Jacksonville, Fla., doesn't get the respect it deserves. How many people know, for example, that with a metro area population of 1.3 million, it's the third-largest city on the East Coast — after New York and Philadelphia? Or that Forbes considers it one of the top 10 U.S. cities to find a job?

It doesn't have the sizzle of Miami or the riches of Palm Beach, but it's a city to be reckoned with. And, now, its long-dormant downtown, which currently has just 2,074 residents, according to city booster Downtown Vision Inc., downtown Jacksonville is finally getting much-needed attention. “It is a very interesting point,” says Jim Morgan, a broker at Sperry Van Ness. “There are 7,500 new residential units coming on line, generating a new residential mass for eating and drinking and necessary services.”

The median age, not counting the residents of one senior center, is 45, and the median household income is $89,000.

“Downtown Jacksonville has not had a large residential market up til now, but they are doing a great job,” says Craig Thomas, a retail specialist with Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services. “It's a never-ending project, but they're moving forward at an exponential rate.”

Downtown growth was stalled for a time when the mayor deferred construction of a big new courthouse. But now that this 15-story, $316 million project has been moved to the front burner, considerable funds are being poured into the city's core.

Enter Cameron Kuhn, an Orlando developer who has set his sights on gentrifying what had been a deteriorating area. His firm, Kuhn Cos., has invested $70 million in the core area since 2005, with plans to spend another $150 million over the next three years to develop both office and residential condominiums. All the buildings will have street-level retail, including restaurants, bookstores, drugstores and other shops serving local residents.

“It's the logical next step,” says George Moore, Kuhn vice president in Jacksonville. “It hasn't yet gone through the growth of other Florida cities. We figure we're about five years behind Orlando.”

Fast Facts

  • Ranked as one of Expansion Management magazine's 50 Hottest Cities.
  • Duval County (where the city is located) contains 51.8 million square feet of existing retail according to CoStar data, but almost none of it is located downtown.
  • The median household income in Jacksonville is currently $40,792. For greater Duval County the per capita income is $32,175.
  • The median age in Jacksonville is currently 34.9 years.
  • There are 357,721 housing units in Jacksonville.
  • The mean travel time for workers in Jacksonville's downtown core is just 23.4 minutes.
  • Currently, 88.4 percent of the city's population holds a high school diploma and 24.3 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • In 2006, the city proper had an estimated population of 834,789 with a metropolitan population of greater than 1.3 million people.
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