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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 24, 202103:30 AM EST

New chief resiliency officer: Park design at former Landing site ‘in flux’ 

Anne Coglianese said she’s working with designers on Riverfront Plaza’s plan.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

New city Chief Resiliency Officer Anne Coglianese says she’s working with the team designing the public park at the former Jacksonville Landing site to make it more climate and storm surge resilient. 

During a bill-signing ceremony Sept. 23 with Mayor Lenny Curry finalizing her appointment, Coglianese told reporters she is giving input on Riverfront Plaza’s design to the Downtown Investment Authority and architectural firm Perkins & Wills Inc.

“The design is not final. It’s going to be changed,” Coglianese said.

In July, the DIA and city officials selected a $22 million to $29 million plan for Riverfront Plaza by Chicago-based Perkins & Will that features a 151-foot-tall “Jax” sculpture. 

The design removes some of the recently rebuilt St. Johns River bulkhead and boat docks to bring the water closer to pedestrians.

Coglianese said a living wall in front of river bulkheads would provide the best protection for the site. A living wall is a vertical architectural element of plants.

“The design is still in flux,” she said.

 “I can say confidently the final design will have all of those resilience concerns analyzed, addressed and the final design will not have anything that has critical bulkhead concerns.”

DIA officials want to complete contract negotiations with Perkins & Will next month to design the estimated 4½-acre park along the St. Johns River. 

Curry told reporters that project engineers, investors and Coglianese are working on the project.

“Clearly, when people are investing their dollars, they’re not going to invest their dollars in a place that (is) going to be at-risk because of climate concerns,” Curry said. 

Other developments

DIA CEO Lori Boyer said during a Sept. 9 board committee workshop that she expects Coglianese to weigh in on river setback requirements for development at the former Duval County Courthouse site at 330 E. Bay St.

The DIA is working on a request for proposals criteria to market the city-owned property to private developers.

Coglianese said part of her job will be to analyze and do a “deep dive” into the city’s building and zoning codes to see what changes are needed to make development citywide more climate-resilient.

Coglianese did not say if she would have direct input on Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan’s $321 million proposal for a Four Seasons hotel-anchored development or other large-scale riverfront projects. 

But she said all riverfront projects should consider and “likely include’’ hardened building materials and elevated critical infrastructure to protect from storm surge, as well as adding living shorelines and water retaining bioswales to give drainage systems time to clear.

Coglianese said she sees the St. Johns River as a source of risk for the city and one of its greatest assets.

“Certainly, we’re going to be looking at how do we make sure that that (is) factored into the city’s zoning and what we’re permitting to make sure that any new development along the riverfront has a long history and really is a smart investment,” she said.

Thinking long-term  

Curry and Council members have tasked Coglianese with designing Jacksonville’s long-term resilience strategy. 

She said it will be used to develop policy and infrastructure projects to address Jacksonville’s risk from flooding and other impacts from sea-level rise.

Curry has more than $54 million in drainage and stormwater resiliency projects in his proposed 2021-22 Capital Improvement Plan scheduled for a final Council vote Sept. 28.

“As we’re seeing, we’re having more frequent and intense storm events, we’re having hotter and longer summers and this requires that we factor that into how the city does business,” Coglianese said.

Council approved Coglianese’s appointment Aug. 24 in a 17-0 vote.

Since 2015, Coglianese has worked on resiliency policy in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.

Coglianese was a special assistant for climate preparedness and resiliency for the White House Council on Environmental Quality from September 2015 to January 2017 during the Obama administration.

From March 2017 through July 2020 she was a coastal resiliency manager for the city of New Orleans. 

Coglianese said New Orleans officials began addressing chronic flooding issues over the past five years with drainage improvements and green infrastructure projects.

Similar flooding is seen in Jacksonville’s San Marco and Riverside neighborhood, she said.

Despite damage from Hurricane Ida in August, Coglianese said New Orleans’ drainage system held.

“Scaling up” design solutions for projects like waterway improvements, such as the city’s planned McCoys Creek greenway, would help alleviate flooding, she said.

Coglianese told reporters her work in New Orleans taught her to be ready.

“It’s better to be prepared before something happens than try to scramble on the back end,” she said. 

“I think the more that we can get ahead of some of the climate threats that face Jacksonville, the better we’ll be when events happen.” 

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