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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Feb. 22, 200712:00 PM EST

Task Forces connecting the dots for Downtown development

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

When the subject is urban development and Downtown revitalization, you have to appreciate the value of “thinking outside the box.” That’s exactly what the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission’s Pedestrian, Open Space & the River Task Force has been doing.

“There are some great ideas – some more outlandish than others,” said JEDC Deputy Director Paul Crawford.

The group started its deliberations after the other three task forces for infrastructure, residential and retail development were well underway because, as Crawford put it, “the work done by this group is the twine that will hold together the recommendations of the other task forces.”

The task force was divided into subcommittees in order to speed the process since the issues are numerous and diverse.

Some of the recommendations under consideration so far include:

• Improving pedestrian access to the Main Street and Acosta bridges in order to create more of a connection between the Northbank and the Southbank. One of the most “out of the box” suggestions was the construction of a pedestrian drawbridge connecting the south end of Liberty Street on the Northbank to the Chart House restaurant on the Southbank.

• Enhancing the Riverwalk with more shade trees, small fountains along the route and areas designed for rollerblading and fishing.

• More dock space on both sides of the river, possibly in the form of floating docks like those currently installed at the Landing.

• Improving the appearance of the water taxis since, as one task force member said, “thirty people ride the boat, but 500 people on the bank see it.”

• Make better use of Metropolitan Park and finding ways that it can better “celebrate the river,” possibly by improving amenities for boaters and providing more space for short-term docking during events at the Sports Complex.

Each subcommittee’s final recommendations, prioritized to the top five or six, would be presented to Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, an urban design firm headquartered in Orlando, by March 1 in order for the design process to begin.

Crawford said the final product will be, “a five-year implementation plan to enhance the pedestrian and open-space experience Downtown,” and he expects the JEDC will have Glatting Jackson’s final designs by the middle of April. At that point, it will go to the JEDC’s Downtown Committee (that replaced the Downtown Development Authority).

“By that time, the Downtown Committee will be wrapping up discussion of the work done by the other three task forces,” said Crawford. “They will combine all the data into a comprehensive, step-by-step plan that will detail the next five years of Downtown improvement.”

Crawford said then it’s up to the JEDC to take that document to the City Council and the mayor and make sure the projects are included in the Capital Improvement Program that sets priorities and schedule’s the City’s major expenditures.

“The recommendations are important and we need to make sure they are on the docket,” he said.

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