Great cities have iconic riverfront parks that connect people to their waterways.
In Jacksonville, we are fortunate to have one of our nation’s great rivers, the St. Johns, flowing through the heart of our city, while also having an expansive blank slate of publicly owned land along the river in Downtown.
As a result, a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is before us.
We have the chance to transform a significant portion of this riverfront property into a signature network of public green spaces and iconic parks that prioritizes public access, connects the community to the river, creates a more resilient Downtown, and provides a catalyst to surrounding economic development.
Other mid-size cities like St. Petersburg, Tampa, Chattanooga, Detroit, Louisville,and Nashville have successfully capitalized on this approach, resulting in vibrant riverfronts and reinvigorated downtowns. Why not Jacksonville, too? A truly remarkable park system along our river would transform our city.
Riverfront Parks Now consists of representatives from various nonprofit organizations including Scenic Jacksonville, the Late Bloomers Garden Club, The Garden Club of Jacksonville, Greenscape and St. Johns Riverkeeper.
We envision a well-designed connected river park system that would not only give the public easy access to the river, it could be Jacksonville’s defining centerpiece. Most of the land already belongs to the city, which eliminates the significant cost of buying riverfront property from a private landowner. A well-designed system of parks and green spaces also offers unparalleled economic opportunities for our Downtown. We know from numerous economic studies that urban parks and greenways are proven economic drivers that increase adjacent property values and spur surrounding development.
The current advent of COVID-19 also reminds us of how important it is to offer equitable and high-quality public spaces for all citizens to enjoy and be able to social distance in a safe way. In addition, such a park system could create a more resilient riverfront, serving as a buffer that helps protect downtown from future storms and flooding.
Imagine extensive public green spaces, shade trees, gardens and various recreational activities all along the Downtown riverfront, including an “iconic” destination park. Jacksonville’s residents and visitors alike would enjoy paths and trails, playgrounds, wading pools, outfitters, and cafes.
Transforming Bay Street into a tree-lined promenade would connect historic Downtown to the entertainment district around the Stadium District. A unified design for the riverfront would also complement and incorporate Groundwork Jacksonville’s exciting plans for restoring McCoys and Hogans Creeks and creating the Emerald Trail with 33-miles of biking/walking paths. This integrated network of parks and green spaces would significantly enhance public access to our river, while also connecting the Southbank and surrounding neighborhoods to Downtown.
Studies have estimated that the return on investment for great parks can be as high as 40 to 1 in economic impact, with an increase in surrounding property values as much as 49 percent. Just think of the economic impact created by Chicago’s Grant Park, New York’s Central Park, or the Boston Commons. Consider:
Louisville Waterfront Park: An 85-acre municipal park adjacent to the downtown area of Louisville and the Ohio River hosts 2.2 million visitors each year and provides over $40 million economic impact annually.
St. Pete Pier District: Newly opened, the pier features 26 acres of active green space and promenades dotted with Adirondack chairs, children’s play and splash areas, restaurants, cultural centers, and distinctive public art. This $87 million redevelopment of their Pier District was part of a 2015 Master Waterfront Plan. They expect an $80 million economic impact each year from this investment.
Chattanooga: This riverfront park system has attracted over $1 billion in adjacent private investment including residential and retail development. And according to a 2019 Tourism Report, visitor spending reached $1.16 billion in 2018.
Together, we can seize this opportunity to prioritize public access and create a world-class riverfront that reestablishes downtown as the heartbeat of Jacksonville.
Contact your City Council members. Let them know you support the creation of an iconic riverfront for the people, beginning with a cohesive master plan that is developed through a community-driven visioning process.
The time is right. The time is now.
– Riverfront Parks Now | Learn more at RiverfrontParksNow.org