Contractor J.B. Coxwell deployed workers and equipment July 10 to Riverfront Plaza to start work this week on 7-acre Downtown park on the St. Johns River.
Since July 5, the city has closed traffic to portions of Independent Drive, Water Street and Hogan Street to prepare for the first phase of construction at the site of the former Jacksonville Landing.
That project will eliminate a cul-de-sac east of the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts and extend the footprint of the park, according to the Downtown Investment Authority. The work will also reroute Independent Drive to Hogan Street.
DIA Marketing and Communications Specialist Ric Anderson confirmed via email July 7 that work was planned to start July 10.
The city awarded Coxwell the contract to build the first phase of what is expected to be a two-phase minimum $27.25 million park.
In a news release July 10, Deegan celebrated the park groundbreaking and called it “one of the centerpieces to transforming our riverfront.”
“The riverfront park system will bring in people from across the city to the waterfront to live, work, and play,” Deegan said. “It will be a top priority of my administration to invest in public infrastructure and parks to increase Jacksonville’s quality of life and grow our downtown.”
Construction crews were monitoring the street closures July 10 and moving around the site, but the equipment stayed parked much of the day as heavy rain soaked Downtown Jacksonville.
A spokesperson from the city Public Affairs Office said in an email that thunderstorms caused work to stop periodically throughout the day. It appeared crews had not started excavation work as of 4 p.m.
“They had to start and stop a few times due to weather, (but) no significant impacts at this time,” the spokesperson said.
According to the release, construction is expected to take about two years.
Plans for the park include a destination playground integrated onto the rooftop of a cafe; a water play area; a riverfront restaurant; a lawn for events; a riverside fountain; a beer garden; a pedestrian connection to the Main Street Bridge; and civic stairs —a raised platform and staircase — that lead to a pedestal for a centerpiece sculpture.
The money budgeted for the project and approved by City Council does not include funding for the art centerpiece, which park designer Perkins & Will estimated in 2021 could cost up to $20 million.
DIA CEO Lori Boyer told the Meninak Club of Jacksonville on June 26 that the $18 million to $20 million estimate for the statue would “not be a reasonable budget for the city of Jacksonville.”
DIA officials say the Jessie Ball duPont Fund is working with the Perkins & Will team artist Jefrë of Orlando to refine and reimagine the initially designed 151-foot-tall “Jax” statue design to be more “emblematic” and “representative of Jacksonville.”
Boyer said another sculpture proposed for a riverfront city park Downtown, a 50-foot-tall sculpture in Preston Hollow Community Capital LLC’s mixed-use RiversEdge development on the Southbank designed by international artist and architect Marc Fornes, will cost $2 million to $3 million.
“So, I know it’s possible to do something more affordable and we envision that this needs to be something that we can raise most of the funding for privately,” Boyer said June 26. “So we’ve got to get that budget under control.”
Boyer said in the July 10 news release that Riverfront Plaza is a step toward a series of “first-class destination riverfront parks in Downtown.”
“These parks will give people from across the city new activities and programming to enjoy in the heart of the community, and will truly make our amazing riverfront accessible to everyone,” Boyer said. “They’ll also provide a new attraction for visitors.”
The DIA has helped lead the park planning along with city Parks, Recreation and Community Service and Public Works departments and local nonprofit groups.
The overall budget for the park could increase.
In her July 1 inauguration speech, Mayor Donna Deegan committed to “fully funding” the planned interconnected riverfront park system and finishing the 30-mile multiuse Emerald Trail, expected to connect urban neighborhoods around Downtown.
Council approved $27.25 million in fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23 as part of the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan to pay for the design and construction of the park.
Deegan’s pledge could lead to an increase in the Riverfront Plaza budget.
The city is reviewing a permit application for the shell of the Riverfront Plaza Cafe at an estimated cost of $3.5 million. The permit application is for the cafe shell and does not include the playground.
The 5,171-square-foot building is planned on 7.45 acres at 2 Independent Drive W.
A $35.88 million city incentives deal for New York City-based developer American Lions LLC’s estimated $166.6 million, mixed-use residential high-rise tower planned to front the park on a 1-acre pad has been in contract review since September 2022.