Artist Walk inches closer to completion

Artist Walk inches closer to completion
Artist rendering of potential streetscape for Artist Walk.

City Council gavels another 5-million investment

The City of Jacksonville is investing $8.8 million in the Artist Walk streetscape project with an adjoining skate park where the preliminary groundwork is underway east of Riverside Park in the Five Points neighborhood.

Shannon Blankenship, director of the Riverside Arts Market (RAM), anticipates a significant increase in vendor space under the Fuller Warren Bridge for more arts, crafts and produce vendors; food trucks, in addition to new bike and walking paths. She believes it will shrink the current vendor waitlist.

“We currently have 30 approved vendors for RAM that are on the waitlist, pending an opening,” she explained February 11 by email. “However, we’ve also moved to an invitation-only based market, where vendors are invited to fill out an application only after receiving an invitation based on our knowledge of their product. This is an attempt to reduce the number of vendors on our wait list that are unlikely to make it into the market within the application year.

“[Artist Walk] will allow us to expand the offerings during the Saturday Riverside Arts Market, and even include an early morning ‘european style’ market featuring fresh pastries, produce and locally-made coffee. The new Shared Use Bike Path will give patrons a view of the market from above, and bring a new perspective to how we use the space. We look forward to bringing in more public art and improving the current Riverside Arts Market, which we can do with the expanded market capacity on the other side of Riverside Avenue.”

The Artist Walk is envisioned as one segment of the Emerald Trail now under development in the urban core.

The Artist Walk portion would extend from RAM on Riverside Avenue northwest to Park Street under Interstate 95 and connect to College Street.

The Jacksonville City Council on February 8 approved $5 million in funding for the project in addition to $3.8 million already pledged in the city’s parks improvement plan, said public relations specialist Caroline Adkins.

Planned for the Artist Walk project, she said, are the following features and amenities:

  • A plaza space with landscaping, sculptures and seating near Riverside Avenue. This area will be a visual gateway between Riverside and Brooklyn. This space will also function as a transition space for the Fuller Warren bike/pedestrian bridge and the connection to the Emerald Trail and Riverwalk.
  • Connection with the Emerald Trail and associated lighting, landscaping, and site amenities.
  • A synthetic turf lawn that will be utilized as programmable space. This area is contained within the ramp areas of I-95 Fuller Warren at Park Street.
  • An artistic skate plaza with three “rooms/spaces” between the freeway pillars for various skill levels. The skate park entry area creates a “JAX” stage that will front the synthetic turf lawn.

“The project is in the design refinement phase as we have engaged stakeholders input,” said Ms. Adkins by email. “This project will focus on the first phase located between Park and College Street. The second phase is adjacent to Riverside Park and will continue the Emerald Trail connections to College Street. This is project is 1000-feet in length; equivalent to three city blocks.”

The latest $5 million in funding was approved as part of a $30 million city-wide parks improvement plan.

The Emerald Trail master plan and implementation strategy from consultants for Groundwork Jacksonville in August, 2021 described the Artist Walk as a “linear park space under the Fuller Warren Bridge from the St. Johns River across Riverside Avenue, Park Street, and College Street, ending at Riverside Park. The Artist Walk will include the multi-use trail connection, parking, pedestrian corridors, and landscaping. It will support the Riverside Arts Market, which has been open between the river and Riverside Avenue since 2009, and a much needed public space for the [City of Jacksonville].”

Artist rendering of a potential skate park design for the Artist Walk.
Artist rendering of a potential skate park design for the Artist Walk.

According to Downtown Jacksonville’s website, “The Artist Walk will include a public skate park … and other park amenities.” The city council concurred in February passing ordinance 2022-46 with an amendment for the skate park, which Ms. Blankenship said was a priority for Mayor Lenny Curry.

Local historian and one of RAM’s early founders, Wayne Wood, said the coming expansion of RAM was their “ambition all along.”

The market started smaller but with a bang in 2009.

“We envisioned when RAM reached a level of success to expand across the street, we’d do other things outside the traditional role of RAM. We’d look for different types of markets on the other side, but more parking was badly needed, so the idea was to create a corridor to the John Gorrie Dog Park …” recalled Mr. Wood.

And it’s been a long time coming.

“It’s a triangle of activity with Memorial Park, [RAM and the Artist Walk]. It’s place-making,” said Mr. Wood. “It’s such a rich area with the Cummer Museum and RAM, the architecture, the parks, Five Points; this is the keystone for all that.”

He’s not stopping now though.

“We’re talking about water features and more development. It’s a concentrated area and there are numerous things to do in terms of cultural amenities that people can peel off to,” he said.

Mr. Wood estimated that opening day at RAM drew some 25,000 people 13 years ago.

“It was so packed. It was amazing; cars lined all the way down to the TU building. A dead stop coming down to RAM,” said Woods.

L-R- Teresa Fish, Cindy Guy, Dr. Wayne Wood, Pamela Telis and Doug Coleman, back in 2009.
L-R- Teresa Fish, Cindy Guy, Dr. Wayne Wood, Pamela Telis and Doug Coleman, back in 2009.

It’s been 15 years since he and others began early work to launch RAM, which was spawned by Riverside Avondale Preservation. He’s taken a back seat now but he remembers what it took to get here.

A market blending local arts, horticulture, entertainment, food and other crafts was unique at the time.

“Everything you buy at RAM is made by the person selling it to you,” he said, adding that an independent committee ensures it’s made locally.

“At the time it was a radical concept. We got a lot of pushback. Our motto is buy local, sell local, make local. And a number of brick-and-mortar businesses have started at RAM,” said Wood.

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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