Riverside, other urban neighborhoods play key roles in Downtown redevelopment

Riverside, other urban neighborhoods  play key roles in Downtown redevelopment

Sustained commercial growth in Riverside and a flurry of legislation passed in December by the Jacksonville City Council are serving as fuel to keep the Downtown revitalization engine running, local business leaders say.

Redeveloping Downtown – which has been a priority for Mayor Alvin Brown since he took office 18 months ago – will depend on a symbiotic relationship between a relatively small but densely populated Downtown area and larger, more established neighborhoods such as Riverside, Avondale and San Marco, according to local planners.

Revitalization also will depend on the Jacksonville City Council’s continued support of initiatives spearheaded by the mayor and his administration. That support was evidenced in December, when the council unanimously confirmed all nine members of the Downtown Investment Authority, which was formed in August and serves as the lead planning and implementation agency for Downtown redevelopment.

Mayor Brown considers the DIA to be a “major step to usher in a new era” for the city. “My administration is proud to partner with the business community and work closely with [the city council] to help keep the momentum and make smart investments in Jacksonville’s future,” he said.

DIA member Melody Bishop, an architect with Akel, Logan & Shafer PA in Riverside, says the new board’s responsibilities are multifaceted, and that its main priority is to interpret and implement a Downtown redevelopment plan that was written in 1981. The plan, she says, eventually will include key elements of other plans that have emerged over the years.

“We’ve got quite a task at hand,” Bishop said. “The redevelopment plan is key.”

New legislation, new construction help to kick start the New Year


Formation of the DIA, along with new legislation that streamlines the city’s economic development process by reducing the amount of time required for companies to work with the city to create local jobs, have business leaders looking forward to a busy 2013. Through the new streamlining law, proposed job creation packages with a local financial impact of less than $300,000 may be approved by the city council after one public hearing; proposed packages with an impact of more than $300,000 will require two public hearings.

The council also passed a bill that authorizes development of Riverside Park through two economic development agreements between the city and Pope & Land Jax Riverside LP. According to information provided by the mayor’s office, the public-private partnership will redevelop a portion of the Brooklyn neighborhood while generating 247 jobs, improving infrastructure and increasing property tax revenue by $10 million over the next two decades.

“I commend the council for passing these bills, which will help to boost our economy and revitalize Downtown,” Mayor Brown said in a prepared statement.

Reinvent might be a more accurate term than revitalize, given several major development projects that either have begun or will be getting under way this year on both sides of the St. Johns River. The projects include:


220 Riverside – With the help of a $4.9 million Recapture Enhanced Value grant, developer Hallmark Partners has begun construction of a $30 million, seven-story housing project that includes 294 apartments ranging from 600 to 1,200 square feet with onsite amenities; 16,500 square feet of retail space and an adjacent community park that can hold year-round, festival-style programming and special events. “We expect our 220 Riverside project and adjacent public plaza to serve as a catalyst for continued development in Brooklyn along the Riverside corridor,” said Alex Coley, president of Hallmark Partners.


Brooklyn Community Development – Through a public-private partnership between the city and Pope & Land Jax Riverside LP, a proposed development would create about 300 housing units in a community fronting Park Street in Brooklyn, as well as 65,000 square feet of retail space along Riverside Avenue. The planned residential area would be in addition to improvements to the area’s infrastructure, including flood and pollution prevention for McCoy’s Creek and the St. Johns River.


Riverside Dog Park – Plans are set for the city to build a dog park and related amenities using property beneath I-95 in Riverside. The proposed project has been backed financially by the Five Points Merchants Association and fundraisers sponsored by the Riverside Avondale Preservation, according to RAP executive director Carmen Godwin. She said the 2-acre dog park will be an extension of Riverside Park’s northwest corner, and that the merchants association has agreed to put up $25,000 toward the initial estimated cost of $45,000. The proposed park would be built through a matching bond program with the city. Other RAP-sponsored fundraisers will be held, according to Godwin.

New YMCA Building – Groundbreaking is expected to take place during the second or third quarter of 2013 for a new, glass-fronted, 80,000-square-foot Yates Family YMCA building on the St. Johns riverfront. The building, estimated to cost $21 million, eventually will replace the existing YMCA facility on Riverside Avenue. The current building will be demolished for a surface parking lot. The new building also will accommodate YMCA of Florida’s First Coast’s corporate headquarters. Eric Mann, the Y’s president and CEO, said the new construction “opens up the door for us to reach so many more goals” that target residents in Riverside and Downtown neighborhoods.


Museum Makeover – Work has begun on an elaborate, $4.5 million project – which includes $1 million being placed in an endowment fund — at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens on Riverside Avenue. Plans call for the creation of a signature front lawn area and expanded riverfront gardens. Also, the museum’s popular riverfront gardens will double in size, and its three parking lots along Riverside Avenue will be converted into a single, paved lot with trees and landscaping. A deck that will accommodate up to 40 visitors is planned, to be built under the protection of two live oaks, along with a sculpture garden at the north end of the museum property. Other planned improvements will make the museum more open and accessible, according to museum officials. About 97 percent of the project’s cost reportedly has been raised.


Mayor Brown said the combined activity can only help to build a sense of teamwork between the city, the private sector and residents in living in urban neighborhoods.

“I’m excited to see so much energy and enthusiasm going into projects throughout our city’s center,” he said. “Each represents an opportunity to deepen the discussion about the value of a vibrant Downtown to make Jacksonville more competitive, create jobs and refine the brand of our city.”


By Stephen Kindland

Resident Community News

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