One Park for All Jaxsons

GAI partnered with prime consultant and lead designer Perkins&Will to be selected as the team that is redesigning a premier public space along the waterfront in downtown Jacksonville, Florida.

“One Park Jax” will be a destination park that includes a one-of-kind playground, water features, retail and park pavilions, cafes, a beer garden, an event lawn, a sky garden terrace, and a signature sculpture designed by renowned Orlando artist JEFRË that will be compelling for those ‘instant Instagram’ social media moments. GAI’s role on the One Park Jax project will be as project civil engineer and landscape architect of record for the overall park. Located on the former site of the Jacksonville Landing, One Park Jax is being designed as an homage to Jacksonville residents (known as “Jaxsons”) and considers their needs, the city’s distinct riverfront geography as well as its past and future—as acknowledged in the significant amount of public involvement responses obtained during the design competition.

A Separated City

Downtown Jacksonville, situated along the St. Johns River, has always been an important center of commerce and tourism. Historically, it was also a thriving community renowned as a destination for art and culture. However, the St. Johns River and its tributaries create natural geographical separations within the city’s downtown neighborhoods, most distinctly between the Northbank and Southbank areas on opposite sides of the river. During the early-to-mid 20th century, and as a result of numerous social, political, and economic factors, the area had essentially become a series of “siloed” neighborhoods.

The 1980s saw early efforts to improve connectivity and create a central riverfront focal point for downtown, beginning with the Riverwalk in 1984, which is still undergoing construction and expansion to this day. The Jacksonville Landing, predecessor to One Park Jax, was built in 1987. While “The Landing” was a popular entertainment venue and tourist destination for several years after its opening, it never evolved to keep pace with other shopping, dining, and entertainment options that emerged throughout the city. In short, The Landing site did not fully serve all Jaxsons, and it was subsequently purchased by the city and officially closed in 2019 to make way for One Park Jax.

Over the past few decades, and similar to many other cities across the U.S., there has been a desire to revitalize downtown Jacksonville’s urban core. In 2012, the City of Jacksonville established the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) to govern the city’s two downtown Community Redevelopment Areas (CRAs)—and to more closely align the CRAs’ general goals of attracting new investment, jobs, residents, and creating an identity for Jacksonville’s downtown and the region at large.

GAI Steps Up

GAI has had an established presence in Jacksonville for 23 years and is deeply invested in helping the city address its needs. GAI’s commitment to revitalization and inclusion within Jacksonville’s neighborhoods is demonstrated through work on projects such as the award-winning “road diet” and “complete street” design of Riverplace Boulevard that increased pedestrian and bicycle access to the Riverwalk; the 8th Street Streetscape project that modernized the roadway and utility infrastructure, while maintaining the historic nature of Springfield, Jacksonville’s oldest neighborhood; redevelopment in the historic LaVilla neigborhood on the western edge of downtown; Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park, currently under design, on the site of the birthplace of James Weldon Johnson, who penned the eponymous anthem for which the park is named; and, most recently, the Emerald Trail that will eventually encircle Jacksonville’s urban core with approximately 30 miles of greenway.

GAI’s work with the City of Jacksonville includes contributions to the creation of the DIA Northbank and Southside Community Redevelopment Master Plan and Business Investment & Development Strategy. The master planning process, which began in 2020, entailed a comprehensive inventory of existing conditions, along with extensive public outreach and economic analyses. The plan is instrumental in helping the city assess the present conditions of its downtown assets and potentials; determining Jaxsons’ present and future needs; and identifying ways to implement the city’s vision.

An Award-Winning Partnership and Design

GAI Director of Civil Engineering for Community Infrastructure Nick Mousa, AICP collaborated with GAI’s Community Solutions Group (CSG) leader Pete Sechler, PLA, AICP, MBA to connect with the large, multinational firm of Perkins&Will to add staff power, prestige, and capability to the project pursuit. Together, GAI’s CSG and Community Infrastructure staff collaborated significantly with Perkins&Will on the winning design concept, applying their first-hand knowledge of the site itself, as well as regulatory requirements—while facilitating constructability in an environmentally sensitive waterfront site throughout the process.

One Park Jax

In June 2021, Perkins&Will, as prime consultant, was selected as the top ranked among three firms by the city’s Professional Services Evaluation Committee. The winning presentation was titled “One Park for All of Jacksonville,” with the concept of One Park Jax featuring a variety of recreational opportunities for Jaxsons (and visitors) of all ages, abilities, and income levels to enjoy. The St. Johns River, of course, plays heavily into the park’s design—historically, the river has been both a boon and a physical divider for downtown. One Park Jax unifies the core as a central riverfront focal point for downtown; it will be set on various ground elevations to allow river views from most of the recreation zones. The design competition was scored based on six stringent design competition criteria; notably the successful design needed to “reflect and achieve community acceptance.” In addition to considering viewpoints gathered through online social media polls, GAI staff spent time “on the ground” canvassing the Riverside Arts Market and other outdoor events to solicit community feedback. The public support garnered from GAI helping to promote One Park Jax as a destination specifically created to unify a multifaceted Jacksonville, in addition to the compelling design of the festival and lawn space, was a defining factor in swaying the scoring toward the Perkins&Will team’s favor.

A Landmark City

Another major scoring criterion was to include an “iconic and unique art piece that is authentically Jacksonville.” GAI introduced acclaimed artist JEFRË to the Perkins&Will team. JEFRË’s unique background—having earned a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture as well as studied at the Art Institute of Chicago—allows him to bring informed and experienced insight to the project’s iconic sculpture design. Located at the center of the park, the sculpture is meant to be seen from a distance as people enter downtown over many of the bridges—a defining element of Jacksonville’s skyline, putting it on par with other landmark cities around the world. An Iconic Art Review Committee convened by city officials and stakeholders will work with JEFRË in guiding and refining the sculpture’s final design.

Future One Park Jax Info

As of January 13, 2022, Perkins&Will executed the contract with the City of Jacksonville and One Park Jax is officially underway. Groundbreaking is expected to take place later in 2022. For more information and for updates on the park’s progress, visit One Park Jax.

Contact Director of Civil Engineering for Community Infrastructure Nick Mousa, AICP, 904.559.8133, or GAI’s Community Solutions Group leader Pete Sechler, PLA, AICP, MBA, 312.319.3126, for more information about GAI’s range of civil engineering and community and parks planning services—message GAI online and start the conversation about how our multidiscipline professionals can meet your unique project needs. 

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