Alford Place streetscapes improvements aim to stay true to San Marco character

Alford Place streetscapes improvements aim to stay true to San Marco character

San Marco, like other historic neighborhoods in Jacksonville, has been experiencing tremendous growth. With growth comes change, and as it changes, San Marco residents and others who are connected to its history find themselves at the crux between the economic benefits of growth and change and the potential of losing the unique characteristics that attracted them to the neighborhood in the first place.

Several design professionals, business owners and residents involved in preserving San Marco, as well as government officials are working together to navigate this delicate balance of growth and preservation. At the moment, the focus is on Alford Place, a street that begins in San Marco Square at San Marco Blvd., between the AT&T building and Rue Saint Marc restaurant and continues northeast to intersect with Hendricks Ave. and Mango Place. Zim Boulos, owner and president of Office Environments & Services (OES), brought together Bill Jaycox, founder and principal of Jaycox Architects & Associates, and Bill’s executive team member, Nate Kunath, along with Yves Rathle, owner of studioYVESinc+, to discuss how the growing number of new businesses and development along the Alford Place corridor could be integrated into the historic character and feel of San Marco.

“These projects were all doing their own thing, and none of them related to the other. I couldn’t stand by and watch that happen,” Boulos said. “I got the San Marco Preservation Society involved because I believe we can take the best elements of San Marco Square and extend that character down Alford Place. We will enhance the entire corridor and make it more vibrant, safe and attractive by expanding the square down Alford Place.”

“With so many projects happening all at once, it made sense to look at the bigger picture from a master plan perspective. From that viewpoint, we saw an opportunity to create a unified pedestrian pathway along Alford Place,” said Desiree Bailey, president of San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS).

“The Atlantic Boulevard Corridor is changing rapidly, and SMPS is working hard to make sure that the efforts to create our San Marco Overlay and the North San Marco Neighborhood Action Plan were not in vain,” Bailey said. “The Alford Place project is in keeping with both of those.”

The goal is to create a pedestrian-friendly alleyway that still includes cars but enhances the experience for pedestrians and creates linkage.

“San Marco Square has a very clear master plan but once it wanders outside of that it dissolves away and looks random. It hasn’t been thought out for the pedestrian. We want to make it safer for pedestrians and increase the neighborhood feel,” said Kunath. “You don’t want everything to look the same, but street planning can tie everything together.”

According to Jaycox, the design for the intersection at Alford Place and Mango Place would become the standard design for all the other intersections.

“This is an attempt to expand San Marco to the railroad tracks and eventually to I-95, a bigger San Marco village that can expand all the way to the Southbank and the river as well,” he said. “As people drive in and out of the square, we’re trying to alert them that there’s more to San Marco than just the square.”

The design for the sidewalk includes granite stone pavers and brick pavers, with octagon and hexagon shapes like in San Marco Square. The north side of the sidewalk would be planted with palms and the south side of the sidewalk would be planted with small oak trees to create a canopy for shade and shadows to make walking very pleasant. Jaycox envisions vertical art pylons and maybe some cobblestone-like material on the street with more texture to slow down traffic.

“As we expand out into San Marco Proper, pedestrian safety and calming traffic down need to be the priority,” said Jaycox.

The design team is also proposing trompe l’oeil for the blank wall on the AT&T building in San Marco Square. Trompe l’oeil is a technique used in art in which objects are painted their normal size in a very realistic way to make people think that the objects are solid and real.

rendering of top view

“The centerline of Alford Place lets you look all the way down to the bronze sculpture of a jester that is front of Theatre Jacksonville, Florida’s longest running community theatre, to celebrate it and the San Marco art community,” Rathle said. “Making communities more walkable with lighting makes them safer and enhances placemaking. Little plagues could tell the story of different aspects of the square.”

Linzee Ott, former president of SMPS, has been working on signal box art for the project.

“The idea is to have the art start at Prudential and continue up to San Marco Square to make things feel safer and nicer and to include information so that people can read about the history of San Marco to help them feel like they are in a contiguous space,” Ott said.

“San Marco Preservation Society will continue to be involved in conversations about what growth means in terms of infrastructure and in protecting what we have,” she said. SMPS has helped fundraise privately within the community to procure engineered plans as a visionary springboard to turn over to the City. SMPS’ role will be to facilitate any private funding that may be needed in a public-private partnership.

“LeAnna Cumber has been very accommodating, so now it’s just a matter of working with the City to develop a schedule of work and determine what the City can fund and where SMPS might need to check in,” Ott said. Cumber represents District 5 in which San Marco is located on the Jacksonville City Council.

“I definitely think that connecting the greater San Marco area through better sidewalks, more landscaping and safer bike paths will make it easier for people in the nearby neighborhoods to access San Marco,” Cumber said. “I am very excited that $7 million in funding has now been included in the city’s capital improvement plan in the Mayor’s budget. I am hopeful the budget will pass with this funding intact. And as we go forward, I hope to be able to move the timing of this project up.”

Cumber says that the next step in the project will probably be to hold a town hall to get people’s thoughts about the conceptual design.

“With my background in transportation, I look at things sequentially. The design piece is the first thing. Then you build on it, see how it fits in and apply costs,” Cumber said.

The San Marco Merchants Association (SMMA) helped with the investment in funds needed to make the redesign happen.

“I think it has such an impact on San Marco as a whole,” said Scott Wohlers, president of SMMA. “If we can have Alford Place be an extension of the square and mimic its architectural elements, we can create more walkability across Hendricks. It will open up more parking, activate different portions of the square that haven’t been as active and connect the new development across from the square.”

Wohlers said that Regency Centers, which is developing the 60,000-square-foot project at Hendricks Ave. and Atlantic Blvd., is in the process of becoming a member of SMMA. The project will be known as East San Marco, and the following businesses will be leasing spaces: Publix Liquors, Orangetheory Fitness, Crumbl Cookies, St. Johns Eye Associates, Gemma Fish + Oyster, and Foxtail Coffee.

“We collaborated with SMPS to make sure the design of our project would tie into the community early on in the development process,” said Patrick McKinley, vice president, market officer of Regency Centers. “The Alford Place project will continue to enhance the streetscape in the community and should tie in nicely with the multiple projects currently being constructed in the immediate area.”

“Our biggest challenge is how to make sure everything goes forward smoothly into our new reality. Do we have enough amenities, restaurants and things for people to do? San Marco will look different in five years than it does today,” Wohlers said.

“With the help of people like Lori Boyer and LeAnna Cumber, San Marco has always had a close partnership with the Department of Public Works and the Mayor’s Office to help us accomplish our goals over the past 30 years,” Boulos said.

Boyer was District 5 City Council member prior to Cumber and now serves as CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority. Boulos also credits John Pappas, director of the City’s Department of Public Works, and Brian Hughes, chief administrative offer for the City of Jax, as being key people in making this project
a reality.

“We would like to think that within six months we could get the project included in the City’s five-year plan,” Boulos said.

“There is an ancient proverb that says that one generation plants a tree, and the next generation enjoys the shade,” he said. “If we all work together, we can leave our mark on this neighborhood and make it a better place than we found it for the next generation.”

By Karen Rieley
Resident Community News

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