Salvaging The Big Idea I: Kids Kampus & Flex Space

March 26, 2007 31 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A year ago, the Big Idea was publicly announced and went down with a big thud in the eyes of most urban oriented downtown advocates. Although the plan presented was pretty horrible in terms of urban integration and unrealistic implementation, many of the basic concepts, such as creating flex-space and revitalizing Friendship Fountain area, are actually valid concerns. In this installment, Metro Jacksonville will attempt to show how we can incorporate flex greenspace within the existing urban landscape.


A major component of the mayors Big Idea was relocating the 6 year old, $4.7 million dollar Kids Kampus to a smaller “Kids Zone”, which would include replacing Friendship Fountain, a local icon, with a smaller interactive children’s fountain.  Doing this would free up the existing Kids Kampus site to serve as “Flex Space,” a term city officials use for land that will remain vacant for the purpose of being available for temporary special events.  When special events aren’t being held, the land would serve as year-round green space.



The Baseball Grounds, Veteran's Memorial and Metropolitan Park are all destinations that attract visitors from around the region throughout the year.  However, a combination of massive surface parking lots, pedestrian restricting fences, and the JSO herding spectators out of the core, like sheep to a slaughterhouse, prohibits the district from reaching its true potential.


The idea of an urban park space, large enough to hold special events in the Sports district is a good idea, as the city continues its pace of rapid infill development.  However, the belief that it has to be at Kids Kampus, on the river, or spending millions to torpedo an existing landmark (Friendship Fountain) to make the concept a reality, is a shaky one at best.

As with many other problems facing downtown, the issue of Connectivity is what needs to be addressed before implementing the concepts of the Big Idea.  This means looking at the investments we already have in place and finding logical and affordable ways to successfully connect them, thus allowing urban synergy to be created, which in turn achieves the vibrancy every wants for the core.


Taking a look at an aerial of the area revels that this section of the core has several individual high destination generators in place.  These include Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Kids Kampus, The Baseball Grounds, Jacksonville Veteran’s Arena, the Historical Society, and Metropolitan Park.  What kills the atmosphere is something downtown Jacksonville is plagued with… acres and acres of flat tree-less surface parking lots, asphalt, and concrete.  Tackling this problem with the concept of “Flex Space”, can not only save Friendship Fountain and our $4.7 million dollar investment in Kids Kampus from destruction, it can also swiftly enliven a Sports District that has historically failed to meet its potential, given the amount of public money already invested in the area’s existing facilities.



The Sport’s district’s worst enemy is its suburban layout that discourages, and in some cases, prohibits pedestrian movement.  The surface lots also sit directly in the middle of the district’s most popular destinations.  Removing the city owned barrier with green space and complementing mixed-use development would turn a divider into a uniter and a central gathering space that could be used for a diverse amount of activities year-round.  By the way, did we mention that it’s also cheaper because there would be no $4.7 million dollars being immediately flushed down the toilet before redevelopment of any kind happens.



This image illustrates the concept of keeping Kids Kampus intact and focusing on the idea of Flex Green Space, solving the Sports District's connectivity problem.  By ultimately turning the surface lots into garage space, the lots could easily become a large central public gathering spot, which would fill the need for flex space and year round greenspace with access to the river via Kids Kampus and Metropolitan Park.


Flex "Green" Space

Under this scenario, even a useless retention pond, such as this one, could be enhanced to serve as a water amenity for the green space.  Water activities, not suitable for the mighty St. Johns, such as paddle boating (shown below), could become additional attractions, drawing residents into the Sport's District.


Replacing Surface Lots with Garages

Additional parking garages would be required to make up for the parking lost by creating new "flex" green space.  However, with proper design, the parking garages themselves can become additional amenities for the Sports District.  This garage in Columbus, OH's Arena District, features screens and projection boards for spectators to see sporting events taking place in the Arena or around the country that might have an impact on the local team's playoff seedings.


Mixed-Use Infill Development

The final component of this plan would be to further connect the Sports District's existing facilities, by issuing additional city owned lots for mixed-use infill development.  Columbus' Arena District would serve as a great example of how to successfully implement this concept.  Doing such would provide a continuous day and night time population and activity base in the area, during the times that special events aren't scheduled.  The street level spaces, as shown above, also become popular spots for crowds during sporting events who aren't ready to herded out of the core just as soon as the game clock strikes zero.

Focusing on creating something useful out of the surface lots and leaving Kids Kampus in place would allow for the revitalization of Friendship Fountain, and the surrounding park area, into a cultural amenity and would reshape the Southbank as we know it. 

To be continued...

Coming Soon: Salvaging the Big Idea II: Friendship Fountain