Southbank Riverwalk makeover slated to begin June 2013

Concrete structure to replace wooden walkway by March 2014

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

If you have ventured along the Southbank Riverwalk lately, your experience might have been a bit more adventurous than you preferred due to the rotting, dangerously slippery-when-wet boards that date back to 1985. That is about to change.
A concrete walkway will replace the current wooden structure by March 2014 according to a new timeline presented during negotiations between Haskell Company, the city, and property owners along the Southbank, including Crowne Plaza, Gate Properties, Wyndham Hotel and Duval County School Board. Construction is slated to begin June 2013 and demolition of the walkway between the Main Street Bridge and Gate Riverplace would be complete by July 29.
Arriving at a workable timeframe for the project has been a long walk.
“Inspection reports date back to 2004 and Haskell was brought on as general contractor in 2010 to inspect and work on upgrades,” said Dave DeCamp, director of communications for the City of Jacksonville and Mayor Alvin Brown. “We’ve presented the timeline and general concept to land owners and we will tweak it based on their input. Everyone involved supports what we think is a really good concept.”
DeCamp said the cost of the project is targeted at $15 million and is budgeted for $23.2 million through fiscal year 2016 via the city’s capital improvement plan; $17.2 million has been budgeted for 2012-2013. The money comes from a state grant ($303,00), 2010 city council appropriations ($11.9 million), bonding proceeds ($5 million) and capital improvement ($2 million per year for three years).
“The money for the project will be approved after the design of the project is finalized,” DeCamp said. “The numbers are likely to change based on project bids and other design savings.”
Finding ways to minimize the impact of construction on daily business drove recent negotiations, particularly with Crowne Plaza. Solutions include using construction methods that reduce noise (such as not using pile hammers), focusing primarily on the water side rather than land side of the properties, and working during the businesses’ off-season, according to Cheryl Robitzsch, project director for Haskell.
“The talks have been positive. We should have the sovereign submerged land leases signed by December, then we’ll apply for environmental resource permits. As soon as the paperwork is put together we should be good to go by June.” Robitzsch said. Florida’s sovereign submerged lands are public trust lands below navigable water, and an ERP is required before beginning any construction that would affect wetlands, alter surface water flows or contribute to water pollution.
The new timeline is great news for Chris Flagg, who was hired by Haskell in April 2011 as the project’s lead designer. He completed 60 percent of the design before the project was put on hold eight months ago due to changes in the city’s administration and landowner negotiations.
“I’m really glad it’s back on track because it would be a huge oversight if we allowed the Riverwalk to disintegrate further,” Flagg said.
His design will compliment that of the Northbank, with a concrete foundation and a curving, meandering walkway of varying widths made of colorful pavers and offering interactive art pieces and seating areas covered by vivid “shade sails.” The marina will be redesigned and landscaping and signage will enhance access points. Flagg said it will be very pedestrian and bicycle friendly and that it is aligned with the vision of San Marco by Design.
“It started as a replacement project, but as we looked at it from a design perspective, it became a destination project,” Flagg said.
That is an approach that DeCamp said fits well with the city’s vision.
“This is a very high profile community asset that everyone values and wants to improve, particularly the mayor, who has made downtown development one of the keys not only to our economic recovery but to making our city a great place to live.”

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