Florida Times-Union
Unprecedented opportunity to improve quality of living

Matt Carlucci
Op-ed published 8/23/21

For the first time in Downtown Jacksonville history, more than 75 acres of publicly-owned downtown riverfront land is simultaneously available for development, creating an unprecedented opportunity to improve and invest in the quality of life for all Jacksonville citizens. That’s how the resolution placed before Jacksonville City Council on August 24 will read.

I have recently returned from the St. Petersburg area, where I met with Rick Baker, former mayor. Baker led the transformation of St. Pete’s Bayfront into a top destination, for both visitors and residents. Every moment I spent walking Venoy Park and downtown St. Petersburg, I thought of Jacksonville. Our city has always been known as the River City, but we aren’t living up to that moniker. As the River City, we have an incredible, shared resource and we must become better stewards of it.

For years, Jacksonville leaders have tossed around platitudes. Terms like urban revitalization, pedestrian-friendly, greenways, and activation of the St. Johns River. Riverfront Parks Now, a citizen-led initiative led by community-minded leaders from 13 non-profits, has introduced me to a new phrase—a “Riverfront for All,” and I could not agree more.

Baker’s term for describing the vision St. Petersburg has lived out in a big way: a seamless city. I believe in the concept wholeheartedly, and now is the time to act. More than 90 percent of land stretching along the St. Johns River is currently held by private landowners. Advocating for inclusivity and a comprehensive approach to development is more critical than ever. That ever-elusive downtown vibrancy that Tampa, St. Petersburgh, and other cities have attempted to capture? That is what we can and will bring to Jacksonville with downtown riverfront parks

Our city has reached a defining moment—a crossroads in downtown development and decision-making that could splinter or secure its future.

Did you know that more than half of Jacksonville’s downtown riverfront is now city-owned? It’s true, and a string of key events has positioned our city to engage in actionable conversation — the demolition of a few riverfront buildings, ongoing mitigation as a result of Hurricane Irma, and a pandemic-heightened awareness of the need for public parks and urban green space. We need to see more multi-functional areas that simultaneously provide beauty, a natural and resilient buffer, and an opportunity to leverage our most valuable asset—our American Heritage St. Johns River.

Riverfront Parks Now, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and many others are working toward plans for a single, integrated parkway system that serves and brings together people across Jacksonville while enhancing existing and future investment of commercial property and public infrastructure. This is the critical moment to create and connect family-friendly, event-ready spaces. A well-planned park and public recreation system provides a huge amenity for developers and businesses. This then leads to a thriving downtown, as we’ve seen happen with other city waterfronts.

Wednesday, Aug. 25 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the DuPont Center is where I will co-host a Jacksonville Downtown Riverfront Parks Community Meeting, along with Council Member DeFoor. The town hall-style meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to hear from key stakeholders collaborating on this shared vision. Come and learn more about the Esplanade Shipyard Conceptual Plan or join virtually.

To create a seamless city, the conversation has to be about connectivity, inclusiveness, collaboration, awareness of another person’s needs. As my friend Rick Baker says, this comes down to the attitude that we’re all in this together. I really appreciate it when we work alongside, and not against, each other. That is the secret sauce.

Matt Carlucci is an at-large Jacksonville City Council member