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New nonprofit will guide Jacksonville's riverfront park development

The master plan for Jacksonville's Northbank riverfront along East Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard showing the future sites of the Jacksonville Fire Museum, USS Orleck and planned parks as well as the new Museum of Science and History and a hotel.
Downtown Investment Authority
The master plan for Jacksonville's Northbank riverfront along East Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard shows the future sites of the Jacksonville Fire Museum, USS Orleck and planned parks as well as the new Museum of Science & History and a hotel.

With multiple parks and public facilities now under design or construction along the city’s downtown riverfront, a new non-profit organization has been formed to guide it all in Jacksonville.

The Riverfront Parks Conservancy is dedicated to the stewardship, activation, enjoyment and ongoing care of the riverfront parks and riverwalks in Downtown Jacksonville, including those there now and the ones being planned.

Conservancy board chairwoman Barbara Goodman introduced the new nonprofit at Riverfront 2025: A Look Ahead, a recent meeting to update the public about riverfront plans. Their group will work with the city parks department on developments under design or construction, including Riverfront Plaza Park on the former Jacksonville Landing site, plus Shipyards West Park, Friendship Fountain and Metropolitan Park.

“One of the key learnings from the benchmarking study done by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and Riverfront Parks Now that a key success factor of making riverfronts accessible and activated is a nonprofit partner Conservancy organization,” Goodman said. “From the Central Park Conservancy in New York City to the Memphis River Parks Partnership to our own Memorial Park Association, all were started as grassroots efforts with the recognition that additional park support is critical.”

Barbara Goodman
Riverfront Parks Conservancy
Barbara Goodman

“We welcome the support from the community and working with the Conservancy to ensure the parks being built will be long-term, world-class assets accessible, activated and enjoyable for generations to come,” added Jacksonville Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Daryl Joseph.

Development on one piece of the downtown riverfronthas already begun with construction of the Four Seasons hotel, office building and expanded city marina on the old Kids Kampus site, just as designs are released for the second generation of Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History across from Intuition Ale Works.

The Downtown Investment Authority also announced that Agency Landscape + Planning LLC, a landscape architecture and urban planning firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been selected to develop a design for the planned 10-acre Shipyards West Park nearby.

Other planned riverfront development includes a 6,500-square-foot event lawn on the hotel/office building/marina site, improvements to the Metropolitan Park Marina and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s Station 39/Marine 35 planned for land just east of WJCT PUblic Media. The historic Fire Station 3 museum moved in late March to its current site at 620 E. Bay St., next to Pier 1, the future home of the USS Orleck naval ship museum, set to move in March from the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville.

DIA officials said parts of Shipyards West Park, the renovated marinas or other development along that mile of St. Johns River could be ready as early as 2026.

In other news, Goodman said the Jacksonville Riverfront was recently named as a new member project of the High Line Network, co-led locally by her and Sondra Fetner, director of placemaking from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. The High Line Network is a national community of nonprofit leaders representing industrial reuse, urban parks and public spaces.

The city of Jacksonville has committed capital improvement funding for the design and construction of those multiple destination parks, riverwalk extensions and public marinas. Other projects include the Musical Heritage Park at the Performing Arts Center and McCoys Creek Park. Initially, the city has asked the Conservancy to focus on Friendship Fountain and St. Johns River Park, planned for a Phase I opening later this year.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.