Jacksonville leaders seek Toronto's secret

by: John Bachman, Action News Jax Updated:

For decades, Jacksonville leaders have tried to develop the Shipyards.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has proposed a $1 billion development. On Wednesday, about a hundred business and city leaders are going to Toronto to learn from its tremendous downtown growth. 

They will also visit Khan’s Four Seasons hotel there. Action News Jax anchor John Bachman went to Toronto a couple weeks ago to find out what Toronto’s success could mean for Jacksonville.

Downtown Toronto is bustling with people, business and growth. Dozens of Jacksonville leaders will soon explore North America’s fourth largest city. On the shore of Lake Ontario, it has a spectacular skyline, which has grown quickly along the waterfront.

"Downtown the buildings, over (the) past 30 years, a lot of these buildings were never here," said Cindy Crain, who works in downtown Toronto.

Crain enjoyed a lunch break in the October sunshine with young professionals and tourists who flock to the city and its hot spots — including Nathan Phillips Square.

Joanna Christopoulos works and lives in downtown Toronto.

"It's completely different, the architecture is more artistic, more investment ... everything is growing, way more developed than it was 20 years ago," Christopoulos said.

One Toronto developer tells Action News Jax that at one point, the city had more cranes in its skyline than any city in North America. In the last 25 years, building permits have more than quadrupled in value.

Those cranes towering over downtown Toronto bring not only buildings but and tens of thousands of jobs, many of them in the financial district on Bay Street.  

Near Jacksonville's Bay Street, there’s a bank — Everbank Field — and not much else. City leaders and Shad Khan want to change that.

“Toronto has done this so we can see what they've done to spur housing over the last decade," said former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton.

Peyton, Jacksonville’s Chamber Board chair-elect, is leading the trip to Toronto. He said Jacksonville's downtown is on the verge of big things — including Khan’s plans to develop the waterfront from Metropolitan Park to the Shipyards.

"Seeing the product he's delivered there, and knowing his plans for Shipyards, and vision for that area, timing is good for us to see what he's done and build some support for that," Peyton said.

Peyton is focused on downtown, and utilizing the area's biggest attraction — the St. Johns River — much like Toronto used Lake Ontario to attract people, and developers to build places to live and work.

“I don't think we'll have to sell Jacksonville that hard. I think fundamentals are here. Let's make sure we have infrastructure in place and the city designed to accommodate what we think is coming," Peyton said.

Taxpayers did not fund this trip. Each individual paid their own way.

FACEBOOK LIVE: John Bachman discusses Toronto's qualities that Jacksonville is trying to emulate:

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