Three national design firms pitched their visions June 24 for a city park at the former Jacksonville Landing on the St. Johns River Downtown.
The design teams, Agency Landscape + Planning LLC, Olin Partnership Ltd. and Perkins & Will Inc., pitched plans at the Main Public Library Downtown to a panel of city officials and local business and nonprofit leaders.
“Our desire is to become a city of vision and reality instead of a city of renderings,” said Haskell landscape architect Chris Flagg during public comment.
The city Professional Services Evaluation Committee selected the teams as finalists in March for a Downtown Investment Authority request for proposals to complete 50% of the design work to create a minimum 4.5-acre park for the site at 2 Independent Drive W., now called Riverfront Plaza.
One of the designs will be selected to complete its design.
Agency Landscape + Planning called its park presentation “A Love Story” and played recordings from 2.5 hours of voice messages and comments from 275 Jacksonville residents who provided input on the firm’s design.
“We hope you see at the end of this presentation a place where the community can become connected to the river and its ecosystem,” said Gina Ford, Agency landscape architect.
Ford said it is “we hope, a new postcard image of what Jacksonville has to offer.”
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm anchored its design on three metal mesh “water canopies” that team artist Bryony Roberts said are “sunshades and public art.”
Roberts said the objects would be reflective and have paintings on the metal by Jacksonville artist Dustin Harewood.
Agency’s design includes “Sunset Hill,” which is raised open lawn space with views of the park that provide a pedestrian and bicyclist connection to the Main Street Bridge.
The plan shows a covered “Oxbow Fountain” with a splash pad and view pool.
Two piers near Hogan Street would have areas for grilling and fishing, according to Agency.
Agency presented the “Oak Deck” as a shaded dining and play area for families, and the covered “Bridge Deck,” which has a shared dining area near the river, pedestrian bridge and one of two marsh areas.
Ford said the marsh would double as stormwater resiliency.
Agency team members told the panel their design raises the land grade to protect Downtown infrastructure and buildings from the 100-year flood plain.
Including the artwork, Agency proposed a $15 million project at about $3.2 million per acre.
The design includes underground parking for both the hotel/residential, restaurants and parkgoers, according to Agency team architect Brian Hubbard of Gresham Smith architects.
Hubbard outlined a conceptual hotel and residential tower on the northeast corner of the site and a two-story building with a restaurant, cafe and nonprofit workspace on the northwest corner.
He said the programming was about “food, food, food” with the hotel featuring terrace restaurants and the park building could have a rooftop restaurant.
Proposals for the two private development pads were not required in the city request for proposals, but the DIA encouraged the firms to indicate what types of uses would work well with the parks they designed.
The Philadelphia-based Olin Partnership proposed a $27.4 million design called “JAX Park” that emphasizes Northeast Florida plant life and ecology and incorporates San Fransisco-based environmental artist and sculptor Ned Khan.
It features an urban plaza with a riverfront fountain on the north end of the park; “Bartram’s Garden” and maritime hammocks featuring native trees and plants resilient to saltwater; a play area with a manatee calf and cow; and a “Birdhouse Skatepark.”
The plan shows an outdoor art gallery under the Main Street Bridge.
The panel spent much of the question-and-answer session asking about proposed floating marshes just off the boat docks and Downtown Riverwalk.
Olin partner landscape architect Trevor Lee said the marshes would not obstruct boat traffic or be difficult to maintain.
He said the project is meant to represent ecosystems previously present in Downtown Jacksonville. Team members said it would bring biodiversity in insects and avian life.
The marsh also features a “biohut” sculpture in the water that doubles as marine habitat by Florida-based artist Ya La’ford, according to Olin.
Lee said Olin recently completed a similar park project with a floating marsh in the Hudson River in Manhattan.
Olin’s team members said a residential tower near Hogan Street and a hotel next to the Main Street Bridge would be the best complement to their park proposal.
Lee said the $9 million for artwork could be paid for through donations, leaving an $18.4 million park construction cost. He said the park would have a $500,000 to $700,000 annual maintenance cost.
DIA CEO Lori Boyer said the parks department requested that Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration earmark $15 million for the Riverfront Plaza park in its fiscal 2021-22 budget that will be presented in July.
Boyer said proposals that exceed the $15 million target will not automatically be disqualified from the competition.
“It’s simply something we evaluate when we’re looking at the options,” she said.
“I also think you have presentations that stretch the quality and the level of how memorable or how significant the space would be beyond the budget estimate we’re using, which is from a number of years ago.”
The centerpiece of Perkins & Will’s “One Park Jax” design is a 151-foot-tall sculpture that spells “Jax” in polished stainless steel by international artist JEFRE based in Orlando.
JEFRE said June 24 that the $11 million to $18 million art piece could generate a return on investment by attracting visitors and business branding opportunities to the park, similar to the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
“Are the icons you’ve seen early today strong enough that people actually want to go there, get off Highway 95 and go see this? Yes or no? Does it match the icons we see in other cities? Yes or no?” JEFRE asked the panel.
His art would sit on “civic stairs” and is one of the highest points of Perkins & Will’s design.
The park also includes a River Plaza; a living shoreline with a rain garden and marine plants on the river bulkhead; an open lawn; a playground; and “micro plazas” at park entrances at Laura and Hogan streets.
A park pavilion building proposed on the northwest will have a cafe and a hotel on the northeast corner would have a ground-floor restaurant.
Perkins & Will’s team was formed by Nick Mousa of GAI Consultants’ Jacksonville office.
In total, Perkins and Will propose a $22 million to $29 million project, depending on the finish used of the sculpture.
DIA officials said in March the park designs should be complete and under construction before any private development occurs on the northeast and northwest corners of the site, but Boyer said the RFP allows some input.
“We gave them an opportunity to make suggestions as to how they think those private development parcels integrate and better flow with the site,” Boyer said.
Boyer will score the designs with city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Daryl Joseph.
City Procurement Division Chief Greg Pease said the Professional Services Evaluation Committee will use Boyer’s and Joseph’s scores to award the job to the top-ranked firm in a July 22 meeting.
Boyer hopes to conclude negotiations with the selected team in August and start construction in the first quarter 2022.
“Everybody knows it’s an important site. It’s an important site for multiple reasons,” Boyer said.
“Public interest in this site is extremely high but it also is really central to the waterfront.”
In addition to Boyer, Joseph and Pease, the panelists and subject matter experts viewing the presentation June 24 were:
• Downtown Vision Vice President of Marketing Katherine Hardwick
• City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Chief of Natural and Marine Resources Jill Enz
• City Deputy General Counsel David Migut
• City Senior Manager, Debt and Investments Paul Barret
• Mayor Lenny Curry’s representative Charles Moreland