Duval Street is one of the most iconic strips in the U.S. and has cleverly been nicknamed “The Longest Street in the World,” referencing its stretch from the Gulf to the Atlantic. Dotted by landmarks like The San Carlos Institute, Sloppy Joe’s, and the old Strand Theater, it’s an instantly recognizable slice of Americana.
That’s the reason City Manager Greg Veliz believes there will be a sizable response to the city’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from consulting firms around the country.
“We believe that Duval Street, because of its reputation and iconic status across the country, will attract a multitude and consulting firms, all of whom have done projects around the country revitalizing downtown areas,” Veliz said.
The city’s engineering department is putting together the RFQ, which Veliz hopes will be out by Oct. 1. The last time the city invested in a revitalization of Duval Street, which Veliz says “was largely cosmetic,” was 1976. While the city is in the early planning stages, as of yet uncertain as to how much cosmetic and infrastructure change take place, the city is already seeking local opinions.
On Sept. 14, Veliz met with merchants and community leaders to get feedback on Duval Street concerns.
“We had opinions from ‘it’s not that broken’ to ‘we need to rebuild it from the ground up.’” Veliz said he knows this will be a massive undertaking and will leave an important lasting mark on the city. Mayor Teri Johnston has been integral in downtown revitalization plans, first championing Mall on Duval and now planning to update Duval Street itself.
“I’m glad Mall on Duval has gotten interest in this project, but this is independent of Mall on Duval,” said Veliz. “This is more about painting the room than what’s in it.”
Johnston, who remains a partner in her wife Dar Castillo’s company Affiliated Design & Construction, is familiar with what large-scale construction projects take. Johnston said Mall on Duval brought locals downtown who haven’t been there in years, prompting a conversation about what improvements need to be made, including widening sidewalks — they range from 8 to 18 feet — and adding planters and benches.
“There are street designs that have the sidewalk on the same level and you divide it off by concrete planters,” Johnston said. “The street can be cobblestone and the sidewalks can be different materials. … We also need shade, benches and water fountains.”
While the city has budgeted $4 million for street repair in the 2019-2020 budget, there isn’t money for the Duval Street project.
“Currently we have zero budget for this,” said Veliz, “but my hope is that we can engage someone that could come down here and take a look at Duval Street and talk about what your vision is.” He also said that the city will survey shop owners, discuss all possible funding streams, and investigate grants. “We will need (the consulting firm) to help show us how to pay for this project and shepherd us through. Then we’ll get our grant writers to start writing.”
The mayor notes: “You can’t get in for a grant until you have a design. Our focus right now is to bring in a consultant with strong urban planning background to redesign Duval Street.” She also emphasized the need for business owners to “take responsibility for their own buildings and signage.”
It will certainly be a concerted effort in terms of funding as well as sweat equity.
“I see the planning department playing a role, legal playing a role, engineering playing a role, HARC will play a role,” said Veliz. “The full strength of the city will be expended on this. It will be all hands on deck.”