Hard push for Riverwalk ; Plan calls for another $2M to finish path on Southbank
Florida Times Union, 2014-03-19
Efforts to replace Jacksonville's entire Southbank Riverwalk got some City Council support Tuesday after members grilled a city administrator about plans to rebuild just three-quarters of the original length.
"We need to get this done, period," Councilwoman Denise Lee said, touting the original Riverwalk's role as a symbol of downtown development. "It's the selling point. We need it."
Lee said she planned to sponsor a bill when the council meets next week to spend another $2 million to complete a concrete walkway meant to replace a wooden walk that's rotting after three decades of use.
Work crews started demolishing the 3,600-foot section last month, but the city's $15 million replacement budget would only build back 2,700 feet, Public Works Director Jim Robinson said.
He told the council's Recreation and Community Development Committee there was no thought of seeking more money, noting the city has had big financial needs in areas such as police and fire services.
"We thought that $15 million was the extent of the dollars we had," Robinson said, adding that the firm rebuilding the walk, Haskell Co. , has said $2 million extra would be enough to complete the walkway.
Without extra money, the walkway around the Duval County School Board's offices and part of the Wyndham Jacksonville Riverwalk Hotel would not be replaced. City engineers had acknowledged last week that hundreds of feet of walkway weren't expected to be completed, but hadn't spelled out how much work would be unfinished.
Lee said she expected to get the money for those areas from other accounts tied to the downtown riverfront.
A council auditor, Janice Billy , said account balances suggest there's more than enough money on hand, but warned she hasn't finished checking how much is already committed for other uses.
Robinson said the extra money could have an outsized impact on the Riverwalk work because it would be used for a simple rectangular walkway, while other parts that are already funded are wider or have more supports or added features, such as a floating dock.
The Riverwalk work is scheduled to be completed by late November, and Robinson said it's possible additional work could be added to the construction schedule with no interruption.
School officials want to see the walkway work extended to include their land, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote to Mayor Alvin Brown last week, asking him to consider funding the extra work with the rest of the Riverwalk.
That hasn't always been the message, Robinson told council members, saying school officials worried at one point about walkway visitors parking in their parking lot and about the Riverwalk damaging the school office's value.
Councilman John Crescimbeni , the committee's chairman, said he hasn't run into any worries like that. "All I've seen today from the School Board is cooperation," he said. Email a school employee sent to Robinson in May 2013 mentions concern that "access ... along school board property may decrease land value."
School officials signed a temporary easement agreement to allow construction work around their offices March 6 . Steve Patterson : (904) 359-4263