Parking solutions: What can Riverside/Avondale learn from San Marco?

By Steve DiMattia


Riverside/Avondale has been struggling to address its commercial corridors’ parking challenges, but San Marco seems to have found some lasting answers.

While here are significant zoning and geographical differences between the two neighborhoods, there could be some solutions to learn from San Marco’s effective parking environment. And at the very least, there is a shared interest in collaboration and seeing all historic or urban retail centers in Jacksonville thrive.

“One of the things that we have going for us is a healthy mix of businesses that experience peak demand at varying times,” said Doug Skiles, president of San Marco Preservation Society. “Many patrons and employees also walk or bike to San Marco Square, which reduces the overall need for parking.”

This contrasts with Riverside/Avondale’s current trend toward a concentration of restaurants and bars — many operating the same hours.

Skiles also pointed to 414 available parking spaces to serve the 150,000 square feet of commercial building area in San Marco Square. Notably, 108 of those spaces come from a shared parking agreement with Southside Baptist Church. It is a formal agreement wherein the church makes its lot available to the public when it is not in service. San Marco Merchant Association President George Foote said the lot is a primary factor in San Marco’s parking success.

“Communication and cooperation tends to be very good between city representatives, neighborhood organizations, businesses, developers and residents,” Foote said. “The Southside agreement was part of a city outreach that goes back to 1992.”

That also speaks to San Marco’s longterm vision in planning for a more pedestrian friendly area. To that end, SMPS partnered with the City of Jacksonville Planning Department and the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida to develop San Marco By Design.

“It’s a vision of the neighborhood created by all stakeholders that addresses important elements in our community moving forward,” Skiles said. “The end result will be action items.”

Those action items will promote “walkability” of the area through designs that encourage pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit traffic, said the Planning Council’s Valerie Feinberg.

“In terms of redevelopment, the geography changes when your viewpoint begins from the micro or pedestrian level,” Feinberg said.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who represents San Marco, pointed out two significant factors that contribute to San Marco’s ability to control parking through development strategies: They are not a historic district and they do not have an overlay that offers parking variances.

That provides more leeway in tearing down structures, as was the case when Southside Baptist built its lot, and it means that new businesses must provide the full allotment of parking spaces as dictated by city zoning codes.

“We are very lucky because we have a lot of factors that have helped us move in good directions,” Merchant Association President Foote said. “What we would like to see is San Marco, Riverside/Avondale and Springfield all have successful, viable neighborhoods. We totally support anything they do to make that happen. I feel like we really are just one big coalition that makes Jacksonville as a whole a great place to live.”

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