MetroJacksonville.com asks Mayor Peyton to re-think Main St Beautification Project

December 18, 2006 18 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Members of Downtown Advocacy Group MetroJacksonville.com are asking Mayor John Peyton to re-think the city?s current plan for Main Street Beautification.



The overall project is broken down into several facets.

1) Base Bid (Sidewalk Hardscape Improvements - Forsyth to Union) $1,145,101.50
2) Landscape Maintenance (Extend Hardscape maintenance one additional year) $23,980.00
3) Park Improvements - $686,157.00
4) Landscape Maintenance (Extend Park maintenance one additional year) $19,135.00

Total project cost: $1,855,858.50

According to internal emails, items no. 2 and 4 are not being funded at this time, and MetroJacksonville.com supports Main Street Hardscaping and Beautification, as listed in item no. 1.

Item no. 3, however, MetroJacksonville strongly opposes.


In this aerial, "green" represents the location of existing public parks, "red" is the proposed Greening of Main pocket park site and "yellow" represents property owned and operated by Salvation Army.  Parking garages and surface lots are labled with the letter "P".

As you can see, considering the size of adjacent buildings, such as the Carling (red brick highrise, located just South of the main library), the proposed park site sits surrounded by a sea of surface parking lots and garages and a soup kitchen.  The adjacent uses, along with Hemming Plaza being only a block away pose serious questions, as to the validity of this site as a passive public park space.

OPPOSING THE POCKET PARK PLAN

Item no. 3 refers to a parcel of land across Main Street from the Main Library, between Monroe and Duval Streets. Mayor Peyton’s stated plan is to turn the current parking lot into a public park. MetroJacksonville.com feels that this is a bad use of a valuable parcel of land.

Rather than spending almost $700,000 and keeping this parcel of land off the tax rolls, MetroJacksonville advocates that the city issue a Request for Proposals for either:

a) Workforce/affordable housing, with ground level retail
b) A mixed use green space/retail development

Either of these uses would help re-establish Main Street's importance as a "Main Street" for Downtown Jacksonville, as well as provide a concrete location for bringing affordable housing and/or retail and business space downtown.

The current design plan also has not taken into consideration the fact that vagrancy and criminal activity is still a very real problem in Downtown Jacksonville. Surrounding the proposed park are the Salvation Army, Trinity Rescue Mission, Clara White Mission, and a day labor facility. Clearly this park would become an additional magnet for many of Jacksonville's most at-risk residents, requiring even more dependency on the sheriff's office to help maintain a pedestrian-friendly green space.

 The proposed park plan is shown on the left side of this image.  It will take much more than grass and landscaping to make this space a well used one.  With a majority of the neighboring land uses dedicated to parking and the library facing Hemming Plaza and having it's own courtyard for outdoor reading, the chances of this park struggling to attract pedestrians on a daily basis are great.  However, given the site's visibility and frontage on Main Street (downtown's major Southbound route), it would be an ideal site for a mixed-use project incorporating workforce housing above street level commercial space fronting the new Main Street streetscape, as shown in the illustration on the right.  This graphic is an example of a potential mixed-use project, as an alternative to the park plan.  Not only would it add to Downtown's population base, encouraging additional retail, it would also have the ability to serve as a catalyst for additional development in the cooridor.  Furthermore, instead of spending $686,000, the city would make a profit by issuing an RFP to sell the land at market value, sending it back to the tax rolls in the process. 

USE $686,000 TO FUND EXISTING DOWNTOWN PARK IMPROVEMENTS

Lastly, with Hemming Plaza being a mere block from the proposed site, and Confederate Park, Klutho Parks, and the soon to be constructed Hogan’s Creek Greenway within a few blocks, the need for another public park in this location is simply not present. The state of the aforementioned parks shows that the city has a history of not maintaining its parks, and adding the burden of another park simply takes money away from existing parks that are already in dire need of maintenance.

The mayor recently showed great leadership in regards to downtown by signing into law new parking ordinances designed to bring people back downtown for more than an hour at a time. We ask that the mayor re-think his current plan though before a contract is signed with Jensen Civil Construction Inc, to begin construction in January. The contracts could be signed as soon at December 22nd. Klutho Park combines with several public parks lining Hogan's Creek to form Downtown's largest public park space.  As shown in this picture, these parks are a great example of existing spaces in need of better maintenance and improvement.  Selling the proposed pocket park site to the private sector would enable the city to use the profits, along with the $686,000 saved by not building a new park, and using that money to fund additional Downtown streetscape, lighting and existing park improvements.  A grant to fund the construction of a greenway, lining Hogan's Creek was recently secured.  However, due to a lack of funding, the jogging and rollerblading path won't be lighted.  Preliminary estimates claim the cost to light the entire path, from Shands Hospital to State & Liberty Streets would be around $700,000. Using the $686,000 set aside for the proposed pocket park to pay for lighting the new greenway would be an example of a use that would benefit, not only Downtown, but FCCJ's campus, the parks lining Hogan's Creek and the Springfield Historic District, to the North.  The image of a greenway in Indianapolis, IN (below), serves as an example of what Downtown's largest urban park system could become with additional funding. 

IMPROVING THE POCKET PARK PLAN



If a pocket park must be built, planners should solve two critical questions that will ultimately lead to the space being a success, like Riverside Memorial Park, or a failure, like the pocket park on the corner of Broad & Bay Streets.  1. How will this park attract a diverse mix of pedestrians on an around-the-clock basis?  2. How does the park fit in with the surrounding land uses to create synergy between the spaces?Detroit's Campus Martius Park (shown above), answers these questions by being the home of several uses, including a side walk cafe, monuments, shaded seating areas, green space, fountains and an ice skating rink in the Winter.  If the decision is made to make the space a park anyway, Campus Martius' mix of uses would be a great example to follow.