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Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 13, 202105:00 AM EST

City approves $1.7 million design contract for park at former Jacksonville Landing

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Plans for an iconic “Jax” sculpture by the artist Jefrë could change.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

City officials finalized a $1.7 million contract with firm Perkins & Will to complete designs for a public riverfront park Downtown at the former Jacksonville Landing site.

The order, signed Dec. 3 by city Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes, executed the contract with the international design firm. 

The agreement sets a May 27 benchmark for Perkins & Will to refine its design and obtain construction pricing for the park and its amenities so the city can budget for construction in fiscal year 2022-23. 

The deal does not include a final design-build contract for the park’s proposed centerpiece “Jax” sculpture envisioned by Orlando-based international artist Jefrë Manuel. 

The artist will negotiate a separate fee for the “iconic sculpture” design directly with the city, according to documents defining the initial project scope sent Nov. 30 from Perkins & Will to the city.

The park’s proposed centerpiece “Jax” sculpture envisioned by Orlando-based international artist Jefrë Manuel.

The agreement calls for an Iconic Art Review Committee to work with Jefrë in guiding and refining the sculpture. 

The Downtown Investment Authority and the city Parks, Recreation and Community Services and Public Works departments have been leading the park planning since November 2020.

DIA CEO Lori Boyer said Dec. 7 that officials have not decided who will make up the committee.

“So, the idea is to have a group of people with expertise in that field who can work with the artist on what the actual piece would be,” she said. 

The contract calls for the basic dimensions and size of the sculpture and design work on its pedestal and footings.

City Procurement Division Chief Greg Pease sent the order memo to Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration Dec. 2 asking for approval to award the contract. 

That followed a 3-0 vote that day by the city Professional Services Evaluation Committee to recommend executing the agreement.

Winning design

The city selected Perkins & Will and entered into negotiations in July after a monthslong contest that included an all-day public presentation in June. 

The firm’s “One Park Jax” design defeated those by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Agency Landscape + Planning LLC and Olin Partnership Ltd. of Philadelphia.

Boyer and parks department Director Daryl Joesph judged the submissions.

Pease, city investment officer Paul Barrett and city Deputy General Counsel David Migut were on the evaluation committee.

Designs for the minimum 4½-acre park include an interactive water feature; retail pavilion; sculpture; gardens; event lawn; “one-of-a-kind” playground; paths; plazas; pedestrian ramp to the Main Street Bridge; beer garden; view terraces; and a bioswale for stormwater collection.

Perkins & Will will diagram a 30,000-square-foot building at the site’s northwest side for park offices, bathrooms, storage and a cafe but will not provide a full set of designs.

An overhead of the park plan.

The agreement timeline shows that park construction plans could be ready before the end of 2022.

The document sets a Feb. 9 deadline for Perkins & Will to submit a revised park design for city approval by Feb. 23. 

If Perkins & Will meets the May 27 pricing deadline, the agreement says the firm must have 90% of the construction documents complete by Aug. 12 and 100% complete by Nov. 4. 

Boyer said the city will issue another call for bids for the park construction. 

She said the agreement does not provide Perkins & Will with new budgetary parameters for the cost of building the park. 

The city budgeted $12 million for Riverfront Plaza in the fiscal year 2025-26 as part of its five-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Boyer said having the design mostly completed by May will allow Curry and City Council to accelerate funding and the construction budget in the 2022-23 CIP.

‘Iconic’ art

The Filipino-American artist Jefrë has commissioned works in Washington, D.C., Miami, Philadelphia, London, Rome and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

Boyer and DIA officials say the park art piece needs to be “iconic and symbolic of Jacksonville.”

When Jefrë presented the sculpture concept to the stakeholder panel June 24, he said the “Jax” script was just one interpretation.

Daily Record news partner News4Jax.com reported July 23 that Jefrë’s vision for the sculpture started with the St. Johns River and its form.

The “J” in the statue is about 310 feet long, which Jefrë said in June represents the 310-mile length of the river.

“This is really art about the people,” Jefrë told News4Jax. 

“It’s really about understanding the city, the people and the culture.”

The “Jax” concept received mixed reviews on social media.

The play area planned for the park.

Some criticized the statue’s “Jax” form, saying it looked like it spelled “Lerp” or “Lax.” 

The latest agreement will refine the design. Boyer said Jefrë’s portfolio shows his ability to execute. 

“We know that this artist has a wide range of capabilities. And I really expect that it is going to be a refinement of what he presented,” she said.

 “But how far that gets refined or changed, that’s not up to me, and I would not want to predetermine what that might be.” 

DIA officials say there likely will be a push for private donations to help pay for the statue, which the Perkins & Will/Jefrë team said in June could cost $11 million to $18 million. 

Boyer said there is no active fundraising effort and it would have been premature to start raising money until Perkins & Will was under contract. 

During a presentation Dec. 6 to the Meninak Club of Jacksonville, DIA board Chair Braxton Gillam said he thinks the statue will primarily be paid for with private dollars. 

Gillam said the final sculpture design “may look nothing like the schematic design drawings” shown in June.

He added that the DIA also liked elements of the proposals submitted by the other park finalists.

The city bought those designs as part of the contest, Gilliam said. That allows Perkins & Will to incorporate ideas from those plans, he said.

Private parcel

The agreement says Perkins & Will will produce streetscape plans for Independent Drive and draft beer garden access that would allow for private development on the northeast corner of Riverfront Plaza. 

However, it does not give Perkins & Will the job of designing the area of Riverfront Plaza set aside for private development. 

Boyer said there are “a number of people expressing interest” in the parcel the DIA intends to market to private developers by early February. 

During a Nov. 17 board meeting, Boyer said the DIA’s goal is to select a bid for the site by April so architects and designs with the private developer and Perkins & Will can integrate the two projects.

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