Great Cities Symposium 2023

Wednesday, October 4 | Garden Club of Jacksonville

AG Lafley Shows How Cities Can Transform at the 2023 Great Cities Symposium

On Wednesday, October 4th, Scenic Jacksonville welcomed a sold out gathering of 350 attendees, sponsors, business leaders, engaged citizens and city officials to the fourth annual Great Cities Symposium at the Garden Club of Jacksonville.

Acclaimed business and civic leader AG Lafley spoke about the highly successful civic efforts to revitalize downtown Cincinnati and transform The Bay in Sarasota.

“Urban waterfront park development is not, ‘If you build, they will come,’ It is, if you build it, if it’s well-designed and well-located, if you activate and program it, then they will give it a look. If you keep it clean, safe and secure and well maintained, they’ll give it another look.” 

Armed with the knowledge that the customer is always the boss, Lafley’s successful career included serving two terms as CEO of Procter & Gamble while also serving as the Founding Chairman of the Cincinnati Center City Development (3CDC) which activated their waterfront.  After leaving Procter & Gamble, he became the founding CEO of the Bay Park Conservancy in Sarasota, FL.

He reminded the audience that the park guest is the customer! If Jacksonville’s downtown Riverwalk and appealing park system along the St Johns River delight that customer at every touch point, then will be a better choice than all the other alternatives when they’re deciding what to do with their time with their family and friends.

Cincinnati and Sarasota, he observed, are two very different cities, but a strong public-private partnership was the core ingredient when these communities came together to address the challenges and opportunities. An effective, vibrant urban waterfront park space must have a serious commitment by local leadership.

In Cincinnati, Lafley said, city government and the business community got together and said, “We’ve got to do something now. … We’re going to set aside all of the day-to-day stuff, all the partisan politics, all of this other stuff that gets in the way. We’re going to start with a project.”

For them, it was Fountain Square — the symbolic center of Cincinnati since the 1800s. “We said we’re going to start from the center of the city, and we’re going to work our way out,”

As for Jacksonville, “There are a lot of great players locally. There are a lot of great players in Florida …,” Lafely said. “I think too many times we assume the answer lies outside and I would argue 95% of the answers lie right here in this room.”

Mr. Lafley was introduced by Mayor Donna Deegan, who described how important it was for Jacksonville to have a downtown made remarkable by creating a vibrant riverfront park system so the public has easy access to our beautiful river. City Council President Ron Salem also endorsed having a dynamic and accessible downtown riverfront park system in his welcoming remarks.

Symposium guests enjoyed cocktails and social time before and after the program with bites from Biscottis, cocktails from Manifest Distilling, beer and wine from Champion Brands and Riverside Liquors.

The Great Cities Symposium is made possible thanks to our many sponsors and supporters: Gold Sponsors include Foley & Lardner, LLC, Demetria and Bert Livingston, The Brinton Family, Barbara and William Harrell, and the Jacksonville Business Journal.  Silver sponsors included Breaking Ground Contracting, the Downtown Investment Authority, the Garden Club of Jacksonville, Gateway Jax, Haskell, Northern Trust, TECO, Tom Bush and VyStar.  All of these and our 28 Bronze and three In Kind sponsors are shown below.

The Great Cities Symposium is an annual fundraiser hosted by Scenic Jacksonville for the purpose of bringing inspired examples of leadership and peer city solutions to the people of Jacksonville.  The program aims to inform, entertain, and connect to one another while continuing to improve our city for the benefit of future generations.

Prior speakers included Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston (2019), Mayor Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga (2021) and Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa (2022).

View Highlights of Bob Buckhorn’s Speech

View Bob Buckhorn’s Speech In Its Entirety

Media Coverage

Florida Times Union

Jacksonville Business Journal

Jacksonville Business Journal

First Coast Connect
(40 min mark)

Thank You To Our Sponsors