Do we want downtown Jacksonville to become a 365-day a year destination? If so, we must make a choice. We can preserve our downtown waterfront to develop an active green space or we can chop up the property along the Northbank and simply preserve a patchwork of smaller parcels as parks. Other than flooding issues, the main problem with the chop it up/small park plan is that it would not result in a sufficient amount of green space to change the face of downtown and serve as a draw for non-downtown residents or tourists.
The interesting thing, and one thing that park proponents may not have adequately explained, is that developers win no matter which way we go. Jacksonville residents, however, only win if we protect our waterfront. Successful riverfront parks in other cities have shown that they can lead to billions of dollars of development, the creation of thousands of jobs, increased property tax revenue in light of enhanced property values, increased tourist dollars and a vast reduction in stormwater management costs.
A downtown destination park could include cafes, bike trails, kayak rentals, dolphin watching tours, pavilions, festivals, programmed events, a marina, public art and even a museum. This type of public space would inevitably lead to blocks and blocks of development in the area of the park, as opposed to simply a few more buildings on the river which would serve to further restrict public and equitable access to the river.
The big park plan is really a win-win-win for the city’s coffers, residents and developers (more than just a few) but it requires our city leaders to make some tough decisions in the short term to preserve Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards as one unit. If Louisville, Detroit, Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburg, Chattanooga, Memphis, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Cincinnati, can do it, not to mention larger cities like Seattle, New York, and Chicago, Jacksonville can do it too!
And Jacksonville is already halfway there since we already own the property. Let’s implement this proven vision for economic success with the beautiful St. Johns River as the centerpiece.
Natalie Rosenberg, Jacksonville
This letter to the editor to the Florida Times Union was published on March 26, 2021. Natalie Rosenberg is chair of the Late Bloomers Civic Committee and has recently joined the Riverfront Parks Now steering committee. Read it online here.