Southbank Riverwalk [still] under construction

Southbank Riverwalk [still] under construction
Crowds throng the Southbank Riverwalk in April 1987

New water taxi service still hampered

The Southbank Riverwalk’s strong sense of place attracts spectators awaiting fireworks on the Fourth of July, runners training for races and couples strolling after dinner dates.

Since its construction in the mid-1980s, the Riverwalk has served Jacksonville as a peaceful spot to pause and enjoy the St. John’s River.

Demolished in 2013, the Southbank Riverwalk is now undergoing major surgery. The new and improved Riverwalk is scheduled for completion in February 2015. The walkway will feature structural and cosmetic improvements and stretch east from Friendship Fountain to the offices of Duval County Public Schools.

A water taxi crosses the river from a Southbank Riverwalk departure point in April 2001

A water taxi crosses the river from a Southbank Riverwalk departure point in April 2001

Making Progress
With a price tag of $17 million, the reconstruction of the Southbank Riverwalk has been costly in time and money. “The original completion date was pushed back a few months while the City was appropriating funds to extend the Riverwalk to the School Board Building property,” Debbie Delgado, Public Communications Officer in the Office of Mayor of Alvin Brown, said.

Even with the five-month delay, the project is making progress. “Concrete pile cap installation and new decking installation has begun,” Delgado added.

Initially scheduled to be completed in two phases, the Riverwalk project now consists of tearing down the old and putting up the new, Delgado added. For example, the Jacksonville Maritime Museum and Jacksonville History Center once located at the foot of the Main Street Bridge were demolished in late 2013 to prepare for reconstruction.

Plans for the improved Riverwalk include using over 50,000 feet of colored brick pavers to enhance visual appeal. Guardrails along the new section are another feature. New lighting, shade structures, water fountains, benches, pet stations and more will also be added, according to the City of Jacksonville’s website.

The new Riverwalk will also be compliant with regulations required by Americans With Disabilities Act.

Water Taxis
Another popular feature of the Southbank Riverwalk is the water taxi service. In August, the U.S. Coast Guard deemed two water taxi vessels ready for operation. The City of Jacksonville re-opened the taxi service on Aug. 8 to coincide with the Jacksonville Jaguars first preseason game.

Ron Hilliard, an Ortega resident, is a water taxi operator with Lakeshore Marine, LLC, the new owner of the transportation service. The taxi crosses the St. John’s River between The Jacksonville Landing on the Northbank Riverwalk, and Friendship Fountain and the Wyndham Hotel on the Southbank Riverwalk.

Business was decent the week of the first Jaguars game, Hilliard said, but since then, weekdays have been slow.

“Most of our business is on the Southbank [Riverwalk],” Hilliard said. “I worked for the previous owners, and without the Southbank, we just don’t have the business we used to. If there’s a [football] game, it helps cover what we lose during the week,” he added.

Hilliard’s job gives him a daily view of Riverwalk construction. Most of the pilings are in place, he said, and the concrete is laid on the fixed part of the structure. “They still haven’t finished the floating docks,” Hilliard added. Without access to the dock at the Wyndham Hotel property, the taxi service is losing Southbank business.

The water taxi will pick up and drop off at the floating dock near the Wyndham Hotel and at Friendship Fountain during football season, according to Delgado. When the dock will be completed remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Lakeshore Marine is looking for corporate sponsors and advertisers to help offset operation costs.

“We’ll be happy when [the Riverwalk] gets done,” Hilliard said.

Water Taxi Service
Standard hours of operation for the water taxis will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and holidays. During football games at EverBank Stadium, the water taxis will begin stopping at Metro Park Marina at least three hours before the start of the game and will continue until three hours after the end of the game.

The water taxis will operate along three pick-up and drop-off points; the Northbank Riverwalk behind the Landing, the Southbank Riverwalk near Friendship Fountain and the Southbank Riverwalk near the Wyndham. Metro Marina will be an additional stop for game days.

Fare Structure:
One Way, Football Games and Special Events:
Adults    $5
Children ages 3 – 12    $4
Seniors 65 and older    $4
Children under 3 years of age  Free

Round-Trip:
Adults    $7
Children ages 3 – 12    $5
Seniors 65 and older    $5
Children under 3 years of age     Free

By Nancy Lee Bethea
Resident Community News

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