This Op Ed was published by the Florida Times Union Sunday Reason Section on June 12, 2022
Riverfront Parks Now is excited to see the momentum and interest in our downtown by so many different constituents including developers, current and future city leadership, young professionals, non-profit organizations, and the community at large.
We are particularly optimistic that the economic message that great riverfront public space is good for business, as conveyed by the 2021 duPont Fund’s Economic Impact Study, is resonating.
Riverfront Parks Now started our advocacy two years ago by showing how world class downtown waterfronts incorporating public parks, museums, restaurants, recreation and cultural activities helped revitalize core urban areas, create value for adjacent properties, increase tax revenue, provide resiliency, enhance health and wellness and bring communities together.
Public investments made by leaders in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Oklahoma City, Nashville, and dozens of other cities have generated returns of six dollars or more to every dollar invested. This is true value creation: value for the people, value for the private developments, value for our river, value for our city.
These cities committed the funds necessary to ensure world class design and amenities. The City of St. Petersburg recently spent $92 million on the 26-acre pier and park. Cincinnati’s 32-acre Smale Riverfront Park, at $120 million total, included approximately 65% in public funding from city, state, and public grants. The City of Clearwater last year approved additional funding for the $84 million Imagine Clearwater 24-acre urban waterfront park. These are not insignificant investments, but cities know these places are an important draw for new residents, companies, and talent and that they produce positive results in terms of economic and community value.
A continuous and green, tree-shaded linear park with key destination areas will perfectly complement the Emerald Trail, MOSH, the Four Seasons and other planned private development to collectively transform our riverfront into a Riverfront for All, a downtown that is everybody’s neighborhood.
Now is the time to design, budget and build five priority public spaces that will collectively transform our riverfront experiences:
- Riverfront Plaza (Landing) was designed by Perkins & Will and preliminary plans are being finalized.
- The Liberty Street Marina to allow more boaters to access the core of downtown.
- The Shipyards West Park (Kids Kampus replacement) is being designed by Agency Landscape, and we need to ensure that sufficient funds are committed to make this public space a showplace.
- We need to connect these spaces with multiple, shaded paths including the Riverwalk Extension and Emerald Trail bike paths to allow sufficient space for bikers, joggers, parents with strollers, and elderly people enjoying the river.
- Metropolitan Park, which will be adjacent to the new Four Seasons, needs a facelift and RFPs are going out for the park design, and park construction funding is needed.
While this will require a sizable investment to do it right, other cities have demonstrated time and again that it is possible. We have seen too many peer cities pass us by in terms of downtown vibrancy, quality of life, talent retention and developer investment. But with our majestic St. Johns River and its beautiful bridges, we have the potential to set a new standard for an inviting Riverfront for All.
Our downtown riverfront will then become Jacksonville’s known signature attraction, an exciting, fun destination, the place you simply must take family and friends, so that our city can enjoy the economic, cultural, social, and recreational benefits such a destination will bring.
The Riverfront Parks Now Coalition
Steering Committee: Nancy Powell, Natalie Rosenberg, Jimmy Orth, Ted Pappas, Barbara Ketchum, Michael Kirwan, Susan Caven, Barbara Goodman
Coalition Members: AIA Jacksonville, Duval Audubon Society, ElderSource, First Coast Freethought Society, Garden Club of Jacksonville, Greenscape, IXIA FNPS Chapter, Jacksonville Urban League, Late Bloomers Garden Club, League of Women’s Voters First Coast, Memorial Park Association, Scenic Jacksonville, Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper.