Budget approved for 5 Points Concept Plan

Budget approved for  5 Points Concept Plan
The most current design of the proposed improvements to the 5 Points area includes improvements to nearby major intersections, which will improve walkability and pedestrian safety.

The 5 Points Concept Plan, in the pipeline since 2013, is about to become a reality.  Bill number 2019-0505, a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) bill that contains provisions for the 5 Points improvements, was unanimously passed by City Council Sept. 24 and work is slated to begin in January. 

District 14 Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, with the help of the Mayor’s administration, secured $820,000 in funding for this year, as part of a multi-year 5 Points Improvement Plan totaling $1.5 million. The project entails improvements to three major intersections, including Park Street at Post Street; Post Street at Margaret Street; and the 5 Points intersection, at Park, Margaret and Lomax streets; three blocks on Margaret Street and one block on Lomax Street, and two crosswalks on Park Street opposite the Sun Ray Cinema, and on Margaret Street south of Oak Street. 

The first part to be tackled is the redesign of Lomax Street. It will be reconfigured to create a more walkable district and eliminate the congestion caused by the prominent 5 Points intersection.  

“I’m excited about the plan – this plan came from a group of individuals, along with RAP and others who have been working on this plan for several years. It didn’t happen overnight, this concept has been worked on for years, and we are fortunate that we were able to get it passed through City Council – we need to thank the administration for assistance in that. We will be able to move forward on the project in January of next year,” said DeFoor. “We were able to get it funded this year – it was actually not to be funded for five years.”

The plan, which was just an inkling of an idea in 2013, grew into what it is today as the result of merchants and residents of 5 Points taking a walking tour with city leaders, engineers and traffic planners six years ago. Their conversation was three-pronged; they talked about the need to improve pedestrian access in the retail area, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety throughout 5 Points, and to achieve those results without losing any parking spaces. 

Merchants and residents longed to transform 5 Points into an environment that would be safer and more welcoming for churches, businesses, visitors and those who live in the area, as well as for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and drivers. Walkability is a prominent component of the plan, as it promotes slower vehicle speeds; more space for pedestrians; additional bike racks, and crosswalks that are shorter and more clearly marked. The plan also enlarges the amount of space available for meeting and dining, while potentially expanding the number of on-street parking spaces. Landscaping and lighting improvements are also included.

RAP President Warren Jones said members of the organization are pleased that the plan has finally passed. He largely credits DeFoor for successfully getting it pushed through ahead of schedule. “When Council Member DeFoor came in, this had been on the capital improvement list as something that was going to take place beyond five years from now. She came in and had a meeting with the merchants association, RAP was there, and she heard the merchants asking about this project that had just not been able to get off the ground. She said she would work on it and it would be one of her top priorities – she had only been in for office a few days. We are very thankful that she did that and got this approved,” said Jones.

“The 5 Points intersection will get a significant amount of attention and signage around that area. Pedestrian safety will be enhanced through this, and the vehicular traffic, we hope, will be safer also with the changes they are making,” he added. “The sidewalk widening provides flexibility for merchants to do something in the future there. Ten years from now, we don’t know who will be there, so it does provide that flexibility, and it’s a great thing to have that built in.” 

As reported by The Resident in 2016, interested parties met a least a dozen times during 2013-2014 to review drawings of the proposed plan, and some expressed concerns that traffic might increase on Margaret Street and that there would be no appreciable gains in parking.

In mid-2014, it had seemed nearly everyone was on board with the proposed $4 million streetscape proposal, which had the approval of the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission and Riverside Avondale Preservation. 

The next step was the City Council’s approval to put $750,000 into the 2014-2015 budget for the design phase and construction drawings; however, beyond a $99,000 line item for follow-up design and engineering studies, the 5 Points Concept Plan was not funded for the first phase, nor did it make it into Mayor Lenny Curry’s 2015-2016 budget. Proponents waited for indicators that the project would be funded, if not within the 2016-2020 Capital Improvements Plan, then shortly thereafter.

At a meeting in May 2016, there was much debate about whether a roundabout should be installed at the 5-way intersection and concern was raised about what would happen with the beacon, the Holy Grail of 5 Points. It was determined that improvements would be made to the intersection versus installing a roundabout, and the beacon would remain. Then the plan sat in limbo until DeFoor entered the picture. 

“This has been such a long process and there have been a lot of merchants that have come and gone since the start of it. My understanding is, as with any project, there are merchants that are excited about it and merchants that maybe have concerns about it, but I think the overall feeling – at least on my part and merchants — that I’ve heard is that any efforts like this plan, to make a historic district more pedestrian-focused and friendly, are positive developments for 5 Points and for local merchants, residents and potential visitors,” said Kelly Pickard, owner of Alewife Bottle Shop and Tasting Room on Park Street and president of the 5 Points Merchants Association. “I think, in particular, Lomax is way overdue for getting some of the care and attention that we’ve seen given to Park Street. It’s in the heart of 5 Points as well. Lomax can often be overlooked as you are going from Park to Margaret Street, or vice versa, so I think making Lomax more pedestrian friendly and getting more foot traffic is a positive development for those merchants.”

Pickard emphasized that whoever is leading 5 Points in the future, while construction is taking place, needs to help their fellow merchants on Lomax Street during the process. “I think the big key will be just ensuring that  we work together to make sure we try to alleviate any of those burdens that would take place during construction, whether it’s loss of parking or streets being blocked off, and that we support those businesses on Lomax during the construction phase. The association is working with the City and with merchants to make sure we do that as best we can.”

Steve Williams, owner of Hoptinger Bier Garden and Sausage House in 5 Points, said he is excited about the energy in 5 Points. On a recent Friday night, he had dinner at an area seafood restaurant and said the streets were packed with people.  “I had never seen 5 Points quite that activated, and I was so excited about that. There is a lot of going on in the neighborhood right now.

“I love the plan. I think it’s going to create a lot more of a safe corner, to be honest,” he continued. “I know a lot of people are nostalgic about the current beacon and the last time I looked at the plan they had come up with an idea to save that beacon, which I think is very important. I don’t know why it (the plan) didn’t happen before but there is no point in looking back – let’s get this thing rolling.”

By Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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