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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Apr. 11, 200712:00 PM EST

Downtown Council adopts Jesse Smith Park

by: Natasha Khairullah

by Natasha Khairullah

Staff Writer

An effort between the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Council and TTV Architects may soon provide patrons of the Florida Theatre with an pre- and post-show outdoor lounge area.

The Jesse B. Smith Park across from the Florida Theatre was adopted by the Downtown Council’s Downtown Enhancement Committee and with the help of TriVu, president of TTV Architects, will eventually be converted into “the Florida Theatre’s elegant front porch,” according to Downtown Council President Raymond Hays.

“It’s not something that will happen overnight and we are still in the research phase in terms of what we want to do,” said Hays, “but we’ve taken the first steps towards enhancing the amazing pedestrian-friendly experience that the Florida Theatre already does a great job of providing.”

Jim Love, president-elect for the Council and co-chair of the Downtown Enhancement Committee submitted the adoption application to the City’s Parks and Recreation Department last week.

Hays says the idea was partially to take on a piece of Vu’s existing plan to enhance Downtown and partially to benefit the Florida Theatre.

“The two go hand in hand. The Florida Theatre is a great facility,” said Hays, “but anybody that’s been to a party there in the lobby or for a pre-show event on a wonderful spring evening, recognizes that it can get a little crowded there on the sidewalk under the marquee.

“The city does a great job maintaining the park and the Florida Theatre does a great job with providing lounging areas but running the theater and making it as great as it can be is a full-time job for them and so they really have welcomed our help.”

Hays says he hopes that eventually the three entities – the City, Downtown Council and TTV Architects – can create a plan of action for redesigning and enhancing the park so that people would be able to spill over and use the area almost as an “extended lobby.”

“That way people can arrive at the events early, not be so rushed and feel like there’s a safe warm and inviting place to hang out,” said Hays. “We want them to feel welcomed to sit out there instead of jumping into the rush of traffic that’s leaving the show.”

Vu’s current plan proposes wider sidewalks, more public art, more public restrooms and lighting major corridors of Downtown, including connecting sectors of Downtown with “Cultural Paths.”

“Right now, it’s not designed to blend in with the kind of Downtown pedestrian activity that everyone wants to generate and so lighting is just one of the enhancements to make nighttime,” said Hays. “People feel safer and are attracted to more lighted areas.”

In March 2006, Vu proposed renovation to the Jesse B. Smith Memorial Park and suggested that the $700,000 it would cost be paid for by citizen and corporate-bought stars that could later decorate the park and the sidewalk in front of the Florida Theatre.

Love says although funding hasn’t been determined as of yet, it will most definitely come from a combination of sources, including corporate sidewalk stars.

“Of course it would also make for an area to sit and eat your brown bagged lunch or just relax,” he said.

Past projects of the Downtown Enhancement Committee include youth mentoring programs, hard-hat tours and painting Jaguar paw prints down Bay Street.

“Our main goal, as a group is to enhance the experience of the people living and visiting Downtown so by adopting the Jesse Smith park, we feel that’s another outreach for us,” said Love.

The three groups will be meeting over the next month to finalize the enhancement plan. Work is tentatively scheduled to begin in May.

“If it takes two years to finish, I’ll be surprised,” said Love. “But it isn’t just going to be a flash in the pan. This adoption brings us one step closer to making it a reality.”

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