by Max Marbut
The Riverwalk between the Acosta and Fuller Warren bridges isn’t the most noticeable part of Downtown’s waterline now, but a plan to change that was approved with some minor conditions at Thursday’s meeting of the Downtown Development Review Board (DDRB) of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission (JEDC).
The South Shore Group, owner of the Aetna Building, received approval with a few minor conditions to build The South Shore Marina & Riverwalk at the Aetna Building. The 128-slip facility includes dockage for vessels 70 feet in length as well as space for transient vessels and a water taxi stand.
The design is similar to marinas near Miami’s South Beach and also includes access to the restaurant, fitness center, retail and parking currently available at the Aetna Building. Improvements to the existing Riverwalk and substantial new landscaping and lighting are also part of the project.
Bob Tate represented the Phoenix Environmental Group and presented the plan to the committee. He said several changes had been made since conceptual approval was granted last year.
“The marina layout was changed to improve security as well as the entrance and exit. We also added space so visiting boaters will be able to tie up and enjoy the retail,” said Tate.
He also added the marina’s layout was redesigned to allow more slips for vessels in the 40- to 50-foot range, and the dockmaster’s office that was originally on the dock will be relocated to the second floor of the Aetna Building.
The existing railing along the Riverwalk will be replaced with a type that meets the City’s requirements for the Riverwalk, and a loop has been added to the design of the marina’s entrance for passenger and equipment drop-off and temporary parking.
Tate pointed out the State has issued the environmental permit and approved the submerged land lease. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also issued its permit.
When asked if he thought the marina construction could possibly interfere with construction of the postponed The St. John condominium project on the adjacent property, Hal Dodt, South Shore Group managing partner, pointed out two-thirds of the planned circular driveway already exists, adding, “We plan to get started on the marina this year. We’ll probably be well ahead of the condo project.”
The DDRB approved the project on the conditions that developers submit samples of the paving materials for the Riverwalk improvements as well as a more detailed plan for transitioning the Riverwalk portion of the project where it meets Baptist Hospital’s property and a more complete landscape planting schedule.
Also at the meeting, JEDC Executive Director Ron Barton gave the committee members an overview of the recently published Downtown Action Plan.
He said the 19 points identified as priorities by the Downtown task force groups last year can be categorized into four primary objectives: improve the pedestrian experience, make Downtown a destination, make Downtown a neighborhood and ensure a framework for sustainable success.
“It’s a collection of important actions we need to take,” said Barton. “Some will be public, some will be private and some will be public/private partnerships. We can make it easier for developers to develop and do business with us.”
He also said the City’s fiscal situation — especially in light of the action of Florida’s voters last week to approve the property tax amendment — will create a challenge, but it can be done in phases as sources of funding are identified.
“It’s great to have vision and action steps, but if your bank account is zero, you’ve got a problem,” said Barton. “The DDRB can use the objectives to guide decisions and we’ll do it in bite-size chunks.”