JAX Chamber Chair Audrey Moran wants Jacksonville to take notes from the successful riverfront development in Oklahoma City.
Chamber members took a leadership trip to Oklahoma in November. Moran said she was amazed by what the city’s done to get people out on the water.
Moran led a community conversation Thursday at Riverside’s Haskell building about what she calls ‘activating’ the St. John’s riverfront in Jacksonville’s downtown.
As people trickled into the event, Moran stood ready to speak at a lectern in front of ceiling-to-floor windows showcasing Jacksonville’s river.
“We have the most spectacular river in the United States,” she said. “We need to bring more people to it, use it as the economic development tool we know it can be and celebrate the natural resource that we have.”
Moran said when she searches for “great” or “beautiful river cities” online Jacksonville doesn’t pop up, but Oklahoma City does.
Twenty years ago, the river that runs through Oklahoma City was more of a ditch until developers installed dams, built boathouse community centers and created a white water rapids course used by the U.S. Men’s rowing team for Olympic practice.
Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation Executive Director Mike Knopp said Oklahoma river development wasn’t about esthetics, it was about getting people out on the water having fun.
“(Jacksonville) has tremendous opportunity,” he said. “You already have a culture surrounding, there’s already sports, paddle sports and activities. I think it’s a matter of how do you bring all those things together and bring some energy around the riverfront in downtown.”
Knopp said that was done through community buy-in and programming people would use, from youth programs to ones for corporate companies to take advantage of.
“Then we found through doing that the trails started getting busier and busier,” he said.
Five boathouses line Oklahoma’s river, they house boats but they’re also community centers.
One boathouse is also an art gallery, another has movies projected on it’s side at night, and families watch them from kayaks in the water.
Jax Chamber Chair Audrey Moran said she can see the River City creating it’s own development plan. And she thinks other city leaders can, too.
"I know Mayor Curry has said again and again that he wants people to be active,” Moran said. "The river is an awesome way to do that. I think the stars are aligning that you’re going to see a lot of things moving forward.”
Jacksonville has a special committee studying ways to improve Jacksonville’s riverfront. Members from Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida and Northeast Florida Regional Council make up the committee. It’s researching and assessing Jacksonville's Riverfront and has a survey out for people to take. The panel plans to hold several town hall meetings this fall and release a proposed plan of action next year.