Peyton's Struggles: Friendship Fountain

January 26, 2009 23 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

If the city follows through with its current plans, Friendship Fountain, one of Jacksonville's most recognizable landmarks, could soon meet its demise.


Image by Florida Photographic Archives

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, at a rate of 17,000 gallons of water per minute while 252 multi-colored lights created different patterns into the streams.

Despite these features, the fountain's future has become so shaky, the Jacksonville Historical Society decided to include it in their list of Jacksonville's Most Endangered Historic Buildings.

Mayor’s Goals

Image by Florida Photographic Archives

Kids Kampus would be relocated from its Northbank spot near Metropolitan Park to the "Kid's Zone," a conceptual site on the city's recently unveiled "Big Ideas" plan for Downtown redevelopment.

This would free up the 24-acre parcel where the park is now located for "flex space," a term city staff use for land such as the Shipyards and former JEA Southside Generating Station sites, which remain vacant and were used during Super Bowl XXXIX as temporary special events locations.

Because both waterfront sites are slated for mixed-use development, Mayor John Peyton wants Kids Kampus and other city real estate in the stadium area to serve a dual function of year-round green space and temporary venues for concerts and other outdoor activities.

For several years, the city has been toying with the idea to move Kids Kampus to Friendship Fountain, effectively turning the Southbank, adjacent to the Museum of Science and History, into a Kids Zone. Doing this would free up the current Kids Kampus site for conversion into “Flex Space”, a term used to describe land that can be available for temporary events and festivals.

Why must the Fountain go?

Image found at

"The only real concern I see is the amount of room at Friendship Park to do everything if you also have Kids Kampus there," said Ehardt, an urban design manager at HDR Inc. "I haven't studied that to know if it can work, but I hope the decent-size trees between it and [River City Brewing Co.] can be saved."

If executed as proposed, the Kid's Zone site would include replacing a city landmark, Friendship Fountain, with an interactive kids fountain.

Outdoor seating and grassy areas would also replace the existing concrete.

The likelihood of a new fountain is high, since replacing its failing 40-year-old pumps would cost about $856,000.

Joe Ehardt, Urban Design Manager at HDR, Inc. - 3/3/06

For the flex space plan to be implemented, many of the functions at Kids Kampus will be moved to the current location of Friendship Fountain on the Southbank. However, Kids Kampus takes up ten acres, while the entire Southbank site is only seven acres. 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 footprint itself.

Problems with the Mayor’s plan

Historical Landmark

The fountain is one of a few cultural landmarks in the Downtown area that have not already met the fate with a wrecking ball. Any plan to renovate that area should include the full restoration of the fountain.


The Peyton administration balked at the $856,000 estimate they received to restore Friendship Fountain to its former glory. Despite this, their plan to “refurbish” the area is estimated to cost at least $3 million in 2006. Not included in this estimate is the $500,000 set aside to pay a consultant, nor the $4.7 million the city spent constructing the current Kids Kampus in 2001.

So to sum it up; $856,000 is too much of a financial burden on the city to restore a local cultural landmark, but the investment of $8.2 million to "refurbish" the area while eliminating the historic landmark is not?

Fountain feedback

The city has received seven proposals for a major redesign of Friendship Fountain Park on the Southbank of the St. Johns River. One proposal is to be selected by Aug. 17. City officials say they don't plan to touch the fountain itself, but we asked readers whether the city should demolish it as part of the proposed renovation, or keep it intact when the site is redone. We also asked for their memories of the 41-year-old fountain. Here are their responses:

My husband of 36 years this June proposed to me on the steps in June of 1969. When we eat at a restaurant on the riverfront we must always walk along the Riverwalk and go to the fountain. I think more shade trees and seats would be a big plus. I think the fountain used to be a reason many walked the Riverwalk in days past.
Debby Boree, Westside

We should do everything possible to save this wonderful Jacksonville landmark. I have very fond memories of visiting this fountain as a child and to this day, enjoy it. I believe our city can do a lot to plan more events around and near the fountain that would bring more people to this area to take advantage of this wonder place.
Renee Sares, Mandarin

We have photos of our kids through out the years and we take every visitor from out of town there. It is a beautiful sight and an asset to this city. My children love the size of the fountain and the water shows with colored lights. I would love to see park benches around the fountain so we could sit and enjoy it too.
Susan Grula, Southside

My husband and I met 41 years ago and Friendship Fountain was our first date. We walked around the fountain and up the spiral walkway that overlooked the river while we talked. I have fond memories of the fountain and remember being awed by the beautiful colors when it first opened.
Pamela Perry Wiker, Arlington

I believe the fountain should be enhanced with additional features such as pop jets along the perimeter for public involvement ... A small participatory fountain could be located adjacent to the main fountain providing involvement of the smaller citizens of Jacksonville while Mom and Dad enjoy the splendor of the signature center piece of Jacksonville.
Wayne Kelly, Westside

On school field trips, we usually ended up at Friendship Park for lunch. It was always a fun place to be. My greatest memory is when my husband proposed to me beside Friendship Fountain. I was so happy and it's something I will never forget. Naturally, I want the fountain to remain the same. I can now show our kids where their dad proposed to me.
April Spears, Southside

Its displays are spectacular. While Friendship Fountain is not quite on the same grand scale as Buckingham Fountain (on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago), and the St. Johns River is not Lake Michigan, Friendship Fountain has been the focal point of our downtown area to the delight of everyone on both the Northbank and the Southbank.
Paul Schaefer, Arlington

It has become a Jacksonville signature that no other edifice can claim. All future proposals and plans should "flow" (pun intended) around the fully restored fountain.
James Vosseller, Westside

We spent many happy hours in Friendship Park, letting them (our children) run around the fountain, and picnicking in the grass. What a beautiful park it was (years ago), much bigger than now, and a wonderful family park as well as tourist attraction. I remember fondly taking my children and their friends to Friendship Park for the fireworks every July. It is an important landmark in Jacksonville.
Wilma Kincaid, Arlington

Friendship Fountain is one of Jacksonville's greatest treasures. I can't imagine a picture of our downtown area that does not include this landmark. The fountain must be preserved as is. The only changes that are needed is to replace the pumps and turn on the lights.
Diane Carroll, Downtown

How dreadful it would be if the city does not restore the fountain to its full glory for all to enjoy.
Flo Clark

Consider an Affordable Alternative

Image by AJ Witt at

The idea to convert the Friendship Fountain area into a kids zone also ignores previous downtown master plans. These plans were created with many hours of public input 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.

Consider the creation of a park on the JEA Southbank site, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium parking lots, or a reconfigured Metropolitan Park to make room for 'flex space'. By following older plans that were created with input from the public, the Southbank could be converted into a local cultural center with a restored fountain serving as the centerpiece.

The best urban projects are those that find a way to work with and improve the existing environment. Over time, this is something that has never been accepted by Jacksonville's leaders. The result has been the creation of a downtown scene littered with disconnected infill projects and connectivity limiting surface parking lots. How Peyton ultimately addresses the Friendship Fountain issue will determine if leadership has grown to respect and cherish Jacksonville's urban history.