Ceremonial launch for city's central park ; Unity Plaza envisioned as drawing card for downtown
Florida Times Union, 2014-03-31
Imagine an amphitheater surrounded by a perfect circle of water ringed by palm trees planted right at the doorstep of Jacksonville's downtown. There's a seven-story apartment complex and 18,000 square feet of retail space.
Think about what it could do to jump-start a sluggish downtown.
Alex Coley has. He started planning 220 Riverside about 10 years ago. It's an ambitious plan that combines residential multifamily housing with retail space and a community area.
One of two founders behind the development company NAI Hallmark Partners , Coley was one of the speakers at the groundbreaking for Unity Plaza Sunday night.
There will be kiosks around the man-made pond, and there are also plans for mini libraries where people can pick up a book and read in the shade, he said. The half park, half amphitheater has a capacity for 2,000 people.
Coley sees Unity Plaza as connecting downtown to the neighborhoods that surround it.
"The notion is it's a place where we can kick off our shoes and all be comfortable to recognize one another and coalesce as a community in a way that we have never been able to do in the past," he said.
Mayor Alvin Brown also spoke at the groundbreaking. He's been a champion of the project and said he's excited to see it progress.
"What is happening here is a team effort and it shows what can happen when the public and private sectors work together," Brown said.
The city in December provided about $2.6 million in funds for construction of Unity Plaza . Total construction cost of the 220 Riverside project is more than $30 million .
Brown said the private sector "is the engine" driving the project, but the city's role allows private industry to leverage public funds to give the taxpayer the best return on investment.
City Council President Bill Gulliford said the project is exactly what downtown needs. He talked about a Chamber of Commerce leadership trip to Charlotte, N.C. , where there are similar residential and retail developments.
Guilliford said there are about 15,000 people living in Charlotte's downtown area. He said he would be surprised to learn if there were 5,000 people living in Jacksonville's downtown.
Guilliford said the project could be the spark that ignites further development and brings more people downtown.
"That's what we saw in Charlotte ," he said. "This type of project attracts young people."
Coley said that's exactly the type of person 220 Riverside hopes to attract. He said Jacksonville is the second fastest-growing metropolitan area for technology service jobs.
He said in the last decade 90,000 in that group have moved to Jacksonville , many of them young people seeking entertainment and culture.
"They already live here and they demand this kind of facility, this kind of oasis, this kind of community gathering place," he said. "They are looking for a fun, active environment to live, work and play." Derek Gilliam : (904) 359-4619