So why aren't we flocking there in droves? Maybe it has to do with the lingering perception that it isn't safe there after dark. Consider my recent foray into the area on the occasion of Eat Up Downtown - a showcase of downtown eateries sponsored in part by Downtown Vision.
I parked my car in a safe and well lit (it was still daylight) lot by my restaurant of choice for the evening, Indochine. As I was settling into my parking spot, I saw a JSO officer chase a middle-aged woman across the lot. He flagged her down, they had a brief conversation, and he returned to his cruiser. As he was exiting the lot, he pulled up beside my car, threw his cruiser into park, and approached, jesturing for me to roll down my window. While my mind started cataloging my possible offenses (unpaid parking ticket? backing into the parking space?) I rolled my window down JUST enough to hear what the fine officer had to say.
"Do you come downtown often?" he asked. Beads of sweat were popping out on my forehead at this point. What answer was he looking for? Did he mistake me for a middle aged, overweight hooker?
"Yes - well - not really" was my non-committal response. My mind was racing.
He edged closer to the car and handed me - a government issue pamphlet. "We're giving folks some tips on staying safe. There's a lot of people coming here for the first time with that Eat Up Downtown."
"Yeah - that's actually why I'm here, I'm headed to Indochine" (I pointed to the restaurant in plain view, some 50 yards from my car). "Has there been a rise in the crime rate downtown or something?"
"Oh yeah, It gets pretty bad down here at night, especially with the homeless and all" he suggested.
I was sixteen different kinds of offended by this. To begin with, I have, actually, spent many evenings in downtown Jacksonville over the years. I have had interaction with, but have never felt threatened by the homeless population seeking shelter and sustenance there. Also, we were within walking distance of the Sulzbacher Center - offering "the way home" for homeless men, women and children. If you suffer from the ill-conceived notion that homelessness is somehow a criminal offense, please visit their website and learn more about the wonderful work this organization does for the most vulnerable among us. And if you want to support their cause while learning more about what they do, consider attending their annual fundraiser, Transformations, October 6.
The officer must have spied another potential victim of crime, and bid me farewell about the same time my friend pulled up. We warily made our way the few short steps to the restaurant and waited for our friend to arrive so we could get our fill of some Thai food...
Next post - Indochine.