The History of Downtown Jacksonville's Riverwalks

March 5, 2013 18 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

With the proposed reconstruction of the Southbank Riverwalk scheduled this year, it's time to revisit the history behind downtown Jacksonville's riverwalks.

Over the years, in an effort to find a way to revitalize downtown, new master plans, task forces, and studies under various administrations have been created, replacing many that were never implemented for an array of reasons. With so much public money invested in these abandoned studies, it may be time to dust off a few of these forgotten plans and rediscover the many brilliant ideas that never made it to reality.

Today, Metro Jacksonville exposes a few of these studies, with the hope that one day the concepts found here will come to fruition, simply because many made sense then and still do today.

Southbank Riverwalk Master Plan

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 because what you see today is less than half of what it was supposed to be. According to the master plan, the Riverwalk was to include the following:

East of Main Street Bridge (School Board building to Crowne Plaza Hotel)

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.

Graphic System
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 pavilions which would possibly house concessions and restroom facilities. However, only two were constructed.

The Grove
This would be a raised grass seating area shaded by a grove of palm trees. This was never constructed.

The Pyramid
This section would include a terraced seating area for special events. This is now the location of the Navy Memorial.

Friendship Park and Fountain

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 500 feet into the sky, located in the river. This was intended to become one of the most notable landmarks in the city. Never built.

Great Lawn
Open space for recreation and relaxation. Never built.

Under the Bridge Cafe
A Sidewalk Cafe that would link both sides of Riverwalk. Never built.

Ship Museum
An attraction created to emphasize the historic relationship between the city and the river. Would include floating ship exhibits. The idea was scaled down to 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.

As you can see in the illustration above, the Southbank would have become a great attraction if we had only stayed the course and continued to work to fully implement the master plan. Despite this concept being over 20 years old, it contains a mix of activities for people of all ages and cultures, which is the key ingredient to creating great public spaces.

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