Unity Plaza Concept Art
For anyone who is interested in the future of the city, the northern stretch of the Riverwalk and its adjacent Riverside Avenue, recently dubbed the Riverside Corridor, is an important piece of Jacksonville to watch. Not only is it bringing innovative cultural, health, environmental, and educational improvements to our center, it is also showing the city a new form of community development. Attracting serious plans for new buildings and renovations, this area has been quite successful in grabbing the attention needed to unite a wide variety of players from across the city.
One of the major pieces of the up-and-coming Riverside Corridor is the 220 Riverside. The project’s groundwork along the tree-studded Riverside Avenue gives citizens a peek of what’s to come. This new apartment complex and family-living area is being built in conjunction with Unity Plaza, a multi-use, creative space that will boast a 2,000 seat amphitheatre. Both are slated to open next year. The project hopes to be a cultural epicenter for the city’s urban core, akin to a downtown “Central Park.”
This project’s development follows a recurring trend, one popping up not only in Jacksonville, but in places all over the country: growing partnerships between private firms and nonprofit organizations. All of the U.S. has had to struggle with the setbacks of the Great Recession; many of our local governments are still very much wrestling with major budget constraints, and communities are being forced to look for creative partnerships to see development in their areas. The Unity Plaza is a prime example of this hybrid. While it is primarily an undertaking by three private property development firms, Hallmark Partners, MAA, and Bristol Development Group, the creative space is going to be managed by a nonprofit organization, Unity Plaza, Inc., with the aim of providing the public with arts programming throughout the year.
Unity Plaza Under Construction
“Collaboration between nonprofits is nothing new, and nonprofits have always relied on other parts of the sector for volunteers, funding, or things like that. But now, we’re seeing nonprofits as equal partners in other kinds of collaborations,” says Rena Coughlin, CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida. “Our results from public surveys show that nonprofits are more trusted than private, government, or any other entity that we’ve tested. People trust nonprofits, and thats a huge advantage for businesses who want to get something done. So now there is a new flow of nontraditional partnerships.”
“Jacksonville is chock full of thought-leaders and change-agents, not commanding our city government to improve Jacksonville, but physically being the catalyst for change they seek in our community,” says Jen Jones, Executive Director of Unity Plaza. “Historically, we have had very limited cultural support from our city government. Therefore, a bottom-up leadership approach has emerged. We are comfortable collaborating, pulling up our sleeves and facilitating the work, fundraising and bringing other thought-leaders into our working plans for a better Jacksonville. These thoughtful and inspired people will coalesce on the grounds of Unity Plaza and give rise to the ideas that shape Jacksonville’s brilliant future.”