Rail Yard District Honors Jeff Edwards at Quarterly Meeting

Rail Yard District Honors Jeff Edwards at Quarterly Meeting
Jeff Edwards (right) is presented the Janet Owens Leadership Award

The Rail Yard District Business Council held its first in-person gathering since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 24, led by new District President Annie Murphy and featuring the presentation of the Janet Owens Rail Yard District Leadership Award to Jeff Edwards, president of Beaver Street Fisheries.

The meeting was held at the soon-to-open Myrtle Ave. Brewery, and featured beer by Myrtle Avenue, cold brew by Longroad Coffee, and catering by Empowered Kitchen – all Rail Yard District businesses.

Edwards, who is the immediate past president of the Rail Yard District, was humbled to receive the award. Janet Owens, who passed away in 2020, was the executive director of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and is considered the “godmother of the Rail Yard District.” Edwards reflected on the positive changes to the District under his leadership. “As the first president, we got the District established,” Edwards said. “We put on events, hosted candidate forums, and had a Christmas Trolley Tour through the district.” Increasing the visibility of the Rail Yard District, which is a 4.5-square-mile triangle bounded by Old Kings Road to the north, Huron Street to the west, and Interstates 10 and 95 to the south, was critical to attracting public and private investment.

“Our first major impact was on infrastructure,” Annie Murphy said. “We got a say in Beaver Street re-paving, how they’re going to rebuild the exits off 95 coming into the District, those things made a big difference for us.” LISC initially approached businesses in the district to form the Rail Yard District Business Council to keep the needs of the District in front of the City Council.

Annie Murphy, owner of Eco Relics and President of the Rail Yard District
Annie Murphy, owner of Eco Relics and President of the Rail Yard District

Murphy, who owns Eco Relics, notes that there is still plenty of work to make the District fully functional. “You still see how semi-trucks struggle to make a turn here – and this is one of the most industrial districts in the urban core.” As its name suggests, the Rail Yard District was created to accommodate trains, and has narrow streets.

The District is benefitting from the development of both the Emerald Trail and McCoys Creek, resulting in wider sidewalks along Beaver Street and improved lighting. The existing leg of the Emerald Trail terminates in the Rail Yard District, and planned expansions to the Emerald Trail will run throughout the District. Similarly, McCoys Creek runs through the south end of the District, and is slated to become an urban greenway.

Murphy wants to build on the improved infrastructure by attracting small businesses to the District. “I would love to see more customer-front businesses here, because that is truly a way for us to move beyond our industrial past. I would love to see a grocery store here. I would love to see a bank branch here, because right now we are devoid of both. That would be my wish for this neighborhood.”

In the future, Murphy hopes to work with the city to clarify zoning in the District. “I would like it to be a liveable community. I don’t think this district has much zoning to protect (residents). It would be nice some day to have a zone overlay like Riverside, Avondale, or Springfield, so that we have more of a say in what happens in this neighborhood.”

The Rail Yard District meeting concluded with a group train-whistle cheer and a round of trivia. For more information on the District, visit their website at railyardjax.org.

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