished ZIP Codes,” said Webster, who was in commercial real estate until 2011, then started Battalion Airsoft Arena a year later. “When I came into this district, I fell in love with it, mainly because of the location. I wasn’t afraid of things like access, appeal, safety. I looked at what businesses have already done it here.”

The group is planning a community event in the fall to be held at the Jacksonville Farmer’s Market.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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