New group crosses beautiful barrier to unite riverfront residents

New group crosses beautiful barrier to unite riverfront residents
Dorothy Merrick and Sandra Fradd, founders of Downtown Dwellers

Though the river is considered by some to be Jacksonville’s “great divide,” for Sandra Fradd and Dorothy Merrick, the St. Johns is a means to bring together residents living in downtown condominiums and apartment buildings.

It began 10 years ago when Merrick moved to Jacksonville and, in her words, “became completely engaged with living in the urban core on the beautiful St Johns River.” A member of Downtown Vision Inc. and the Urban Core CPAC, Merrick said, “I realized we are a downtown neighborhood, and we need to support our downtown businesses and attract more.”

When Fradd moved to Jacksonville three years ago, she used to look across the St. Johns River from her condo in The Peninsula and wonder who lived there. “Then I attended a Downtown Vision meeting and met a man who lived in the Plaza – the condominium across the river from mine – and he told me about Dorothy Merrick, said I had to get to know her,” said Fradd.

Soon Merrick and Fradd, with a few other residents, began exploring how to bring together people who live on both sides of the river.

“Back then, two years ago, we were eight people from the Plaza, Peninsula, San Marco Place, Riverwalk Townhomes, and Churchill Lofts,” they said. “We hosted an invitation-only meeting at the Peninsula to see who might be interested in forming a group; 45 attended. Our speakers – Aundra Wallace, CEO, Downtown Investment Authority and Mike Balanky, developer of San Marco Place and The District – amazed us with news of the changes transpiring in our area. At that point we didn’t yet have a name.”

At the Jan. 21 meeting, the group’s name, Downtown Dwellers, was established.

“Our agenda is to encourage people to get to know each other and find out what’s going on. We aren’t seeking to be change agents,” said the Downtown Dwellers co-organizers.

“Our motto is Let the River Unite Us. We believe the venue is an important part of the experience, a place where people can meet and chat and learn together, and maybe eat and drink,” said Fradd. “Dorothy and I enjoy checking out places that will help our group become better acquainted with what’s happening Downtown and the people who live there.”

One of the challenges of holding a meeting is that many people work. “At the end of the day, they’re tired and hungry, and maybe want a drink,” said Fradd. “We tried to accommodate those needs by holding our next meeting at Olio, 301 East Bay Street, with Jake Gordon, the new director of Downtown Vision, Lisa Rinaman, Riverkeeper, and Chris Flagg, education planner from Haskell, as speakers.” Eighty people attended that meeting last September.

The group continued to grow. At its most recent meeting in January at the Hyatt Regency, more than 90 gathered to hear District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, District 7 Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Council President Greg Anderson, and Aundra Wallace, CEO, Downtown Investment Authority.

Boyer spoke about a variety of projects on the Southbank. Included among them were the new development slated for the former Crawdaddy’s restaurant site; public parking for access to the Southbank Riverwalk; and the future bicycle-pedestrian path for the Fuller-Warren Bridge access to the Riverwalk, thanks to an easement provided by Nemours Children’s Specialty Care to the City of Jacksonville.

Wallace was questioned about construction progress on Berkman Plaza II at 500 E. Bay St., which has been halted since December 2007. Wallace said he is working on incentives to move it forward with the original construction company, Choate Construction Company, which bought the property in 2014. “The developer has a financial gap,” he said. “There is no drop dead date, but it is a priority for City Council and the Mayor.”

If you would like to be put on the Downtown Dwellers email list, contact Sandra Fradd at [email protected]

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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