Square traffic, Balis Park redesign makes debut

Square traffic, Balis Park redesign makes debut


Local groups promise support for ongoing maintenance –

Designs for a “new and improved” San Marco Square were released last month during a community meeting hosted by District 5 City Councilwoman, Lori Boyer. Local groups also have come forward with their support of the plans, announcing new initiatives to raise funds for project maintenance and beautification.
Boyer presented the designs, drawn by San Marco engineer and San Marco Preservation Society past-president Doug Skiles, during the early September meeting. A rendering shows how the square’s three-lion statue would be connected to Balis Park by removing the traffic signal at the intersection of San Marco and Atlantic Boulevards. The result is increased “green space” for the square. The design also aims to improve traffic flow and pedestrian access following completion of a new roundabout at San Marco Boulevard and Naldo Avenue.
“This will provide a more continuous green space between Balis and the fountain and make a narrower access for pedestrians to cross,” Boyer said. “The idea is to better connect one side of the street to the other for pedestrian and help eliminate traffic backups on the roundabout.”
The roundabout, and other improvements along a 1.4-mile stretch of San Marco Boulevard, is part of the ongoing San Marco Streetscape project — a $15 million city initiative started in 2007 to beautify and “create an enhanced sense of destination to the San Marco corridor.” While the city initially projected an Oct. 2012 end date, constructions delays and scheduling have pushed the completion date into 2013. The city will freeze Streetscape work between Thanksgiving and Jan. 2 to allow unobstructed shopping access to local stores and restaurants.
She said city Public Works Director Jim Robinson and Bill Joyce, chief of the city’s engineering and construction management division, both vetted the new square traffic plan and are “fairly comfortable that it works and solves a problem.”
One of the most controversial parts of the revised square traffic design, however, is a new “dog-leg” intersection on Balis Place for vehicles accessing eastbound Atlantic Boulevard or the continued northbound lane of San Marco Boulevard. In the redesign, northbound San Marco Boulevard traffic would have to turn right at Balis Place and curve to the left again after the new park extension to continue a northbound route. The plan could snarl early morning commuter traffic, some residents said during the community meeting.
Several residents attending the meeting remarked on the potential problems the new design might cause drivers coming through the square.
“This is not a final decision but it’s definitely in the works and under consideration,” Boyer said.
In terms of maintenance, several groups have indicated they will help keep the new green space looking its best. Among those who have shared an interest are the San Marco Merchants Association, Greenscape of Jacksonville and the San Marco Preservation Society.
Anita Morrill, a San Marco resident who owns Empty Nest Events, announced the upcoming Autumn in the Park Farm to Table Dinner will be an annual fundraiser for Balis Park. The dinner, sponsored by Prudential Network Realty’s Anita Vining and several other local companies, is a Tuscan-themed event featuring the culinary talents of local chefs, Kathy Collins of Cafe Nola, Sam Efron of Taverna and Tom Gray of Bistro Aix. The Grape & Grain’s Bob Smith will pour a signature drink and new brewery, Aardwolf, also will showcase beer during the gathering. The event will be held Nov. 11 at Davin Park — just a short walk from the square’s Balis Park.
“Last year, the event raised money for a preservation society and merchants’ association fund for ongoing beautification of the square,” Morrill said. “This year, however, we’re hoping to raise a bit more money and create a fund for the new San Marco Square project. We hope to make this event a kick-off for this new project — all of the funds will be going toward it, and hopefully we’ll be able to show a design of what the park will look like from preliminary designs.”
She said organizers were looking at several fundraising ideas, including the purchase of trees and bricks for Balis Park.
“We are thrilled to have so many sponsors this year so more money can go back to the square,” Morrill said.

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

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