Working together to preserve neighborhood histories for the future

Working together to preserve neighborhood histories for the future
RAP Home Bike Tour

As many Jacksonville neighborhoods continue to grow and change, there are some communities that strive to protect their rich histories – embracing the future while preserving the past. Although each of the communities is distinctively different, they share the common goal of preservation, planning, and sustainability. 

Through the creation of Jacksonville Urban Neighborhood Coalition (JUNC), the entities can come together as one to collectively discuss their most pressing needs. Though many of their needs are specific to their individual communities, common threads tie together a group comprised of historic districts and other community support agencies. There are approximately 25 different organizations represented. 

Five of the organizations shared what they do to conserve the character of the areas where they work, live and play. 

Riverside Avondale Preservation

Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP), established in 1974, conducted a survey in 2017 as the basis for a new strategic plan designed to guide the organization in the future. The board of directors used input from residents and business owners to develop a vision, mission and set of core principles. 

RAP’s vision is to be the lead advocate and facilitator for Riverside Avondale’s historic neighborhoods, vibrant local commercial districts, public spaces and welcoming community. They aim to achieve this vision by preserving the historic fabric and unique character, promoting local businesses, arts, and culture and advocating for and celebrating their community. 

“As we learned from our neighborhood survey, our residents and business owners are concerned about preservation and the enhancement of our quality of life. At our core we will continue our work advocating for appropriate land use, zoning and adherence to historic regulations,” said Warren Jones, executive director of RAP. “Other projects to achieve these goals include advocating for drainage and flood control, pedestrian and bike-friendly improvements, public transportation and more cultural and family-centric programs.”

To achieve those goals, RAP relies on volunteers in the community who wish to work together to make these efforts a reality. Their board of directors is actively seeking people who want to engage to build on the legacy of those volunteers who in the early 1970s created RAP to save their historic buildings and unique character. 

“Ultimately, Riverside Avondale Preservation and our community are strengthened through the imagination and determination of our volunteers who do great things,” Jones said.

RAP uses City of Jacksonville historic preservation guidelines and zoning regulations to provide a framework for their preservation efforts. Many people erroneously believe that Riverside Avondale Preservation makes the final determination if a proposed project meets the historic guidelines, but it is actually the City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission that has final approval. 

“That is why two words – ‘advocate’ and ‘facilitate’ – in our vision are so important,” said Jones. “We advocate for improvements and adherence to preservation guidelines. We also facilitate mutually beneficial relationships and programming, so we can work together to preserve what we love about where we live.”

One of the first meetings Jones attended as the new executive director was with JUNC. 

“That day’s presentation was about transportation issues and the future of transportation. It was a great discussion. In the future our scheduled meetings will cover such topics as disaster relief, economic development, homelessness, small business support and housing issues,” he said.

SMPS San Marco Square
SMPS San Marco Square

San Marco Preservation Society

After eight years in the making, the Neighborhood Action Plan developed by the San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS) to serve as a blueprint for development in San Marco was adopted as an ordinance by City Council in December 2018. San Marco By Design was created in response to the community’s concern about future development proposals transportation and safety efficiency zoning regulations and approval processes. 

“We know that growth is coming, and we wanted to have guidelines for what type of development we’d like in San Marco,” said Bryan Mickler, SMPS president.  “We hope developers will look at it and stick to those guidelines. They will have to at least discuss why they would want to deviate from the plan.”

One of the big things SMPS just completed is a $60,000 renovation to Preservation Hall in Fletcher Park. The project entailed hiring a roofing contractor who had expertise in the gothic style of the building to replace the roof.  About $50,000 of that expense came directly out of the coffers of SMPS. Other projects include the painting of the Stockton sales office – the building that served as the sales office for most of the old homes in San Marco – and working on the old South Jacksonville City Hall. 

“We are design consultant for a number of things happening in San Marco,” Mickler said. “There is new KOMPAN playground equipment at Landon Park; it’s absolutely gorgeous. It was a very expensive project and the kids love it.”

Additionally, SMPS helped to design the “Welcome to San Marco” sign that was paid for by Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, and they are also in consultation with Councilwoman Lori Boyer on the Overland Bridge, Fuller Warren pedestrian bridge, all of the parks and the new bulkhead along River Road. 

“We contribute to maintenance fund for the landscaping of all the areas around San Marco Square, and we participate in community outreach,” said Mickler. “We did a store front depiction of old San Marco in City Hall downtown, and we conduct speaker series where the speakers talk about the San Marco area.”

Also, SMPS oversaw an approximately $75,000 renovation to Brown L. Whatley Park, installed trees in Alexandria Oaks Park, and they work with Greenscape and the City to plant trees where they are needed. 

“We consulted with the Department of Transportation on the widening of San Jose Boulevard and how it will impact the neighborhood – we advocate for good development,” said Mickler. “We look at people’s plans and make sure there are enough trees and sidewalks – a lot of different things.”

The members of SMPS are excited about the formation of JUNC where the different organizations come together. 

“The goal is to find ways we can help each other. If one community has a certain insight on how to get something done with the City, or if they have a better way of doing things, they can share that with the rest of us,” said Mickler. “We did a charrette and focused on issues that touch us all. Things like transportation, safety issues and drainage and flooding – things that are too big for one neighborhood.” 

SNAP BBQ
SNAP BBQ

St. Nicholas Area Preservation

After about a 10-year hiatus, St. Nicholas Area Preservation (SNAP) has regrouped to build community and preserve the beautiful historic St. Nicholas neighborhood. The group was revived when St. Nicholas resident Alex Varkonda sent emails to residents and got some conversations going about restarting the group. Several residents were interested, so a meeting was held in May to discuss the reorganization of SNAP. 

“We decided to reinvigorate SNAP, elect board members and launch it. We are just getting ourselves off the ground and are starting again – we are taking the first steps to get ourselves established,” said Erik Kaldor, president of SNAP. 

The organization has held some events in the neighborhood and they have a regular happy hour at The Mudville Grille. In December they sold luminary kits and had a membership drive; they had the SNAP sign updated, are still spreading the word and trying to get residents interested in joining. 

SPAR Cleanup
SPAR Cleanup

Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council

 Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council (SPAR) hosts multiple programs that promote preservation and revitalization of Jacksonville’s oldest neighborhood.

One example is their Residential Revival Project. In 2017, SPAR worked with a senior resident to complete a small-scale exterior renovation that included maintenance and repair needed due to the age of the home. With the help of volunteers and donations, SPAR was able to complete $8,000 worth of repairs for $1,000. 

This year, the project started with a $1,000 sponsorship, and grew to the equivalent of $15,000 worth of preservation and renovation work for a senior Springfield couple who have lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. SPAR is looking at the third year of the project to take place in April 2019. 

“Because of the success and continued need in the neighborhood for similar projects, SPAR will continue the program to assist a minimum of one low- to moderate-income resident each year with the costs of exterior maintenance and restoration of their historic homes,” said Kelly Rich, executive director of SPAR.

The Historic Springfield Tour of Homes, which showcases the unique character of the community, marked its 40th year in 2018. The event, a major fundraiser for programming and services provided by SPAR Council, allows local and regional attendees to view homes that are up to a century old, as well as new construction and the occasional renovated commercial space.  

The largest event that SPAR hosts each year is Jacksonville PorchFest – 2018 was the fifth year of this annual event that brings important attention to Springfield’s historic architecture and ongoing revitalization and highlights the breadth of musical talent here in Jacksonville. Proceeds from the event are dedicated to SPAR’s arts programming and education fund.

Additionally, to promote revitalization of the area, SPAR hosts monthly community cleanups, several bike socials and community outings throughout the year. 

SPAR hosts quarterly community meetings, where residents and business owners come together to hear the latest updates on items the nonprofit is working on. If the City or another local entity like JTA or JEA is working on a project in the area at the time, they invite representatives to share updates with the community and give the community a chance to share their feedback. 

SPAR is working with other local urban preservation and community nonprofits to engage their communities through socials and meet-ups, and by sharing resources, board and committee collaboration, and shared promotion of events. 

“There are many preservation efforts happening in the neighborhood right now. Investors and homeowners are continuing to preserve and restore historic homes,” said Rich. “We are also seeing an increase in the revitalization of our commercial corridors, and we’re thrilled for all the small businesses who are choosing to make Springfield their home.”

OAI Butterfly House
OAI Butterfly House

Old Arlington, Inc.

Old Arlington, Inc. (OAI) was established in 1993 when certain citizens became concerned over the possible loss of historic structures, most notably the Richard Norman Silent Film Studios, now a National Historic Landmark with an independent governing board.  

Their current focus is the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). As an organization, they participated in various studies that precipitated the CRA, as well as attending meetings and providing input as the planning, and ultimately the CRA, was established. One of the OAI board members is serving on the CRA. 

“Most recently, we’ve been active in meeting with the Council representative to discuss the content of the CRA’s zoning overlay, to ensure it meets the needs of the Arlington community and to meet OAI’s vision statement: to champion neighborhood improvements and preservation through advocacy, community participation, education, and events that celebrate the uniqueness and character of Old Arlington,” said Melody Shacter, OAI president. “It is critical that we get it right. Members of the board have been very active in attending meetings and providing input for the project.”

The zoning overlay itself is 50 pages long, which is demonstrative of why the CRA needs so much attention from OAI. 

“Understanding the CRA and the Zoning Overlay are critical to ensuring the tax dollars collected through the Tax Increment Funding (TIF) mechanism is appropriated in a manner that will enhance and preserve the architecture, culture, and history of the community while improving the economic status,” said Ann Burt, board member and past president of OAI.

OAI has created and offered tours and provided tour guides for the City of Jacksonville events when asked. Most recently, they provided the tour guide and narrative for the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Anna Kingsley tour. Over the years, they have participated in numerous visioning exercises and initiatives – the Jax Pride and JEA charrettes, the City of Jacksonville Old Arlington Neighborhood Action Plan, Seeds of Change Initiative, ICARE – ACT organizational visioning. Also, they applied for and received funding for roadway visual improvements along University Boulevard and Arlington Road through the federal Intermodal Surface and Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA) and the City of Jacksonville Town Center Initiative program.

“Throughout our 25 years our emphasis has alternated between historic preservation and community revitalization. We have gathered – and continue to gather – our stories,” said Burt.  

In keeping with both preservation and revitalization, OAI has offered five mid-century modern home tours, Arlington Mod & More, since 2011. These tours bring an awareness of this unique architectural style and of the many beautiful neighborhoods. 

Looking forward, it appears there is finally funding to finish the renovation of the Norman Studio’s complex. OAI is tasked with the cottage, which will most likely become a history/visitors’ center. The project will involve physical renovations to the cottage that are needed so artifacts and programs can be housed there. OAI and the Norman Studios board work closely together to promote the projects of both organizations.

OAI representatives attend JUNC meetings to remain informed about what the other associations are doing. SPAR’s Kelly Rich spoke at an OAI meeting, which was helpful to understand the impact the overlay had on the Springfield neighborhood, according to Shacter. OAI also participates in the Jacksonville History Consortium, started by Harry Reagan with the mission to share the efforts of preservation organizations in Jacksonville, identify our issues and needs and work together to address them.

“Since the 1999 Jax Pride Charrette led by [Avondale resident] Ted Pappas – Revitalizing the Older Suburb – we have recognized that communities must stake stock of their assets and use them to deal with their issues. Arlington boomed in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s and has experienced the natural aging process. Events such as Mathews Bridge 60th Anniversary Celebration, Arlington Aglow Christmas Celebration, the Arlington Mod & More Home Tours are all designed to showcase Arlington and attract positive attention,” said Burt. “We are writing our own narrative using our assets – our amazing history, our central location, our great neighborhoods, Jacksonville University, our great housing stock to name just a few.” 


By Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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