Making a Splash

Making a Splash
Friendship Fountain along downtown’s Southbank reopened Feb. 15.

After three years, the Friendship Fountain along downtown’s Southbank has finally reopened. The city unveiled the updated, state-of-the-art entertainment fountain during the Sip and Stroll on Feb. 15. The 500,000-gallon fountain features a programmed light and water show with the river and city skyline as its backdrop.

“When you picture Jacksonville in your mind, it’s Friendship Fountain that comes to mind,” Mayor Donna Deegan said during the ceremony. The development of the fountain and park was originally a citizen-led effort, she said. “It truly is the people’s park.”

The Friendship Fountain, located within St. Johns Park, originally opened in 1965 and was designed by architect Taylor Hardwick, who also designed the building that now houses the Jessie Ball duPont Center. The project was originally led by Commissioner Dallas L. Thomas.

“The fountain that is open and operating now is a very different fountain than what was operated in 1965, of course,” said Daryl Joseph, Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the City. “Friendship Fountain is now a state-of-the-art facility with the latest technology as it relates to entertainment fountains.”

According to Joseph, a focal point of this renovation project was to also address the aging infrastructure of the fountain. These upgrades included addressing malfunctioning lights, leaks and deteriorating structures, as well as new innovations like a waterfall wall and revamped fountain components. Additionally, improvements were made to the surrounding area, including circular benches with integrated speakers, pergolas for shaded seating, and new walkways with LED lights that can change colors. The overall cost of this phase was $7.95 million.

“This is just the beginning of the types of projects we want to have…more riverfront public spaces,” said Councilmember Joe Carlucci.

The next phase will include a mist screen and on-site projector, as well as changes to the park area through the addition of a themed playground, restroom, picnic area, concession stand, wedding venue and interpretive gardens. These phases are scheduled to open late summer 2024 and fall 2025.

This is not the first upgrade for the fountain; there have been many projects to update or maintain the various systems that are required to operate the fountain’s water, lighting and music. It was refurbished in 1985 when the Southbank Riverwalk opened. It operated for about 15 years before its water pumps started showing signs of irreversible damage. An update was planned in 2001, specifically centered around Jacksonville serving as the Super Bowl host city, but shortly after it was repaired, two of the fountain’s three water pumps stopped working permanently. In 2010, the city planned a $3.1 million project to replace the old pumps. It reopened in June 2011 and had been unchanged until now.

Former Councilmember and Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer was a big champion for getting the fountain reopened during her tenure.

“This project has been a long time coming,” Boyer said. “And it’s an exciting start.”

“Since Friendship Fountain has been open, it has increased the visitors to the park and Riverwalk,” Joseph said. “Also, it has provided another exciting space downtown for citizens and visitors to experience.”

Nightly shows will be held at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., weather permitting.

By Jennifer Jensen
Resident Community News

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