City leaders tired of hearing about river’s ‘potential’

An early rendering of what the Northbank could look like when the USS Charles Adams arrives in Jacksonville.

An early rendering of what the Northbank could look like when the USS Charles Adams arrives in Jacksonville.

Speakers at TEDxJacksonville put the spotlight on the St. Johns River at an April 5 salon, establishing that although Jacksonville owes its very existence to the river that runs through its midst, the City is just now getting serious about embracing its waterway as its most valuable asset.

The TED Talk, moderated by Avondale resident Jeanmarie Grimsley, included a panel discussion with five experts on water-related topics: Daniel Bean, president of the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association (JHNSA); Alyssa Bourgoyne, Groundwork Jacksonville interim director; Lori Boyer, City Council President; Aundra Wallace, Downtown Investment Authority CEO, and Dr. Quinton White, executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University.

Open to the community and held at Jacksonville University, the discussion focused on cultural, economic and recreational efforts to develop a river-centric identity.

Boyer said the City’s latest “activate the river” initiative, which seeks to provide better access to the river by extending the riverwalks, adding boat ramps, and encouraging development, is building on previous efforts to better use the river.

“The city was created around waterways,” Boyer said. “The Navy is here because of water. The port is here because of the river. Our neighborhoods are defined by the water. We need to embrace water as our identity.”

City leaders have visited other cities like Oklahoma City and San Antonio to see how they use their rivers, but Boyer said Jacksonville can’t be like other cities. “We have a wide expansive river, you can’t pretend you can kayak in it,” she said. “It’s not that kind of waterway.”

The city Waterways Commission is coming up with recommendations for “activating” the river as well as a Maritime Management Plan, said both Boyer and White.

Having spent several days on the river recently, White said he is “looking at the river with a different eye,” scouting out areas of the river that are not being used.

“There are some incredible jewels,” said White, a San Jose resident. “Some are low-hanging fruit and others are more far reaching. We’re developing some recommendations.”

Making the river more accessible isn’t just about more marinas and boat ramps, he said. It is helping people get to the river and develop a relationship with it. For some people that could be fishing or boating, for others it might mean having dinner at a riverfront restaurant.

The effort to bring the USS Charles Adams to the downtown waterfront as a naval museum is one way to attract people to the river. A campaign is underway by the JHNSA to raise $3 million to refurbish the ship and open it as a naval museum downtown along Pier No. 1 at the Shipyards property. It could arrive by fall, after undergoing work at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia for four weeks.

“We are a Navy city, the third largest in the country and one out of every four people has some connection,” said Bean, who is also a partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight. “This is a way to integrate the river with the Navy and to get more people to the river.”

Wallace said Jacksonville needs to manage its expectations and set its priorities. It needs to develop a strategy similar to South Florida by attracting state money like Forever Florida funds.

“We are in a good position, we just have to strategize and go after the dollars,” said Wallace, who lives on the Southbank. “We can be whatever we want to be as long as we are willing to invest.

“Whatever we decide, the private sector will be there with us. They don’t always want to be in South Florida. Some of them want longer returns on their investment.”

One vision for connecting to the river that is still in its infancy is the Emerald Necklace project being developed by Groundwork Jacksonville.

Alyssa Bourgoyne, interim director, said Groundwork plans to create an 11-mile greenway that will integrate the Hogan’s Creek parks and the S-Line Rail Trail in Springfield with McCoys Creek in Riverside and the Northbank Riverwalk.

The project could take a decade to complete and will include restoring brownfields in the area as well as incorporate the needs of the residents who are often excluded from development plans, Bourgoyne said. It also could involve “daylighting” McCoys Creek, which runs under the Times-Union building. Uncovering the creek – exposing it to daylight – could be part of the property’s redevelopment. The T-U building has been on the market since June 2016.

Groundwork Jacksonville’s partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service enables it to tap into federal funds. “But the city is going to have to step up,” she said.

Both Boyer and Wallace said they are tired of hearing about the “potential” for using the river.

“There is momentum now,” Boyer said. “We are making connections across the river. We need to bring the two sides of downtown together.”

So much is happening, Wallace said, ticking off a list that included the Shipyard’s development, Brooklyn, The District and other Southbank apartment projects. Other development will happen eventually at the Landing, at Berkman Plaza 2, at the old courthouse and City Hall sites and the Times-Union property, he said.

“We have to manage everyone’s expectations,” Wallace said. “We want to see change happen so fast. We are going through an evolution. We are strategically on the path. I can’t do everything everyone wants done. We are going to make sure it’s right for Jacksonville.”

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 30 years ago, TED has grown to support its mission with multiple initiatives. One of those initiatives is TEDx, where x equals the independently organized event, which supports individuals or groups in hosting local, self-organized TED-style events around the world. TEDxJacksonville was started in 2013 by Avondale resident Douglas Coleman, a co-founder of the Riverside Arts Market in 2008.


By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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