by Max Marbut
Mayor John Peyton helped plant a tree in Hemming Plaza Tuesday and announced a series of projects designed to improve Downtown’s landscape.
In addition to replacing a dead tree that was removed from the Plaza with a new live oak, Peyton unveiled plans for Main Street Park, a three-quarter acre “pocket park” that will be built east of the Main Library. Construction is scheduled to begin late this year on the space that was used as a staging area for construction vehicles while the Main Library was being built.
The park will include an open greenspace, a series of grass terraces and a courtyard for art exhibits. It is the first phase of an initiative the mayor called, “Downtown, Naturally,” and will continue with similar improvements along Duval, Monroe, Ocean, Jefferson and Broad Streets.
“Downtown Jacksonville is everyone’s neighborhood and the projects we’ve planned will enhance the beauty and diversity of the Downtown landscape,” said Peyton. “In addition, these projects will create a more pleasing and walkable environment through the creation of more greenspace. It will also create a sense of place that will continue to attract new residents, businesses and visitors.”
Alan Mosley, the City’s Chief Operating Officer, said work on the new Main Street landscaping will begin later this fall but the concrete planters currently blocking pedestrian paths and traffic visibility scattered throughout Downtown will be removed sooner.
The new park will cost $1.8 million and will be funded by a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, the parks budget and funds from the City’s tree mitigation fund.
“Our plan is to use the DOT money to put a park there and use the City’s landscape budget for Main Street,” said Mosley. “We want to create places for people to stop and enjoy our beautiful Downtown.”
He said that urban foresters are being consulted because landscaping has a different set of rules and requirements than construction.
“It’s important to understand why plants flourish in urban areas and why they don’t,” said Mosley. “You can’t just put materials in the ground and expect it to be an asset.”
Peyton also announced that $10 million worth of funding has been secured to improve the health of the St. Johns River. That funding came as a result of the work of State Rep. Mark Mahon and State Sen. Jim King during the current legislative session.