Groundwork wins grant to complete design to 'daylight' McCoys Creek

The project could enable redevelopment of 1 Riverside Ave., former home of The Florida Times-Union.

McCoys Creek passes under the former home of The Florida Times-Union.
McCoys Creek passes under the former home of The Florida Times-Union.
  • Columnists
  • Mathis Report
  • Share

It appears that redevelopment of 1 Riverside Ave., former home of The Florida Times-Union, might see some daylight.

Groundwork Jacksonville announced Thursday that it was awarded $357,280 through the Community-based Restoration Program of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Services.

The grant will take Phase 2 of the McCoys Creek restoration plan from 30% to 100% design, which includes daylighting the creek under the Morris Publishing Group property at 1 Riverside Ave. and replacing the existing ditch with about 4,000 feet of open, soft-bottom channel and shoreline. 

Groundwork, an environmental trust, said the restored creek inlet, from the mouth of the St. Johns River to Myrtle Street, will increase water flow, allow fish passage and promote natural habitat for fish, plants and wildlife.

The Morris family, based in Augusta, Georgia, sold the Times-Union in October 2017 but retains the 18.8-acre Riverside Avenue site, which is west of the Acosta Bridge along the 2-mile Northbank Riverwalk.

The Times-Union newsroom staff moved to the Wells Fargo Center Downtown.

The Morris family wants to demolish the vacant office building and production plant at 1 Riverside Ave. and redevelop the riverfront property with apartments, retail, hotel and possibly office uses.

Family representatives said in January that McCoys Creek is pivotal to the redevelopment plans and that they were talking with the city about options to “daylight” it.

They consider daylighting the creek as the ideal scenario for the public and the development, but were concerned about the condition of the creek through the property.

The McCoy’s Creek plan at the St. Johns River.
The McCoy’s Creek plan at the St. Johns River.

They said they would work with the city to determine the estimate of what is budgeted for capital improvements regarding the creek, which in turn would help determine the costs of redevelopment.

Morris family representatives could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.

McCoys Creek was replaced with straightened ditches and bulkheaded canals in the late 1920s, destroying the habitat for plants, fish and wildlife, Groundwork said.

Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions Inc., in partnership with SCAPE Landscape Architecture DPC and CDM Smith Inc., is developing the McCoys Creek restoration design for Groundwork and the city.

Groundwork said it affects about 2.8 miles of creek and 142 acres of surrounding land. 

The city has budgeted about $60 million over the next three years for planning and construction of the design.

Groundwork said the overall project plan includes:

• Closure of the frequently flooded McCoys Creek Boulevard from Hollybrook Park to Claude Street and from Goodwin Street to Margaret Street.

• Replacement of the King and Stockton Street bridges for channel and roadway service improvements.

• Remediation of ash contamination. 

• Creation of recreational spaces, and bike-pedestrian paths along the Emerald Trail string of waterways and greenspace that Groundwork and Downtown advocates want to develop as an amenity to encircle Downtown.

• Recreational amenities, such as play pods and kayak launches, along the creek.

Kay Ehas, Groundwork CEO, said it is the second significant grant for McCoys Creek within nine months.

In November, Groundwork was granted $250,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and NOAA through the National Coastal Resilience Fund for creek restoration design, which is being used for the north and south branches of McCoys Creek between the Beaver and Edison streets bridges.

Groundwork is raising an additional $450,000 to complete the branches design, including trail and recreational amenities. 

Groundwork said that as part of the NOAA grant, it will work with Jacksonville University on a fish study focused on Atlantic sturgeon, summer flounder, sheepshead, red drum, pink shrimp, brown shrimp, white shrimp, American shad, and American eel populations. 

It also will work with the city Environmental Quality Division on water quality sampling.