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Spinnaker

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Upon first moving to Jacksonville back in late 2006 and joining the UNF Facebook network, I noticed a whole bunch of my fellow Ospreys joining groups like “I feel like I live at St. Johns Town Center” and the sort.

“We work there, we eat there, we shop there, and in between classes, we probably drive around looking for something to keep us occupied,” stated one group’s motto. “Our days wouldn’t be complete without a visit or two to the Town Center.”

It’s kind of true that the enormous outdoor mall plopped less than a stone’s throw from our campus sports quite a few reasons to continue drawing not only UNF folks but oodles of non-students, as well. The place contains more than 100 stores and restaurants with insane amounts of additional extensions planned and constantly popping up.

Now perhaps the folks over at entertaining development firm Landmark Leisure Group devised the final touch on this prominent cathedral of consumption. The latest gig? Something dubbed “Plaza at Town Center,” you know, to keep with the raging creativity captured in the sprawl of shops across a few lanes of asphalt. Well, we can only assume that’s where Southside’s version of Ybor City is scheduled to open, according to a watercolor illustration attached to a news release and not according to the folks at Full House Productions who failed to return the Spinnaker’s phone calls or e-mails.

Again, according to that mysterious news release, The Plaza should open sometime this semester. Included in this rollicking array of businesses to open: a rock/country live music venue called Whiskey River (owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., in all seriousness), a swanky martini lounge with ultra-hip DJs, an Italian chuck wagon and some boutiques.

What’s that? Bars? Close to campus?

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us,” said Jennifer Marshburn, a bartender at the Boathouse since its opening. “We don’t have people come on campus just to go [here].”

As for a go-to locale for a night raging, the students seem to be hands-down on the verdict of the question campus versus not.

“The Plaza would be way more entertaining to go out for a night,” said Kaci Forest, a UNF psychology senior. “You can stay out later and meet up with a greater selection of your peers.”

But what about that Italian chuck house and all the other eateries planned to squash out that sparse forest on Town Center Parkway?

“You know how eating on campus is expensive?” said Luis Rodriguez Torres, a UNF computer science freshman and employee of Chef Yan Can Cook. “The prices over there will be a little better.”

Rodriguez Torres also mentioned that he thought these prospective restaurants shouldn’t be much more of a threat to on-campus eating options than those already existing. Salsarita’s employee Nikolai Baker shared this sentiment.

“Competition per se is something that’s inevitable in the food service industry,” Baker said.

Some Student Union nosh joints plot to initiate new advertising campaigns to beef up competition with the Plaza places like dressing up as characters promoting specific places and flyering, Baker said. He doubts any sort of catastrophic consequences, as no matter what, the on-campus shops will always have one perk, he said.

“The fact is, we’re on campus,” Baker said. “You don’t have to drive anywhere.”

Issa Nicolay, a UNF information systems junior, said she saw the benefits in instituting a legitimate nightlight near campus.

“The Boathouse is too expensive, and it’s limited in entertainment, anyway,” Nicolay said. “The Plaza is a great idea because it gives the international students a nightlife that’s close to campus and accessible by bus.”

Student Union Director Justin Camputaro said he could see The Plaza’s opening going either way regarding live music events and the impact on UNF’s attempts.

“I think anytime you build something like that, it can be very positive if there’s a relationship built,” Camputaro said.

Camputaro thinks the development of The Plaza and its effect on campus entertainment and concerts depends on how interactive The Plaza people are with UNF people and vice versa, he said. He cited his experience at FSU working a similar gig and the awesomeness ensuing from positive associations between Florida State and a somewhat close by club, The Moon.

The integrating of new live music venues might take a load off of some campus clubs’ collective backs, he said.

“Osprey Productions can focus more on larger events and let the clubs handle the smaller stuff,” he said. “Obviously you’re not going to see a Ludacris show up or whatever up [at the Plaza].”

Obviously.

“Jacksonville doesn’t really have much of that stuff outside of downtown,” Camputaro said. “So that’s the part that’s more intriguing when considering making life more interesting for the students.”

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