Construction rolls along despite pandemic

Construction rolls along despite pandemic
Work on the build out of Southern Grounds Coffee & Co. in the Shoppes of Avondale has been easier because construction workers have not had to compete for parking due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the few silver linings of widespread COVID-19 closures is that when fewer people are on the road it makes it easier to complete construction projects, such as the build out of Southern Grounds, a coffee restaurant planned for the Shoppes of Avondale, and other City projects long in the works for the area. 

Southern Grounds Coffee is on track to open on time in the fall and after a somewhat easier construction phase because of less pressure to compete for parking spaces. It’s just one of a few projects benefitting from the double-edged sword of reduced traffic and parking pressure, as people work and stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. 

The 7,200-square foot combination coffee shop, wine bar, market and art gallery in construction on St. Johns Avenue will eventually hold 187 seats. Adjacent to Biscotti’s, it replaces some smaller, vacant stores, including a former ice cream shop and an import business, and the construction is going at a clip, said Edward Skinner Jones, who owns the property. Once it’s open, it will be the third location for Southern Grounds, after its locations in San Marco and Neptune Beach.

“The construction workers have the full use of parking because there were no parking conflicts,” Jones said. “It’s worked out to everyone’s benefit since the restaurants are closed and the stores are closed. We’re trucking along.” At the end of April, crews with the Angelo Group had put up the block wall. By the first week in May, they were putting on the steel trusses, with plans to install the roof that first week.

“The block and the steel was the main mess and that got completed before stores opened back up,” Jones said. He expected that Southern Grounds would be open in the early fall, the same timeframe as anticipated before the closures. “We’ve really had no slowdowns since we started,” he said. 

However, that doesn’t mean there is going to be a grand opening just yet, although a soft reopening of some businesses such as restaurants had him optimistic. 

“For the month of April, I think everyone has been focusing on how to survive,” Jones said. “The grand opening was not on the top of our minds. We had no idea when things would open up again. At the existing Southern Grounds, we have outdoor seating and I think it will work in our favor. I assume things will be open in the fall.”

Along with private projects underway, the City of Jacksonville is also continuing some construction projects in the area, including finishing a bridge replacement on Lakeside Drive in Ortega and rehabilitating a canal that meanders through several blocks near Willow Branch park. Both are proceeding on time, said Robin Smith, chief of Engineering and Construction for the City’s Department of Public Works. In general, less traffic makes things a little easier.

“Managing roadway projects, of course, there’s less vehicles on the road, less traffic to deal with,” he said. “It’s not a burden on the contractors. The fewer cars there are on the road, the fewer we have to interact with. You still have to do what you have to do, but there are less people in your way.”

Lakeside Drive opened up, as the long anticipated bridge replacement came to fruition in late-May.
Lakeside Drive opened up, as the long anticipated bridge replacement came to fruition in late-May.

One of the projects the City is currently completing is work on Lakeside Drive in the area of Roosevelt Boulevard and near Ortega Park, formerly known as Roosevelt Square. In October, 2018, the City Council approved a repaving and bridge replacement project, partially because a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)  evaluation found that the 59-year-old bridge was structurally deficient and at the time was serving an estimated 14,000 trips per day, according to Resident reports at the time. The bridge had been replaced by early May, but workers were still doing additional work on both sides and replacing sidewalks, Smith said. The bridge was later reopened, in mid-May.

“They have two or three more months before they are finished there,” he said. “The bridge has been replaced but they are working on sidewalls (on either end of the bridge). They are replacing some water mains and some new sidewalks. In 90 days, we should be getting close to a substantial completion.” 

Workers are also completing a project along Willow Branch Canal, which weaves through Willow Branch park and along several blocks outside of the park. The work is being done in several phases, Smith said. The canal project currently involves replacing a bulkhead and another phase will be announced after the City finds funding.

“We have been working closely with the residents, so they know what to expect,” Smith said.

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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