Boosting Downtown, one project at a time
Mike Field’s vocation is being vice president of credit risk for JPMorgan Chase in Jacksonville.
His avocation is being an entrepreneur that helps others build their businesses in the urban core.
“I think Downtown is a unique environment. It’s an opportunity waiting for solutions,” said Field.
He helped develop Northeast Florida’s food truck movement, Jaxsons Night Market and most recently, The Court Urban Food Park.
It all started when he left town.
After graduating from college, the Jacksonville native went into finance in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and San Francisco, where he saw what those cities did to attract business to their centers and visitors from the suburbs.
While in Atlanta, Field said he developed an interest that turned into a passion for urban planning and revitalization.
He came back home in 2005 just in time for Super Bowl XXXIX.
“Downtown was lively,” Field said of the week-long atmosphere that surrounded the NFL’s championship game. He was looking forward to the predicted growth the event was expected to spark, including adding about 10,000 residents to the urban landscape.
Four years later, when that hadn’t happened, he started wondering why the growth had not materialized and “they” didn’t have any answers.
“I couldn’t really answer who ‘they’ was. I figured out that ‘they’ was me, so I started getting involved in Downtown activities,” said Field.
He began with “pop-up” events, such as using social media to get a crowd of people to meet at a designated store to shop, and smaller lunch events that drew groups of diners to Downtown eateries.
In 2011, he helped start the local food truck movement that has since evolved into “Jax Truckies,” an organization that went from zero to now more than 100 mobile food vendors.
“It started with one guy who wanted to have a restaurant but couldn’t afford to open one,” Field said.
Jaxsons Night Market began with a food truck and a few local artists and vendors who set up booths in the vacant lot at the corner of Adams and Laura streets.
The event moved to Hemming Park, where it grew larger in terms of vendors and attendance, and gained Downtown-headquartered Community First Credit Union as its sponsor. The market will celebrate its third anniversary at 5:30 p.m. April 20 with an expected crowd of 3,000.
In late February, he and Jack Shad, an urban development consultant, introduced The Court. It started with four food trucks open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday on the wide sidewalk along the Hogan Street side of the SunTrust parking garage.
It was an immediate hit, drawing hundreds of Downtown workers and visitors that line up to purchase a constantly changing selection of entrees, desserts and beverages.
In little more than a month, it grew to five food trucks on Friday and on April 27, Thursday-Saturday 5-9 p.m. dinner service will begin, Field said.
“If it works — great. If it doesn’t, we’ll pack up and go home,” Field said.
A project of Field’s that never got off the ground was an idea to set temporary retail in a space along Adams Street, but having no utilities and no public restrooms made that idea unworkable.
Field looks at the event creation and entrepreneur support he has facilitated in the past several years as “low investment opportunities.”
He’s convinced that revitalization of Downtown will be accomplished by launching small projects in addition to traditional redevelopment that can take years to complete.
“I’m almost 40 years old and I’m tired of waiting around. Downtown needs to be an environment where it’s OK to experiment,” said Field.
The Court Urban Food Park: Food trucks gather along Hogan Street at the SunTrust Building. Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Starting April 27 it will be open 5-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday for dinner.
Jaxsons Night Market: The event featuring food, artists and vendors is at Hemming Park 5:30-9 p.m. the third Thursday of each month. The event will mark its third anniversary April 20.