Boyer outlines future public access improvements on Southbank

Boyer outlines future public access improvements on Southbank
City Council President Lori Boyer’s working diagram of future public access improvements she hopes to see on the Southbank.

As she eyes the future development of Jacksonville’s Southbank, it is Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer’s intention to make sure the public has plenty of access to the St. Johns River.

In February, Boyer shared with The Resident a “working graphic,” which she said she uses when discussing future Southbank Riverwalk improvements, water taxi docks, and the multi-use path that will circle the Southbank area and connect the improvements. Being discussed with the Florida Department of Transportation is the future construction of a park/plaza under the Fuller Warren Bridge, similar to the Riverside Arts Market area, which would anchor the multi-use Southbank loop. 

“The ultimate goal is to form a complete loop for walkers and runners and to make publicly available river crossings, both along bridges and by water taxi,” explained Boyer in an email.

Currently the Riverwalk extends from Friendship Park to the far end of the Duval County Public School board site. However, several obstacles stand in the way of further extending the Riverwalk from Friendship Park toward the Fuller Warren Bridge, including the St. Johns Marina, the boat ramp immediately adjacent to the Acosta Bridge, and the railroad bridge.

“If you were to build the Riverwalk over water and go up in height to allow boat access to the ramp under the waterway, you would have to get back down to get under the Acosta Bridge and up again over the railroad bridge,” Boyer said. “The geometry is impossible unless you go far out into the water where currents and navigation create other issues.”

To overcome these challenges in the most practical and cost-effective way, Boyer plans to delineate a path that follows San Marco Boulevard from Friendship Park to Prudential Drive, crossing the railroad tracks at Prudential and then returning to the waterfront adjacent to property where Ventures Development Group plans to build a new high-rise apartment building (see dashed blue line on map). Signs, landscaping, and pavers would help identify that it is a continuation of the Riverwalk, she said.

As part of its conceptual design, Ventures Development Group has already agreed to include a 12-foot-wide walkway with four feet of landscaping on either side of the path running along the railroad tracks adjacent to its parcel. The Downtown Development Review Board granted conceptual approval to Ventures’ design during a meeting Jan. 19.

An existing 8-foot walkway runs adjacent to the bulkhead along the river in front of Ventures’ property. In the developer’s design, a contiguous 12-foot-wide walkway would be built, including landscaping and lighting that would extend the Riverwalk to the parcel in front of the Aetna Building. Ultimately, the Riverwalk would be built to connect the Ventures property to the Fuller Warren Bridge, running along the river in front of the Aetna Building and Baptist and Wolfson Hospitals; however, in the meantime, a “temporary overland connection” along Prudential Drive and Palm Avenue is necessary to get users from Prudential Drive to the Fuller Warren Bridge (see solid blue line on map), said Boyer.

“As Baptist implements plans for redevelopment of its parking garage and entrance, and explores potential upgrades to this section of Palm Avenue, we want to keep the opportunity open for this temporary connection until funding is available to complete the actual Riverwalk connection,” Boyer said. “We will, of course, need easements from the upland owners to obtain the submerged land leases necessary to construct the Riverwalk in the water – even if there is no direct access to their parcels. We have begun those conversations,” she said.

Included in its $125 million plans to improve the I-10/I-95 interchange area near Riverside, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to build a $20 million shared-use path that will run adjacent to the south side of the Fuller Warren Bridge between Riverside and San Marco, which will be dedicated solely for bicyclists and pedestrians. The project is slated for 2019, said Boyer.

“We have been in discussion with FDOT for a number of years regarding an under-bridge park, similar to RAM, and once construction is complete on the bridge and the area is no longer required for staging, we hope that park/plaza will be an anchor for the multi-use path on the Southbank,” she said.

The 12-foot-wide path would have an “independent” ramp leading from RAM toward the Fuller Warren Bridge before it crosses the water and will be separated by a traffic barrier, according to Odette Struys, a spokesperson for FDOT. As the path nears the San Marco side, it will again separate from the bridge, forking north and south, she said. Those choosing the north fork will be provided with a safe avenue to the park and Palm Avenue, underneath 1-95’s southbound traffic lanes.

Meanwhile, those choosing to go south will connect with a ramp leading to a dedicated bike and pedestrian path behind Nemours Children’s Specialty Care. “Gary Street at Palm Avenue is a dangerous and difficult intersection for pedestrians and cyclists,” Boyer said. “Nemours generously agreed to allow the path to be extended along its riverfront to get users to the less-congested Children’s Way/Nira Street linkage. During the approval of the rezoning for Baptist/MD Anderson Cancer Center, the multi-use path was included along the north side of Nira Street as part of the site design.”

Baptist Health will complete construction of this portion of the multi-use path during construction of its new cancer center and parking garage (see solid white line on map), she said.

Eventually the path will be connected to the Kings Avenue garage, and as future development occurs in this area, the city plans to incorporate the path in those plans as well as any city plans for improvements within the right of way (see dashed white line on map), Boyer said. 

“The Kings Avenue garage – a public parking and transit location – would serve users of the path as well,” said Boyer. “From the garage, there is access under the Overland Bridge to The District, which has committed to connect the overland and waterfront segments of the loop as part of its development plans.”

The District – Life Well Lived – Jacksonville is a multi-use, multi-generational urban resort San Marco developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz plan to build on 30 acres of land currently owned by the Jacksonville Energy Authority (JEA). The District’s plans include extending the Southbank Riverwalk from the Duval County Public School Board administration building along the riverfront portion of its property so that pedestrians and bicyclists will have access to its shops and riverfront restaurants.

In the future, pedestrians will still be able to make use of walkways across the Acosta and Main Street bridges, Boyer said. She also intends for public water taxis to be placed at “reasonable” intervals to connect upland activity centers along the Southbank and Northbank waterfronts (see blue triangles on map for existing water taxi stations and green triangles for future stations).

“Of course, this won’t happen overnight. But, it won’t happen at all if we don’t have a vision that we are implementing step by step,” Boyer said, adding that new Southbank public parking facilities, a future expansion of the Museum of Science and History, Riverplace Boulevard reconstruction, and docking for recreational boats are all in the works.

“It is an exciting time on the Southbank, driven by private investment and new development activity, but with a vision for public access and amenities shaping the background,” she said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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