Destination Downtown

May 18, 2008

In my adult life I’ve lived in three cities now (sad, I know!). My hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota, that state’s capital, has a population of about 55,000. By North Dakota standards it’s urban, but the whole state is rural by American standards. Downtown shuts down by 7 at night, except for two or three restaurants. They may stay open til 10 on weeknights, and 1:00 on weekends. But that city has never fooled itself into thinking that its downtown can ever be a destination.

Contrast that to Florida’s capital, Tallahassee. That city has declared its desire to make downtown an 18-hour destination. So far I haven’t talked to anyone who ever even heard of that as a goal before…chalk one up to ingenuity for this little city of 160,000. Granted that does not account for the college students from the cities two universities (Florida State Uuniversity and Florida A&M University), but they aren’t residents. And while this is the capital of a major state, it’s still a small town. Here’s the funniest thing about the 18-hour destination goal: downtown Tallahassee shuts down at 11:00, even on weekend nights! Not sure exactly which 18 hours the city fathers were targeting, but apparently it’s more of a 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. slot than say a 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. slot.

Finally there’s Jacksonville in northeast Florida on the Atlantic coast. This formerly little red neck city grew up fast when the NFL brought the Jaguars to Jacksonville and has much to offer: A&E, concerts, pro sports, college sports, shopping, dining and more. Yet the 18-hour downtown destination would be a stretch for Jacksonville, but the leadership there set its sights on loftier goals. They want a 24-hour downtown. Of the city’s 1.2 million residents, only 10,000 live downtown. The rest drive 30 minutes to get home at day’s end and are not inclined to return to downtown for much of anything. Except football of course, this is the South after all!

As the saying goes, “goals are dreams with deadlines,” so it’s optimistic that both Jacksonville and Tallahassee dream big. A first step in achieving those dreams might be grasping that if Saturday night’s last call is at 10:45, the 18/24-hour destination is a stretch!



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