Meet Your Neighbors: David & Laura and Paul & Alison

(Originally published in 2010)

Meet Your New Neighbors

p10-XL.jpgName: David & Laura, and Family

Location: E. 3rdStreet

Occupation: David is a Biology professor at FSCJ and Laura owns Yard Chicks Inc, a landscape design business.

Fun Fact: David and Laura met in Fiji, while in the Peace Core. 

Q: What brought you to the Springfield Historic District? 

David: We moved to Jacksonville from Gainesville in 1993 after I received a job offer for a tenured professorship. We were looking for houses in Jacksonville but we didn’t have much time, and our realtor was showing us a number new subdivisions on the outskirts of Jacksonville. I remember being shown Julington Creek and thinking that the houses were just dreadful.  Not my taste at all, and that they had just bulldozed a forest to build them.

The homes in Springfield caught our eye, we loved the houses and architecture, but the neighborhood wasn't' "there" yet, so moved to San Marco. It was somewhat of a compromise between the two.

Laura: Crime was still too much of an issue then for us to seriously think about moving into Springfield then. But in the past few years we’ve had friends move into the neighborhood, neighbors of ours from San Marco. We saw that the neighborhood had improved by leap and bounds and heard about how resident’s created a great sense of community. And how, you know, they weren’t afraid to have a drink now and then.

I think we just wanted to part of something bigger, if that makes sense. Bigger than the suburbs. We wanted to make an investment in something worthwhile, and wanted to live somewhere special. We moved in at the end of July, 2010 and are loving it.


Q: Did you purchase an old or new house, and how did you know it was “the one”?

David: We had a new home built for us through SRG. We initially wanted to buy an old house and renovate it. We’ve always lived in older homes from the 1920’s to 1950’s and love their unique character. But we were done with home renovation projects. Our last 1950’s ranch-style house in San Marco was one endless project. We were just burnt out with that.

Laura: We saw the SRG model home, “The Benjamin” design, and knew right away that this was what we were looking for. It has the same lines and look of a traditional, early 1900’s house but with modern interior features. We like how it’s more energy efficient too.

But the thing that really sold us, the deciding factor really, was having enough space to build a swimming pool. We’re water people so that could have been a deal breaker. But SRG was very accommodating and found a space in the neighborhood that could comfortably fit our house and a pool.

Q: What did your family and friends think of your decision to move into the neighborhood?

David: Some people were intrigued, but most were surprised.

Laura: I would say shocked more than surprised.

David: One of our neighbors said “Oh, that’s great. You're such creative people”, which I thought was interesting. What does that mean?

Q: Do you plan to participate in any of the neighborhood events or organizations?

Laura: We’ve joined SPAR (Springfield Preservation And Revitalization) already, and since I’m a small business owner, I’ve just joined SAMBA (Springfield Area Merchants and Business Association) too. 

David: We’ve attended a First Friday party and Sarah played the violin at Three Layers Café last night, as part of their open mic night. We’re also very interested in the new "Brew Crew", which is the neighborhood’s beer aficionado club, and the Wine Society. 

Q: Is there anything else you enjoy about living in the Historic District?

David: I really like the people here. We like our neighbors. We’ve only lived here about 6 weeks now, but we’ve already met so many people. And we’re surprised how quiet it is. We have apartments next door to us, so we were slightly concerned about noise, but it’s not a problem at all.

Laura: We love the grided neighborhood layout. We love the alleys. We have a routine of walking the alleys most evening after dinner now. 

David: I think just think walking in general. Less driving, more walking. We walk to the Post office, we walk to the parks, walk to the restaurants at Third & Main, walk to Three Layers Café, walk to The Native Café, the kids can walk to the corner store to grab a gallon of milk, etc.

Q: Do you have any concerns about the neighborhood?

Laura: The biggest thing for me is the schools. There are great schools here, but there are not also not so great schools too. I think the community needs to rally around our public schools to improve them. That's what we did in San Marco when Landon Middle School was going the wrong direction years ago.  We rallied around it, supported it, made change, and now it's fantastic.

Q: How do you see the neighborhood evolving in the future?

Laura: I am so, so certain that it will continue on the same track that it’s been on and continue to move forward. It’s past the tipping point, in my opinion.

David: People are still buying derelict old houses and renovating them, even in the down market, which is a great sign of momentum. There are still good deals to found here. I’d like to see more small businesses here though, more retail storefronts, especially on Main Street.

Q: What would you say to people who are considering moving into the neighborhood?

David: It’s a great time to move. The prices are right and the neighborhood is in a good place.

Laura: Get over any preconceived notions or ideas that you have about the neighborhood. It’s an urban neighborhood. It comes with specific issues that suburban neighborhoods don’t have, but of course it also has rewards that suburban neighborhoods won’t have. Every neighborhood has pluses and minuses. But why buy a cookie cutter on the other side of town when you can have something unique and gorgeous here? To me, it’s a no-brainer.


Meet Your Long-Time Neighbors

p7-XL.jpgName: Paul & Alison, and Family

Location: Market Street 

Occupation: Paul is a real estate developer and restaurateur, while Alison is a 5thgrade teacher at Stockton Elementary. 

Fun Fact:  Paul has the record for the single longest COA application process with the city, as the Historic Preservation Committee reviewed it for 2 years.

Q: What brought you to Springfield?

 A: In one word, opportunity. 

In 1999 I was living in Dallas with my brother, renovating old warehouses into artist’s lofts, and was doing very well with that. Well, I came to visit a friend in Jacksonville Beach and he took me to a Jaguars game. As we were leaving the stadium, we got turned around and ended up in this neck of the woods. He was lost and trying to find out exactly where we were. I distinctly remember him saying “Oh, I know where we are. This is 8thand Main.”, and we made a u-turn on Main Street to face Downtown.

I couldn’t believe what I saw. We had a million dollar view of Downtown. The skyline was all lit up. We were so close to downtown, but most of the property up and down Main Street was vacant and abandoned. In Dallas, all of it would have been gobbled up in a second. I just couldn’t believe it. So the next day I made him take me back. We rode around the neighborhood, I wrote down all a bunch of numbers, got some preliminary information, and went back to Dallas with enough information to do some research.

After doing my due diligence, I scheduled a trip back to Jacksonville. 

When I came back, I worked with a few different realtors over a couple days time, and none wanted to show me Springfield. They tried to direct to Riverside or the Beaches, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. They weren’t very helpful. Somehow I got hooked up with Rita Reagan, a Springfield legend, and I learned more from her in half a day than I did from the other three people combined. 

She offered to give me the Klutho building on Main Street. She was just going to give it to me with $200k to fix the roof and renovate it. She had some kind of a grant to save the building, and here I was, probably seen as big time out of town investor swooping in to save the day. So that was it for me, and I said “I’m coming to Jax!”

I didn’t end up with building after all, because a non-profit became interested in it shortly afterwards, but I did buy the old Fire Stone building, now called 9th& Main, the Corrine Scott Elementary School, now the Market Street Lofts, and a three story building on Main Street that basically fell down shortly after. 

The school house, circa 1924, has an interesting story. Rita showed it to me and I was immediately ready to buy it, but a group of investors had just purchased it for $35k right under my nose. They were actually planning on tearing it down, if you can believe that, to sell the bricks and chop up the land into separate parcels.  It was worth more money to them that way. Anyway, Rita arranged a dinner between the new owners and myself, where we talked about the future of the area and what not. They saw the property as long-term investment and were moaning over how long they would have to sit on it to turn a profit. At the end of the dinner I slowly slid my credit card across the table and said, “I’ll buy the building from you right now for $50k. Just put it on my credit card and be done with it”. They backtracked and put up a front, saying that they had to think about it. Two days later they called me back, trying to get more money out of me, but I wouldn’t budge. In the end they agreed to sell it, and I did end up putting the school on my credit card. 

So when that deal was done, I officially moved into the neighborhood. All of that was in 1999. 

 Q: What are some of your memories of that time?

A: They mainly have to do with all the work I was doing. I always thought Main Street would take a long time to come back, but I knew I could turn the school house into cool artists lofts right away. I knew that would work. All I needed to do was find five cool people, and they would have five cool friends, and go from there.

Since I had a background in construction, I did a lot of the work myself. I drove a bulldozer through the building pushing piles and piles of crap out of the school house. I was living on the grounds at the time too, in a cheap little mobile home out back. At that time, the neighborhood being what it was, you couldn’t leave a work site like that unattended at night. It took about a year to do the demo inside the property and about a year to build it back out. I started to lease out units in 2001.

As fate would have it, that year a young woman, a recent Auburn graduate and band new Duval County school teacher, came to the annual SPAR Home Tour. The school, now transformed into the Market Street Lofts, wasn’t on the tour, but I think I was a point of interest. She stopped by, was looking for a place to live, she liked the space  a lot, and ended up being my very first buyer. The teacher with good taste in real estate would end up being my wife, Alison. 

Q: Does your house have a story?

A: Well, I knew the former owner of my house. I was working on the school house for a while, then living there too. So I got to know the neighbors, one of which was this nice old lady next door. Some of her family lived with her and they sort of took advantage of her kindness, I think. One day she told me that she wanted to sell her house and move into senior living condos, and that she wanted me, specifically, to buy her house. Well, I had heard this before and was waiting for some exorbitant asking price. But she just asked for $50k; very reasonable. I bought it, made sure the money went to the right places. helped her move into the senior condos, and she died a year later. 

The house was built in 1924, I think, and we completely gutted and renovated it. I still see some her family slowly driving by now and then, probably showing friends where they once lived and what the house looks like now. 

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the Historic District since 1999?

A: The quality of neighbors moving in now, more than anything else. People that are moving into the Historic District now appreciate the character of the neighborhood, and want to grow their family here. 

Q:  What do you enjoy most about the neighborhood?

A: The neighbors and the neighborhood. Opportunity brought me here, but those are what keep me here. I mean, my businesses are here ( Uptown Market & The Burrito Gallery ), my investments are here, and my friends are here. And that’s the most important thing, more than anything else: the people. I don’t think I could ever live somewhere else and have more friends and associates than I do here. 

My wife’s sister lives in a gated community on Kernan Blvd, and she has maybe five friends there. I probably have 50. And they’re all different and eclectic. 

And something else that I should mention, changing gears here, is that we ride our bicycles to the Jaguar and Suns games. We can make it there in 15 minutes, no parking hassles, no traffic. It’s the only way to go! 

Q: Do you take part in any of the neighborhood events or organizations? 

A: I’ve participated in almost all of them in the past, but with my increasing workload and 2 young children, I’m having to take a break from it all. I did participate in the SPAR Home & Garden Tour this past Spring, and I hosted a membership drive at Uptown Market earlier in the year as well.

 Q: What do you hope to see happen in the neighborhood going forward?

 A: Main Street. Main Street has to pop for Springfield to really get to that next level, in my opinion. That’s been the most disappointing thing about my 11 years here. Even in this poor market I would have thought it would have more development by now. It has so much history and potential. People look at Five Points and San Marco Square as great retail locations, and they are, but we have 3x the commercial space on Main Street, so it could be that much better. But a combination of property owners asking unreasonable prices and bad economics have held it down. But that’ll change; the margins are still better here than anywhere else in Jacksonville. And that’s what I think the next step will be: Main Street.

 Q: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about moving into the Springfield Historic District?

 A: I personally think you make money when you buy a property, but you collect when you sell it. So buy smart. There are plenty of deals out there right now. And if you’re renovating, don’t do your own electrical or plumbing. Those are best left up to the experts.

And all the other basic stuff. You know, don’t leave your car unlocked overnight, don’t leave your bike outside in the front yard unlocked, etc. Common sense things like that.

We like it here. It’s a great place.  


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