Meet Your Neighbors: Derek & Michelle and Aaron & Shaina

(Originally published 2010-2014)

Meet Your Long-Time Neighbors

p18-XL.jpgName: Derek & Michelle, and Family

Location: W. 6th Street

Occupation: Derek works in the computer security field and Michelle is currently on sabbatical.

Fun Fact: The family prefers to travel by bicycle, and one of their favorite places to visit on their bikes is the historic Evergreen Cemetery. Peaceful and full of history, it's just a mile North of the neighborhood.

What brought you to the Springfield historic district?

Derek: Michelle & I were looking for a house in the Tampa Heights area of Tampa, FL in 1997. But, we got pregnant and wanted to be close to family with the baby, so we decided to look for homes in Jacksonville where both Michelle's and my parents lived. We were looking in the older historic neighborhoods of Jacksonville, because we love homes with character and history. After looking in Riverside, San Marco, Avondale, Ortega, etc, we weren’t finding the right house for our budget. One evening during our search, we were having dinner at my parent’s house. My father, a retired police officer, suggested looking in Springfield. Being a native of Jacksonville, I looked at him and said “Are you crazy?”

My mother said “don’t get them killed!”, but my father went on to explain how Jacksonville Sheriffs Office and city had been putting a lot of resources in the neighborhood, and thought we should take a look. I really didn’t have a concept of even where the neighborhood was at the time. To me, historic Springfield was anything North of Downtown to Brentwood. But my father urged us to have a look for ourselves, and we did. Here we are today.

It took us about 6 months of looking, but we finally found a house that suited us. We renovated the house first, then moved in in 1998.


Why did you choose Springfield at the time?

Michelle: It’s our personality. We like vintage. We like authentic. We were looking for active and interactive communities. The suburbs are soul killing. And it was the best for our pocket book too.

Derek: You could get, and still can get, more house for your dollar in the neighborhood. We looked at tiny homes in Avondale and Ortega and just couldn’t justify spending the cash. But more than that, I think we knew the value of walkable neighborhoods even back then. Sidewalks. Parks. Bicycles.

Michelle: What really hooked us on this neighborhood was the 1997 Holiday Home Tour. Just meeting the residents, seeing the sense of community, and feeling so welcomed and connected. We knew it was where we wanted to be. It cemented our willingness to throw our hat into the ring.

How did you know your home was the one?

Derek: It was quite a search. Securing financing from a bank at the time for most homes in the neighborhood was very difficult. Most wouldn’t even consider it. After viewing many properties, we eventually found a house that checked all the boxes on W. 6th Street. It was built in 1924 and had been vacant for about five years. The house had had only two owners at that time, and they were very particular about who they were going to sell it to. They had offers from single parents and gay couples, but they were waiting for a family to make an offer.

What were some of your memories of the neighborhood at the time? Any stories to share?

Derek: (Ha) Oh yeah. We have stories.

Silver Street between 5th & 6th, just around the corner from our house, was especially seedy back then.  That block was always filled with drug dealing and prostitution, and the atmosphere felt adversarial. So instead of pushing the baby stroller down the street, we pushed it down the alley way there. It’s funny now, but we actually felt safer taking a walk down that alley than the street.

Speaking of prostitutes, there was "Gimpy Ho". Gimpy Ho was a nickname Michelle & I gave this one particular prostitute that hobbled by our house on occasion. She was extremely well endowed, but didn’t wear any undergarments. So you could see, umm, most everything. It wasn’t pretty. Anyways, one afternoon Michelle & I and other adult family members were in a convertible paused at the stop sign. Gimpy Ho approached us in all her glory, and asked, "Do you wanna party?”. Keep in mind, a bunch other people were in the car with me. I replied, "Yeah. But it’ll cost you”.

Gimpy Ho didn’t have a sense of humor and started yelling at us.

We also had a couple drive by shootings around the corner from us in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. I was the crazy guy that ran outside to try to get plate numbers and vehicle description. There are plenty of other stories too.

What types of changes have you seen in the neighborhood over your 15 years here?

Michelle: Families. In 1998, I feel like you could count the number of families in the neighborhood on one hand. The Springfield Mommies Group literally had only 5 or 6 people in it total. It used to be so rare that I’d grab Derek and point them out when I saw a family. Today, I couldn’t even tell you how many families and children there are. Who knows? It’s normal now.

Derek: Well, in many ways it’s a different quality-of-life in neighborhood now. But I think the rollercoaster of the housing market over the last 10 years is the thing that comes to mind to me. When we arrived, you could buy a house for $5,000 from tax repossession, spend $60k for renovation, and end up with a nice house. We watched as the bubble grew larger and larger, seeing vacant lots and shells of deteriorated houses being advertised for over $100k. New construction or renovated homes going for almost $500k. Of course the market has corrected itself, more or less, and now you see a more organic growth again. Although it was unfortunate for many people, I think the market correction was a positive for the neighborhood. It’s enabled many younger people to be able to afford the community.

Another small example: Silver Street between 5th & 6th , the area I mentioned that we used to avoid by walking down the alley. It’s a nice street now.

What do you enjoy about the neighborhood today?

Michelle: The sense of purpose in the community. It seems like most people who move here, and we know this is true for us, really want to be here. They don’t end up here by accident. They want to be part of a community that has an eye on bettering itself.

Derek: I ride my bicycle to work in Riverside every day. From door to door, it’s a15 minute ride. Who has a commute like that? In fact, our family rides our bikes everywhere we can. Riverside, San Marco, Downtown, etc. If it’s near us, we’d rather travel by bike than car. There’s so much to do and enjoy that’s close by, we’re lucky to live in a relatively bike-friendly area. The One Spark festival in Downtown was like Christmas for us. The kids wanted to go every day and it was just a quick bicycle ride away.

Michelle: I also love that the neighborhood was literally designed to be social. We love the front porches. The street grid. The conversations and interactions that happen between people, by design, on our porches, sidewalks, and public spaces.

Derek: There was no TV or internet back when the neighborhood was developed. No radio even. People went for walks. They gathered on porches and had conversations for entertainment. I think it's cool that that part of living in the neighborhood continues on even today.

How would you like to see the Springfield historic change moving forward?

Michelle: My dream is to see Main Street alive again. At the first Main Street Cruise held about a year ago, seeing over a thousand people walking up & down the street enjoying themselves….I became emotional. I was flabbergasted. I never thought I would see the day. We need to bottle some of that up for everyday use.

Derek: I’d like to see the Springfield Warehouse District come to life. There’s some really great buildings up there. I love the old Coca Cola warehouse. I’d also like to see a skate park in Schell Park off Boulevard. I worked on a proposal to build a skate park there years ago, but when the new Governor was elected, our funding was cut. I still have hopes to see that happen at some point. And another thing that I’d love to see is a trolley on Main Street. I don’t think it’ll happen in my lifetime because of the city and state’s lack of vision, but it would be amazing. I’d fund it myself if I won the lotto.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to the Springfield historic district?

Michelle: If you’re thinking about renovating a house, be sure to have a sound financial plan. Make sure want you want to do isn’t bigger than your pocket book.

Derek: Don’t believe the naysayers, first and foremost. Many people's perception still hasn’t caught up with reality. Old stereotypes die hard. But this is an urban neighborhood, so it’s always going to have somewhat of an edge.

Also, get connected in the community. Take part in the social events. Participate in a tree planting or clean up. Get to know the community organizations. Meet your neighbors. It's the people that make this neighborhood special.


Meet Your New Neighbors

p44.jpgName: Aaron and Shaina

Location: E. 7th Street

Occupation: Aaron is in school at UNF working on his doctorate in physical therapy. Shaina works for Best Buddies, a non-profit that connects children & adults with special needs with compatible peers.

Fun Fact: This is one athletic couple. Aaron ran track while Shaina played softball, both at a collegiate level at UNF.

What’s the story on how you moved to the Springfield Historic District?

Aaron: We haven’t moved in just yet actually. We purchased our home in July 2014, but it needs quite a bit of work, so over the next few months it will be undergoing renovation. Hopefully we’ll move-in in the Fall.

You know what I meant.

Aaron: Well, we’ve been living on the Southside of town for about 5 years now, in different apartments while attending University of North Florida. Both of us are from central Florida, but we met at UNF, graduated, and recently got married. In the process, we kind of fell in love with Jacksonville too. Good friends of ours, Mark & Brittany, purchased a fixer upper on Silver Street a couple years ago, and we visited them a number of times there and became familiar with the neighborhood that way. We decided that we really liked the neighborhood and where it’s going, and started to seriously consider buying a house here. Then we found out other friends already lived in Springfield too, Brent & Angie, and that sealed it for us. We wanted to find to home specifically in Springfield.

Did you buy an old or new home, and why?

Aaron: We bought an old house. It was built in 1909. We like the historical charm of the older homes.

Shaina: And we can control the renovation of the house to make it our own.

Aaron: We looked at a lot of older homes, seven in one day even, and really loved this one in particular. The floor plan is mostly original, it has great front porch, big back yard and the block itself is great. All the homes on it are in good shape, and it's right around the corner from a cafe.

So why SPR, and not another neighborhood?

Shaina: You can get a lot more for your money here compared most other neighborhoods we would consider. We can get almost twice the house for the same amount of money, it’s crazy. We want to be part of an active, connected community. That’s really a big deal for us. We love that Springfield is a real community with actual neighbors, and not just people that you happen to live close to. We’ve both lived in generic apartments for years, and you may not even make eye contact with anyone there. We only got to know a couple people in our last apartment in the suburbs, but we’ve met more people here in Springfield before we’ve even moved in. Plus, riding our bike to things in Downtown sounds fun.


What do your friends & family think about the big move?

Aaron: Our family has come up from central Florida to tour the neighborhood. They’re all pretty excited about it. Some of the old vacant houses made them raise their eyebrows a little, but they understand it’s a changing neighborhood and are happy for us.

Shaina: They’re already deciding where things are going to go in the guest bedroom.

Do you plan to take part in any events or activities in the neighborhood?

Shaina: We’re really excited about PorchFest in November. We hope to go to a First Friday party before we move in too.

Aaron: The East-West baseball game on July 4th is something we’re looking forward to. I’ve heard there’s some fun things to do during Halloween as well.

Shaina: We’re social, and community is important to us, so I’m sure we’ll be out and about in the in neighborhood.

What do you want to see happen in the neighborhood moving forward?

Aaron: More young couples starting out, buying these old house to renovate them (sound familiar?)

Shaina: I really want to see Main Street become a vibrant place. Like other commercial areas in the historic neighborhoods, but maybe a little less hoity.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a move to the Springfield Historic District?

Shaina: Start looking early. You can’t start early enough. Also, get to know what you want in a house. After you look a number of homes, you’ll better recognize what’s important to you in a home. And lastly, get to know your block and street before you purchase, too.

Aaron: Don’t be afraid to renovate. Old homes that appear terrible can become gems again. And be realistic with your budget and renovation process. It requires patience, but we think it’s worth it.


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