Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Jacksonville Launches Study of Durkeeville Historic Black Neighborhood

By meerna Jul11,2024
Jacksonville Launches Study of Durkeeville Historic Black Neighborhood


  • Jacksonville is preparing to make another attempt to develop vacant lots in the Durkeeville neighborhood.
  • The year-long study, titled “Miracle at Mirta,” will develop an action plan to reverse decades of population decline in the part of the city that is home to about 5,000 people.
  • The previous round of investment in Durkeeville came 25 years ago when the Jacksonville Housing Authority used a large federal housing grant to build The Oaks at Durkeeville.

In the Durkeeville neighborhood, metal street signs mark dozens of vacant lots that the Jacksonville Housing Authority bought 25 years ago as part of an ambitious plan called “Durkeeville Rebirth.”

Now Jacksonville is preparing to make another attempt to develop those parcels, bringing renewed attention to Durkeeville.

Durkeeville, located in the northwest corner of Jacksonville in the 32209 ZIP code, which is the city’s poorest neighborhood, is a neighborhood that will be the yardstick of Mayor Donna Deegan’s promise to significantly increase city investment in communities that have not benefited from Jacksonville’s prosperity.

“This is a critical investment in one of the oldest African-American communities in Jacksonville,” she said July 1 during a ceremony where she signed the district’s master-planning bill.

But beyond the $200,000 for the master plan that City Council member Ron Salem gave when he was council president, the city has not allocated any specific funds for housing in Durkeeville. City Council member Jimmy Peluso, who sponsored the master plan legislation, said the city will have a financial role to play but needs to see what residents want before creating programs.

“It is the residents of Durkeeville who will decide the future of their city,” he said.

The year-long study — dubbed “Miracle on Myrtle” after the landmarks along Myrtle Avenue — will develop an action plan to reverse decades of decline in the part of town that is home to about 5,000 people.

This neighborhood is home to the tall-stepped churches along Myrtle Avenue, the historic JP Small Memorial Stadium, home to baseball great Hank Aaron, and Stanton College Preparatory School, one of the top high schools in the country.

A drive along a mile-long stretch of Myrtle Avenue also shows signs of the neighborhood’s challenges for the mix of homes and small shopping centers that line the street. All the buildings are aging. Some are vacant.

In a part of Jacksonville that has limited access to banks, a building that was once a savings and loan is now home to the nonprofit Families of Slain Children, which supports families whose loved ones have died in the violence that has hit the 32209 ZIP code particularly hard for years.

Elsewhere in the area, vacant lots represent the kind of population loss that Durkeville has experienced as residents, especially young people, have moved out. If the rooftops attract retail, building more housing in the area would help merchants along Myrtle Avenue and Kings Road, the commercial corridors that will be part of the study.

Durkeeville’s last major investment came 25 years ago, when the Jacksonville Housing Authority used a large federal housing grant from the Hope VI program to build The Oaks at Durkeeville, which brought 200 townhome-style apartments, 28 townhomes and a shopping center overlooking Myrtle Avenue.

The housing authority also bought other lots with plans to build more homes, but that part of the “Durkeeville Revival” has stalled. Peluso said the lack of development on the lots sends residents the wrong message about the neighborhood’s future.

“People are losing hope,” Peluso said. “They look at them every day and say, ‘Nothing’s happening there. Nothing’s happening anywhere.’”

A recent report from the housing authority, which inventoried its ownership of vacant land, shows 20 of the parcels are in the Durkeeville neighborhood. The housing authority report says the parcels could be zoned for single-family housing or possibly townhomes. The parcels are not adjacent to each other but are in a walking area between Myrtle Avenue and the S-Line Urban Greenway, which will be part of the Emerald Trail.

The area has seen a few new homes in recent years, thanks to work by the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corp. The nonprofit implemented Payne Avenue Walk, which added 12 new homes, and partnered with Vestcor to develop Mary Eaves Apartments, which has 80 affordable apartments for seniors next to the Stanton campus.

The city is in the process of redeveloping JP Small Park at a cost of $9.7 million, which will include installing artificial turf on the sports field, as well as modernizing the stadium and a museum showcasing the history of black baseball teams and players in Jacksonville.

The City Council has allocated nearly $1.2 million over the past three years for a program that will help business owners along Myrtle Avenue and Moncrief Road improve the appearance of their buildings through facade updates, landscaping, signage and parking improvements.

City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman, who spearheaded the program, said she expects work on the first group of businesses along Myrtle Avenue to begin in the coming months.

The “Miracle on Myrtle” study, which will release its final report in spring 2025, will go a step further, creating a set of recommendations for building affordable and market-rate housing, increasing traffic on Myrtle Avenue and Kings Road, and specific public works projects the city should fund.

However, as the empty plots owned by the housing construction board show, the effectiveness of the study depends on whether specific money is invested in it.

Deegan signed the study into law at Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church, where senior pastor Lee Harris has long been a Durkeeville advocate. Harris met with Peluso and Deegan about unfinished business in the area’s revitalization.

“Thank you, Mayor Deegan, for your willingness to continue to deliver on the promises you’ve made,” Harris said at the event. He added, “And we look forward to making her do that.”

By meerna

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