Innovative project temporarily transforms Jacksonville Landing

A view from the corner of Laura and Bay Streets provides a snapshot of the vendors lined up at the front entrance to the Jacksonville Landing, the area coined as the “Front Porch” at Art Walk.

A view from the corner of Laura and Bay Streets provides a snapshot of the vendors lined up at the front entrance to the Jacksonville Landing, the area coined as the “Front Porch” at Art Walk.

The concrete steps in front of the Jacksonville Landing may not seem like a typical park location to most, but one local nonprofit thought otherwise.

TransForm Jax, founded in 2011 to improve the vitality and quality of life in Jacksonville’s downtown and urban core neighborhoods, partnered with the Jacksonville Landing and Downtown Vision Inc. to bring a reoccurring “pop-up” park to the First Wednesday Art Walk.

Front Porch at Art Walk, which debuted March 2, transformed the Jacksonville Landing’s open space on Independent Drive into a park with 18 local artisans, a beer garden, games, three food trucks, two fire pits and a 9-foot-tall Adirondack chair.

“We wanted to create an environment that replicated the experience of hanging out on the front porch of your house with good friends,” said TransForm Jax member Mike Field, of Fairfax Manor. “The goal is to see how people respond to these changes, and then fine-tune them with the hopes of making them permanent.” Front Porch will continue as part of the monthly Art Walk, which runs from 5 to 9 p.m.

Field was inspired by a popular new trend known as tactical urbanism, which utilizes temporary small-scale projects designed to test out a space’s potential at igniting vibrant street life.

The Jacksonville Landing and Field wanted to create a way to bridge the gap between Art Walk headquarters at Hemming Park and The Landing. Art Walk includes more than 55 venues within 15 blocks and The Landing is a regular venue.

“The Front Porch at Art Walk contributes to the First Wednesday Art Walk as another venue for patrons to explore while coming to Art Walk,” said Samantha Ashcraft, Jacksonville Landing director of marketing and events.

Front Porch proved to be a success. “March’s Art Walk has always been a good month for visitor participation so it was great for The Landing to host the inaugural Front Porch,” said Hana Ashchi, Downtown Vision Inc. marketing and events coordinator. Downtown Vision Inc. estimated 9,000 people attended Art Walk that night.

Field said within five minutes of setting up the Front Porch outdoor seating at 1 p.m., guests were flocking to the area. “To have that area already bustling with activity after just a few minutes, and hours before Art Walk even started, was validation that these concepts work,” he said.

“Vendors were buzzing with commerce,” said Field. “Every amenity we added to the space was well used and the feedback from Art Walk guests was overwhelmingly positive.”

Corey Crawford of the 5 Points Candle Company and Mancanics, a men’s grooming product line, speaks to a passerby who inquired about his beard grooming products.

Corey Crawford of the 5 Points Candle Company and Mancanics, a men’s grooming product line, speaks to a passerby who inquired about his beard grooming products.

Corey and Joy Crawford, owners of Mancanics and 5 Points Candle Co. were first-time vendors at Front Porch. “Both businesses were invited to the Front Porch kick-off and we loved the environment, the people and the festivities,” said Corey Crawford. “It was a nice point B to the Hemming Park point A.” Crawford hopes to be a longtime Front Porch vendor.

“That’s what Art Walk is all about … creating foot traffic for downtown businesses while celebrating and supporting the robust community of artists and artisans in the bold city we call Jacksonville,” said Field.

The members of TransForm Jax are urban planners by trade and education, and include Wiatt Bowers, Ennis Davis, Aaron Glick, Melissa Beaudry, Emily Suter, Paige Calvert and Mike Field.

“We are primarily interested in projects that deal with economic opportunity, urban form, transportation, sustainability, etc. within neighborhoods like Durkeeville, LaVilla, Brooklyn, Oakland, Springfield, San Marco, St. Nicholas, Murray Hill, Riverside and Avondale,” said Field.

Debbie Saldana carefully pulled a JENGA piece from the wavering tower as daughter Sofia looked on. The Ponte Vedra Beach residents spent the day celebrating Sofia’s 8th birthday downtown at Art Walk, accompanied by father Edmund and son Edmundo.

Debbie Saldana carefully pulled a JENGA piece from the wavering tower as daughter Sofia looked on. The Ponte Vedra Beach residents spent the day celebrating Sofia’s 8th birthday downtown at Art Walk, accompanied by father Edmund and son Edmundo.

TransForm Jax has involvement in projects such as the redesign of Laura Street downtown and of San Marco Square, an investment plan for New Town, the future downtown parklet program, among others.

Residents interested in visiting Front Porch at Art Walk can visit www.jacksonvilleartwalk.com for more information.

By Monica Gutos

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