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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Feb. 13, 202003:10 PM EST

World of Nations Celebration moving Downtown from Metropolitan Park

The event will be at The Ford on Bay site as work is set to begin on removing the Hart Bridge ramps.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The annual World of Nations Celebration is moving from its 28-year home at Metropolitan Park to The Ford on Bay site Downtown. 

The city Sports and Entertainment Office said the Feb. 29 to March 1 celebration of global cultural diversity is moving because of the demolition of the Hart Bridge ramps.

The Ford on Bay is the former Duval County Courthouse and City Hall site at 220 and 230 E. Bay St. The buildings were demolished in 2019, leaving a 5.28-acre lawn.

“We like a challenge, obviously. While it will be different than in years past, I think people are going to really enjoy the space,” said Ryan Ali, Sports and Entertainment Office chief.  “I think the space will lend itself to a better walkable experience overall.”

Metropolitan Park, next to the Shipyards property and across Gator Bowl Boulevard from Lot J at TIAA Bank Field, soon will be a construction zone.

According to city Director of Public Affairs Nikki Kimbleton, demolition of the Hart Bridge ramps, which are elevated over the park, will begin at the end of February. 

The $38.9 million project will remove the ramps from the Hart Bridge to A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. Removal of the ramps is a key component to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposed redevelopment of Lot J at TIAA Bank Field and the Shipyards.

The Ford on Bay site is at 220 and 230 E. Bay St. It’s the former home of the Duval County Courthouse and City Hall.

The city worked with the Downtown Investment Authority to use The Ford on Bay site, but the riverfront property may be available only for this year. 

The DIA is considering a bid from New York-based Spandrel Development Partners to redevelop the site.

Ali said 32 countries will be represented at this year’s celebration. 

Event planners anticipate 6,500 to 8,000 people will attend daily. Capacity at The Ford on Bay site is 8,800 a day.

Ali said daily attendance in 2019 was 8,500-10,000. 

The Ford on Bay will be fenced for safety, Ali said. The city also will close a portion of Market Street to expand the event space.

Alcoholic beverages will not be permitted on event grounds. Ali said the World of Nations is encouraging representatives from each country to feature a nonalcoholic drink.

“Alcohol was served in previous years, however this year, with the space limitations we wanted to ensure we had adequate space for the countries and participating organizations to shine while producing a family-friendly event,” Ali said by email.

The 2020 celebration will stick to its core draw, highlighting the culture, art, music and cuisine from around the globe.

In the week leading up to the celebration, Ali said event staff and participants will highlight many of the authentic food dishes through local media interviews.

“You will be fed with your stomach and your eyes,” Ali said. 

Ali said there will not be designated event parking. Attendees are encouraged to use the Yates Garage at 200 E. Adams St.

In years past, the Hart Bridge ramps provided event-goers with shade. Ali said officials will provide cooling buses if necessary, but the tents from each country will make up the available shade. 

The city also will need to prepare for a future without Metropolitan Park.

The federally controlled park at 1410 Gator Bowl Blvd. is proposed to be part of Khan’s redevelopment efforts. 

Renderings released in August of the Lot J and the Shipyards developments show a high-rise and other structures at Metropolitan Park.

Because the park is controlled by the National Park Service, the city must find a suitable replacement site if it wants to develop the land.

City Council and Mayor Lenny Curry set the stage for the development of either property in January 2019 when Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards were rezoned as Commercial Central Business District (CCBD), allowing for high-rise and commercial development.

Ali said his team has not begun planning the 2021 celebration or decided on a permanent location, although he expects the event to be in the Downtown core.


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