The Jake Godbold administration labeled the 1980’s as 'The Billion Dollar Decade' for downtown redevelopment. One of the major projects planned and constructed during this era was the Southbank Riverwalk, which opened in 1985.
The 1.2 mile walk was designed by Perkins & Perkins Architects / Planners and Design Consortium Landscape Architects to be a festive waterfront public space linking Friendship Fountain and the Harbor Masters restaurant (now River City Brewing Co.) with hotels and office buildings east of the Main Street Bridge. While the riverwalk was constructed, it never lived up to expectations partially due to the fact that what you see today is less than half of what it was intended to be. According to the master plan, the riverwalk was to include the following:
St. Johns Wharf
An open-air marketplace built over the river adjacent to the Wyndham Hotel. Although a few shops were built along the riverwalk, the wharf was never constructed.
This would consist of banners, kiosks and signage to provide visitors with clear and legible information, as well as reinforce the warm and lively image of the riverwalk.
Open Air Pavilions
Original plans called for four open air pavilions, which would possibly house concessions and restroom facilities. However, only two were constructed.
This would be a raised grass seating area shaded by a grove of palm trees. This was never constructed.
This section would include a terraced seating area for special events. This is now the location of the Navy Memorial.
Just to the south of the maritime museum, original plans called for an aquarium facing Friendship Fountain, which would showcase local fresh and saltwater marine life. Never built.
Friendship Park River Fountain
A geyser shooting water 500ft into the sky, located in the river. Would become one of the most notable landmarks in the city. Never built.
Open space for recreation and relaxation. Never built.
Under the Bridge Café
A Sidewalk Café that would link both sides of riverwalk. Never built.
An attraction created to emphasize the historic relationship between the city and the river. Would include floating ship exhibits. The idea was scaled down into the current maritime museum, which is housed in a small kiosk.
A 3,000-seat open-air facility with bandstand and theatrical lighting, built out into the river that would be used for public concerts, ballets, festivals and school graduations.
San Marco Blvd Sculpture
This would have been located in the middle of the circle next to MOSH.
The Southbank would have become a great attraction if we had only stayed on course and continued to work to fully implement the master plan. Despite the plan being 23 years old, if the will is there, it is still possible to dust off the original plan and finish it.
The Southbank Riverwalk Today
River City Brewing Company
Jacksonville Maritime Museum
Jacksonville Historical Society Center
Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza
The eastern section of the Southbank Riverwalk is dominated by the Wyndham Hotel. Original plans called for the construction of a wharf with specialty shops and restaurants lining the riverwalk. When this complex opened, this scaled down plan was anchored by two large restaurants, The Charthouse and Crawdaddys. Crawdaddy's no longer exists.
Photo Tour by Ennis Davis