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Renew Arlington

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Shoes, heart and promise met the pavement of Arlington in August of 1977 when the Jacksonville University baseball team would run. Weaving through the northeast neighborhoods, Tim Cost, a freshman from the wintry Syracuse, New York, saw the community as beautiful, green, warm and welcoming.

“Down here it was just beautiful, and I thought the University had a connection with Arlington,” Cost said.

The 1977 freshman became the President of his alma mater 36 years later on Feb. 1, 2013. Within 14 months, Cost communicated that he had a bigger vision for Arlington, and was working with Mayor Alvin Brown, the Office of Economic Development CEO Ted Carter, and other agencies to develop the vision, according to a Feb. 11 Daily Record article.

The mission, named “Operation Dolphin” after the JU mascot and marine life in the St. Johns River, reemerged when Brown, Cost and City Council members announced that the “Renew Jax” initiative will expand to the Arlington area Wednesday, Feb. 11. Through public-private partnerships, Cost hopes that this project will let the Jacksonville community know that JU is open and available to them.

“If you drive by JU, you may think it’s not for you,” Cost said. “You might not have any business here. You may see what looks like really attractive fences and gates, but you may feel for some reason that it’s holding you out. I want people to know that we’re trying to invite you in.”

Efforts of Renew Arlington are multi-faceted, reminding the local community that Arlington is “a gateway to the city of Jacksonville.”

“You see us thinking about everything from, how do we make the corner of Merrill and University safer, to how do we make it better, to how do we make it more beautiful, to how do we engage with the community here,” Cost said.

Community organizations already engaged include the Jacksonville Electric Authority, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Office of Economic Development in City Hall, and the Sheriff’s Department.

“When we asked for help and started to convene meetings here on this campus, everybody showed up,” Cost said. “When you can get a police officer, a pastor, a school teacher, a parent and a faculty member at JU all agreeing on what’s a good thing, you got something there.”

Mayor Brown hopes that by leveraging public and private investments, Jacksonville will see “new business and job opportunities along with a safer, more vibrant environment for everyone in Arlington.”

“Arlington is a community that’s ready for a turnaround,” Brown said in a statement. “It’s a neighborhood with a great past, and I believe it can look forward to a great future.”

Cost believes JU students can capture the great future Brown spoke of in his statement. Those who practice to reach their potential and learn the role of a community ecosystem have a large ripple effect of the quality of the community, Cost said.

“As soon as you move past your steps at this university, you’re going to become a citizen of a community,” Cost said. “When all of your apertures are wide open in college, and you are in total learn mode, one of the things we can add to that is, here’s how a community and a neighborhood can interact with a university.”

Since the University does not own Merrill or University Blvd., Renew Arlington is looking for ways to redistribute funds back into Arlington, including a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), joint investment, and tax treatment.

“Lots of great ideas have died for lack of funding,” Cost said. “As you alter the real estate values of yourself, you also alter the tax base you’re working on. Is there a way while we’re all collectively investing in this region of Arlington that we can then capture the benefit of the quality increases and reinvest those dollars back into Arlington? And the answer is yes.”

For a 20 year period, all new revenues generated from increased property values in the redevelopment area will be dedicated to economic development, housing, infrastructure and other projects to benefit the Arlington area.

Renew Arlington efforts will also add to the more than $27 million in campus improvements and investments already underway at JU, including a new 270-plus student housing development.

“That one building is part of our plan to access the CRA,” Cost said. “Renew Arlington works better as more and better students come to this University. The classes are better and the numbers are very supportive. We can now look to the future and build a new building for students who haven’t even arrived here yet.”

Students who want to support the Renew Arlington initiative can become knowledgeable about what the city is doing and the public policy surrounding it. Most importantly, Cost said, students can treat JU like it’s their home.

“The students right now, and I thank the students for this, they’re treating this campus with respect,” Cost said. “If I don’t have to spend lots of money cleaning up after things students have done or anyone has done, that means those funds can be reinvested and we can make Chick-fil-A occur, we can build new sidewalks, heating and cooling units, stadiums and laboratories.”

Cost also hopes that students will join the University and Arlington community on the first day of service tied to Charter Day, a celebration of JU’s founding, on April 16. Students will be able to go out into the Arlington community and take on a series of projects to support the Renew Arlington mission of empowering and revitalizing key Jacksonville neighborhoods.

“We’ll have the project ready,” Cost said. “We’ll have the buses. We’ll have the food. We’ll have it planned. We just want to know if [the students] would like to participate.”

Watching the students and faculty show that they want to be great and are willing to work for a great university has inspired Cost to use these partnerships as a way to flourish the university and surrounding neighborhoods to help the community.

“The Renew Arlington initiative is indicative of our overall game plan to improve the quality of everything that we do,” Cost said. “I see it as a responsibility of the administration to continue to identify innovative ways to make this a better university for the students and faculty. One of those ways is to create a greater, better, safer surrounding neighborhood. There are going to be other ways, but this one fits right into our strategy of excellence.”

Information that may be good for an info-box to break the story 

Basic building blocks of Renew Arlington: Safety, security, beautification, engagement, investment – President Cost

Key projects identified include: – COJ

  • JTA will develop a plan for University Boulevard and Merrill Road, which are part of the JTAMobilityWorks initiative that is designed to improve accessibility and mobility.  A corridor plan will be driven by community and stakeholder input.  It will consider sidewalk improvements, ADA accessibility, transit shelters, lighting, landscaping, safety enhancements and context sensitive roadway solutions.
  • JEA will work with the City and JU in their efforts to enhance the University Boulevard and Merrill Road corridors by improving its utilities to upgrade safety, aesthetics and reliability.
  • JU will continue partnering with the City to invest on campus and in the community, along with attracting businesses to link up with education and research opportunities.
  • The City will work with local businesses and developers to enhance University Boulevard and Merrill Road as commercial retail corridors.
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