Devastation Déjà Vu

Devastation Déjà Vu

It wasn’t that long ago that Memorial Park’s austere eagles, iconic sculpture and balustrades were blocked off by temporary fencing while the esplanade underwent restoration and refurbishment as part of Memorial Park Association’s (MPA) “Master Plan” improvements through its Spirit of Victory campaign.

The campaign’s goal was to restore Memorial Park to its original grandeur ahead of its centennial anniversary in 2024.

After Hurricane Idalia swept through Jacksonville at the end of August, residents were horrified to see large swathes of the park’s riverfront balustrade destroyed – and the fences returned.

Tim Trigg said he was at the apartment building facing Memorial Park during the storm and watched the waves crash over the balustrade. At times, he said, the waves were “as tall as the light posts,” crashing with “unbelievable force.”

“I was just heartsick, I just thought, ‘I can’t believe it’s happening again,’” he said.

The balustrade at Memorial Park suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Idalia, which swept through Jacksonville in late August.
The balustrade at Memorial Park suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Idalia, which swept through Jacksonville in late August.

In the days following Idalia, MPA President Patrick Emmet issued a letter to donors regarding that damage. In it, he stated the MPA board, the City of Jacksonville’s Director of Parks, Risk Management Team, Disaster Recovery Team, Construction Management Team and Design Team met to assess the damage and determine next steps.

As with the repairs to Memorial Park following Hurricane Irma in 2017, he wrote the City of Jacksonville would “again accept responsibility for the most recent damages that occurred during Idalia.”

In a later interview, Emmet reemphasized that none of the monies collected through MPA’s fundraising efforts had gone or will go toward any reconstruction or refurbishments to the balustrade.

“It’s really important for us to make sure that the donors – people that do give money to the park – know that their money did not get spent on the balustrade and the bulkhead. That was 100% the city,” he said. “I don’t want the donors to think we wasted their money, or we didn’t do our homework.”

historic photo of people gathered at Memorial Park

The work MPA did at the park – the esplanade area and where the eagles stand – “did fantastic.”

Memorial Park is a city park and, therefore, its maintenance is overseen by both the City and MPA. MPA, Emmet added, is not involved in maintaining the balustrade or the bulkhead.

In an e-mail, City of Jacksonville Director of Public Works Nina Sickler wrote the city is still determining what the total cost for repairs will be. The repairs following Irma, completed in 2021, cost approximately $450,000.

“The City will pay for the repairs, and then seek reimbursement from FEMA,” she wrote.

Evaluations of the bulkhead and balustrade are still underway to determine why such extensive damage was sustained.

“Until we know the full extent, it is too early to know,” Sickler wrote.

While a construction timeline won’t be determined until a contractor has been acquired, Sickler anticipates it will be roughly 12 months before construction begins.

“We are advertising for a Disaster Response Design Builder to design and rebuild the balustrade. Procurement and design will take about six months each. Based on previous balustrade construction of 180 days, we estimate around 270 days for removal of bottom rail, any bulkhead cap repair required, and construction of the new balustrade,” she wrote.

Memorial Park’s 100-year anniversary will be on Dec. 25, 2024.

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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