Salvaging The Big Idea II: Preserving Friendship Fountain
Last week we shared an affordable solution that involved finding a suitable location for the Mayor's Flex Space needs, without being forced to relocate Kids Kampus or destroy Friendship Fountain in the process. Today we take a look at what can be done to bring life back to the Southbank, by working with what's already in place.
Published April 2, 2007 in Urban Issues - MetroJacksonville.com
The Main Street Bridge
Last year, the Big Idea included closing a lane off of the Main Street Bridge and replacing it with wider sidewalks for pedestrians and hot dog carts. The belief was that people would be attracted to a wider sidewalk and eventually it could be a scene similar to the Super Bowl a few years ago. However, the fatal flaw in that concept is that wide sidewalks don't attract people. If we really want to strengthen the connection between both banks of the river, we have to give them a reason to want to cross in the first place. While the Northbank has a mix of pedestrian friendly uses, the Southbank still resembles a vertical office park, void of pedestrian activity or a mix of destinations needed to draw people on a regular basis.
Museum Park as the focus, not Friendship Fountain
The idea of working within the existing context is a major difference between suburban and urban land planning. Looking at Museum Park a few things immediately standout. The Fountain is a poorly maintained local landmark and the park grounds are a shell of their former self. However, there are attractions already in place such as MOSH, the Maritime Museum, River City Brewing, and the marina. Instead of recreating the wheel, let's focus on things that can further connect the uses of these attractions together, with the goal of creating urban synergy between them.
Before Moving Forward, recognize your history
Look familiar? Most probably have never seen this graphic, but believe it or not, it's the original Southbank Riverwalk Master Plan for Friendship Fountain and the surrounding park area. It shows a public space with the fountain as a central focal point surrounding by a mix of uses, including an amphitheatre, green space, a ship museum and an aquarium. Looking back, that's a pretty solid plan for an urban square and it's cultural uses complement the retail oriented Landing. Why deviate from the original concept?
The Reality of Planning
While we all can come up with grand visions, we have to keep in mind, we live in the real world. In the real world, in addition to available funding there are always existing factors in place that affect design. As an Urban Planner, you can chose to work within the existing urban context or outright ignore everything in your path (including the city's history) and spend additional millions to create your personal vision, that may or may not work. In Jacksonville, we've traditionally followed the second path which has netted us more failures, than successes. For a change, let's try the alternative method of working with what we have.
A few in few factors at play involving the park area:
1. The Maritime Museum is in desperate need of new space. Museum officials would like to fund the construction of a larger maritime facility on city owned waterfront property. To date, public officials have ignored those concerns.
2. River City Brewing's 99 year lease. The original Big Idea called for buying River City Brewing out of their LONG TERM lease and eventually constructing a fishing village themed retail center in it's place. The negative side of this is we already have one retail center that has historically struggled for retailers (The Landing) and buying River City Brewing out is an expensive proposition.
3. MOSH's layout. Quite simply, the Museum of Science and History completely turns it's back to this public space instead of embracing it.
4. Friendship Fountain's pumps. It's no secret that the fountain is in pretty bad shape. In fact, it's estimated that it will cost the city $850,000 to replace the fountain's pumps. Nevertheless, it's one of Jacksonville's few well known urban landmarks. It's a local icon that should be saved if possible.
With that being said, here are a few suggestions for turning the park's vibe around for the better without mortgaging city hall.
1. Replace the fountain's pumps
No matter what your opinion is of the fountain, its a local landmark and a dominant visual icon, when working. If you believe spending $850,000 is too much to replace the pumps, then how can you make the argument to spend upwards of $8 million ($4 million to build, plus $4.7 million lost creating Kids Kampus five years ago) to relocate Kids Kampus to the site and replace the fountain with a kiddie pool? Furthermore, keep in mind, the fountain is an accessory. A well designed urban public space needs several things to attract diverse amounts of crowds on a daily basis.
2. Work with the Maritime Society
This city was built on the maritime industry and the mighty St. Johns River. Why would we not want to promote this as a unique theme for this city? The maritime museum is something that can complement MOSH just as much as a "kid's zone". Its clear this group has serious expansion needs. Let's help them out by allowing under utilized space in this park to be used for a larger maritime facility with a focus on interactive exhibits. Not only would we have a educational facility attractive to all races, cultures and age groups, it would also promote this region's history.
This green area, which serves partially as a parking lot, could be a suitable site for a new enlarged maritime museum.
3. Abandon the idea of buying out River City Brewing
Let's keep our budget and schedule in mind. Its great to have long term visions, but what's the point if we don't ever implement the short term ones first. River City Brewing is an asset to the area, let's keep them in place and rework the park grounds to make a stronger connection between the restaurant, the fountain, park, and the two museums.
4. Reconfigure MOSH's entrance
Without a doubt, MOSH continues to attract large crowds on a regular basis. In this view, notice the glass area on MOSH's facade. On the inside, that space serves as a indoor children's play area near the facility's main entrance, which faces Riverplace Drive. Let's coordinate with MOSH to flip flop the main entrance and indoor play area. Having MOSH's main entry point opening up into the park would introduce thousands of visitors during the year, who might otherwise completely avoid the space.
While completely floating Kids Kampus down river to this site may be a bit overboard, the fountain area will be attractive space for families, school field trips, and children. A full blown "Kid's Zone" may not be needed, but a tot lot or two would not hurt. If we "must" have a kiddie interactive fountain, there is enough land for one here, without eliminating the local landmark.
5. Add additional Greenspace
The original Dallas Thomas Park layout died a long time ago. All that is left today is the fountain (which is on life support) and an abundance of concrete. For all those in favor of having open green space on the riverfront, here's your chance. Here's the opportunity to implement a piece of the old master plan, by converting this area into an open lawn.
In conclusion, by focusing on using the park as a central gathering space and front door for the maritime museum, MOSH, and River City Brewing, we can convert this entire area into a public place that attracts diverse crowds on a regular basis. Considering people attract people and that cultural oriented uses would complement the retail/entertainment uses across the river, you will then see that pedestrians will begin to take advantage of crossing the Main Street Bridge on foot.
Best of all, this can all be easily done for a fraction of the cost than it would to relocate Kids Kampus to the site, as well as save a local landmark from destruction.
Salvaging The Big Idea I: Kids Kampus & Flex Space: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/379/79/
This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2007-apr-salvaging-the-big-idea-ii-preserving-friendship-fountain