Downtown Dwellers encourages residents to ‘take ownership’ of Riverwalks

Downtown Dwellers encourages residents to ‘take ownership’ of Riverwalks
John Smith, The Plaza homeowner association vice president; Dimitri Demopolis, Churchwell Lofts manager; Tom Dumas, Downtown Dwellers treasurer; Sandra Fradd, Downtown Dwellers president, and Gianni Vivian, The Peninsula homeowners association president

Downtown resident Sandra Fradd is on a mission to get people thinking of the Riverwalks as a neighborhood.

In a new initiative, she’s urging residents of the five towers – Berkman Plaza and Churchwell Lofts on the Northbank and the Strand, the Peninsula and San Marco Place on the Southbank – to start walking.

Fradd, president of the Downtown Dwellers, said the Riverwalks are considered to be parks by the city and she wants the roughly 1,000 residents in the area to starting thinking of them that way, too. She said she would like to find an app that will enable people to track their time so she can share with the city the usage rate.

“It would give people an incentive to take care of it,” she said. “And it’s a chance to get out in the air with friends and enjoy this beautiful part of our city.”

Fradd announced the initiative at a Downtown Dwellers meeting at the Lexington Hotel Sept. 20 with representatives from each of the towers. It was the first event that encouraged people from each of the towers to mingle and talk about what they would like to see happen in the neighborhood.

Peninsula resident Gianni Vivian, vice president of Downtown Dwellers, thinks people who walk regularly will develop a sense of ownership, pick up trash, report things that are broken. And it’s also a great way to get to know the neighbors, he said.

“We have a lot of common interests,” Vivian said. “We need to build this neighborhood with the city.”

John Smith, a Berkman Plaza resident, said Northbank residents are anxious for something to be done about the abandoned Berkman II and are considering filing a blight complaint with the city. The property has been rezoned from residential to commercial so that it could be developed as a hotel but a developer has not been found. Smith said he would rather see the site developed as residential.

“Downtown Dwellers wants to create an environment in downtown to make people want to live here. We need infrastructure to support residents like a hardware store, a dry cleaners and a drug store. They tell us that business will come in once people are here but I think it needs to happen together,” said Smith.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who represents San Marco, attended the event and shared some of the things that are happening in the area, including a plan to landscape the Riverwalks with vegetation inspired by the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

She said she’s hoping the extension of the Riverwalks to the Fuller Warren Bridge and past the Duval County Public School Board building, and the addition of a kayak launch and finger piers for boaters will bring more activity to the Riverwalks.

She said with increased activity comes an additional effort for security and maintenance. Downtown Vision will be hiring four additional ambassadors to help with upkeep. Identifiable by their orange t-shirts, the ambassadors also are “eyes and ears” in the area and can alert police to security issues. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce also is working with private groups to help maintain the Riverwalks.

Friendship Fountain will be restored and enhanced with lights, color and music. It will be the first site with what Boyer calls a node that “will help tell the story of the river.” The other sites will be the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts and the Main Street bridge.

The fountain also may play a role in a light show that Boyer is exploring for the space between the Main Street and Acosta bridges. It would be modeled on Hong Kong’s Sym-phony of Lights, a 13-minute daily laser light and music show in the harbor.

“It would give us fireworks without the pyrotechnics,” Boyer said. “It would give us the most return on our investment and I think it’s feasible.”

The design for the “road diet” for Riverplace Boulevard is almost complete and work could begin in the coming months, Boyer said. She told the residents to expect traffic disruption for the 18 months the project is expected to take.

Boyer also said to expect the demolition of the old courthouse and city hall buildings as well as completion of the Liberty Street basin project, which will make that section of the riverfront “development ready.”

Several Southbank residents voiced concern about a parcel next to the Peninsula that is in foreclosure and expected to be auctioned soon. They are worried the property will be developed as condos or a hotel and hurt the character of the area. They wanted to know if the city would be willing to purchase the parcel for parking or a park.

Boyer said she thinks the area would be a wonderful park but not to expect the city to buy it. She suggested the residents work with the lender to see if a resolution could be found.
Downtown Dwellers will have a meeting Thursday, Oct. 26, at 6:30 p.m. at MOSH.

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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