Friendship Fountain: The Truth Beneath the Lies

September 11, 2006 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

If the city has its way, Friendship Fountain, one of Jacksonville’s most recognizable landmarks, is well on its way to being destroyed and replaced by a new interactive kiddie pool along with a downtown resembling Sesame Street.


 Friendship Fountain was originally called the “Fountain of Friendship in Dallas  Thomas Park" when it  opened in 1965. Its original name coming from the city's parks and finance  commissioner. The park was renamed in 1968 after Thomas became involved in a  civic scandal. During its heyday, the 200-foot-wide fountain was billed as the  world’s largest and tallest, shooting as high as 120 feet, through 63 nozzles,  at a rate of 17,000 gallons of water per  minute while 252 multi-colored lights  created different patterns into the streams.
 Mayor’s Goals

For over a year, the Mayor’s group has been planning to move Kids Kampus to  Friendship Fountain, turning the Southbank into a Kids Zone, next door to MOSH.  Doing this would free up the current Kids Kampus site to be converted into “Flex  Space”, a term they use to describe land set aside to remain vacant so temporary  events, like the Super Bowl festivities, can be hosted on them.
 Why the Fountain must go

 For the mayor’s flex space plan to be implemented, Kids Kampus, which is  currently located next to Metropolitan Park, will be moved to the current  location of Friendship Fountain on the Southbank.  However, Kids Kampus  takes up 10 acres, while the entire Southbank site is only seven. It is  impossible to create a competitive Kids Kampus on a smaller site, without  eliminating or incorporating the biggest obstacle at the new location...the  fountain itself.
 Why Mayor’s plan makes little sense

 Keep in mind, this is the same group who wanted to put hot dog carts on the Main  Street Bridge and replace the Landing with a merry-go-round. The Peyton  administration claims the $856,000 estimate to return Friendship Fountain to its  former glory is too expensive for the city. However, their plan to “refurbish”  the area is estimated to cost $4 million. This insane number also does not  include the $500,000 set aside to pay a consultant, or the $4.7 million the city  spent constructing Kids Kampus only five years ago.    

So to sum it up; $856,000 is  too much of a financial burden on the city to restore a local cultural landmark,  but $9.2 million should be invested carrying out the Mayor’s dream? Here is some  advice (for free), fire the consultant and take our $500,000 and apply it to the  restoration of the fountain and keep Kids Kampus in its place, because despite  it not being centrally located in the downtown, it is a well used attraction  that was just constructed, with taxpayer dollars, only five years ago.
 As for finding “flex space”, the massive city owned surface parking lots  surrounding Alltel will provide the city with all the “flex space” it can  handle, without destroying a five-year-old, $4.7 million investment.
 An Affordable Alternative Plan
 The "Big Idea’s" plan to convert the Friendship Fountain area into a kids zone  ignores previous downtown master plans, which were created with many hours of  public input and that call for a mix of cultural uses in that area, such as a larger maritime  museum or aquarium. By inviting existing establishments such as the Maritime Museum  - which wants to expand into a first class operation at the site; River  City Brewing - instead of buying them out of a 99 year lease; and MOSH, a  redevelopment plan for the park can be put together much faster and with less  taxpayer dollars. There is also plenty of land in the park to incorporate a tot  lot or two, as well as an interactive children’s fountain, without destroying a  local landmark.
 The best thing of all; by following older plans created with input from the public, the Southbank  could be converted into a local cultural center, with a restored  fountain serving as the centerpiece. This would create a vibrant recreational space that  appeals to all residents of all ages and complements the rest of downtown’s offerings.
 Timeline of Significant Events

 March 2001
 $4.7 million Kids Kampus opens
 April 2005
 City discusses buying out River City Brewing’s lease and making Friendship Park  interactive like Kids Kampus
 A Ron Littlepage editorial suggest moving Kids Kampus to Friendship Park
 August 2005
 Spokeswoman hints of possibly replacing the fountain
 February 2006
 Big Ideas Plan announced (includes a new kids zone at Friendship Park
 Littlepage praises Peyton for his downtown vision, which includes moving Kids  Kampus to Friendship Park
 March 2006
 City wants to move Kids Kampus to Friendship Fountain to create “flex space” for  staging “big events”. If executed as proposed, the Big Idea’s Kids Zone site  would replace Friendship Fountain with an interactive kids fountain. City has  already begun talks with fountain experts.
 April 2006
 John Culbreth states the fountain will not be demolished
 City mentions replacing fountain with interactive children’s waterpark.  Estimates cost to be in the $3 million range
 Bob Johnson of revels a city project note, regarding the city’s  intentions for Frienship Fountain
 May 2006
 City receives 7 proposals for redesigning the fountain and surrounding park. At  this time officials state they don’t plan to touch the fountain itself. Peyton  sends emails to concerned residents mentioning that the fountain will be  “refurbished”, not demolished.
 August 2006
Wiles states the fountain can’t be repaired at a reasonable cost. HNTB  mentions the city wants to relocate Kids Kampus to Friendship Park. The rough  cost estimate is $4 million.
 September 2006
 HNTB hired by the city for $500,000 to study fountain redesign. Wiles states  there’s no cost estimate on a new fountain