July 19, 2021 6:00am

Jacksonville power players overwhelmingly support relocation of Fairgounds out of downtown

Most see move to city's Westside as improving downtown Jacksonville

Photo of Drew Dixon
By Drew Dixon
Jacksonville, FL Correspondent

Jacksonville’s power elite leaders are overwhelmingly for a City Hall proposal to move the Jacksonville Fairgrounds out of downtown.

Few of the power players in this Month’s Jacksonville Power Poll opposed the proposal. While the plan has yet to be approved by the City Council, it calls for the Fairgrounds to be relocated out of the city’s sports complex area of downtown west to an area off Normandy Boulevard where the Jacksonville Equestrian Center currently operates.

If the proposal is approved by the council by Oct. 1, the budget for the relocation would cost about $27 million over two years to complete the relocation of the Fairgrounds which have been in downtown since 1955.

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The move would also come as there are other proposals for revitalizing downtown including one plan that calls for at least 10 new buildings on the urban core’s north bank between the old Landing site east to the old City Hall lot. Both sites are currently vacant lots.

Then about a half mile east of those relocation proposals, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has pitched a plan to build a high-end hotel and revamping a city marina on the waterfront. Khan has also expressed interest in possibly purchasing the Fairgrounds property if it is vacated between TIAA Bank Field and 123 Financial Ballpark.

Respondents to Power Poll are heavily supportive of the Fairgrounds relocation proposal.

When asked what the initial impression was to the proposed move, 72.2% of the movers and shakers who took the poll said the fairgrounds should have been moved a long time ago. Those who are for keeping the current location of the Fairgrounds were tied with those who want to study it more or those who aren’t sure at 9.2%.

Fred Jones, vice mayor of Neptune Beach at Jacksonville’s coast, said the relocation of the Fairgrounds is long overdue.

“When I first interned with the (Jacksonville) planning department 20 years ago, it occurred to me then that it should have been relocated with the newly built Equestrian Center as part of the newly approved Better Jax Plan,” Jones said.

When asked who will benefit most from the Fairgounds relocation, 57.1% of respondents said everyone in Jacksonville because it serves all agendas. Another 23.5% said Khan would reap the most benefit. Those who think participants in the annual fair will benefit the most along with those who don’t know were tied at 9.5%.

Eric Mann, president and CEO of the First Coast YMCA, said the relocation would be a “win-win.”

As to the competing locations between downtown and west Jacksonville, a vast majority, 77.3% said the spot off Normandy Boulevard already has agricultural activities and the space downtown is needed for more urban activities. Some 18.2% said the downtown site is tradition and they don’t see the need to run activities out of downtown. Another 4.5% said they don’t know or had no opinion.

This month’s Power Poll was conducted between July 12 and July 15. The poll was sent to 102 elite leaders in Jacksonville via email and 22 people took part, a 21.57% response rate.

This is Drew Dixon and thanks for taking part in this month's Power Poll. We look forward to getting feedback from you in our next Power Poll in August.

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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