Jacksonville’s historic Friendship Fountain could reopen in the fall after two years of renovation, with a playground and picnic facilities to follow.
The landmark along the Southbank Riverwalk still needs landscaping, a restroom facility and a bit more work, city officials said Thursday.
The renovation is expected to be done by fall and the other amenities in 2024, a statement from the city said.
The fountain dates back to a 1965 design by architect Taylor Hardwick, its benches shaded by huge futuristic mushroom canopies in a park originally 14 acres in size. The fountain once jetted so far it was the highest fountain in Florida, historic records show.
The park size was cut down when the River City Brewing restaurant, now gone, was built on part of its waterfront site close to 30 years ago. That fountain was renovated most recently in 2011, after it had been listed by the Jacksonville Historical Society as one of the city’s 14 most endangered historic buildings.
The $3.1 million restoration included new pumps and pipes and a massively updated lighting system and sound system that allowed it to shoot water 200 feet into the air, according to historical documents.
The latest redesign is a $6 million capital improvement project overseen by the Recreation Department. The work was delayed a year to 2021, and it originally was expected to conclude early last year.
After successful tests eight months ago, there’s still a few months to go before the public can watch waters blast sky-high for good, city officials said.
The renovation includes a new fountain wall design, seating and integrated sound systems, pumps, lights and more. But outside of paving under the gazebos, more work is still needed for the park to fully open to the public, city officials said.
“Work remaining to be completed consists of the precast cap around fountain perimeter wall and the speaker enclosure feature,” the city’s statement said. “Other items/materials are on order or in the design phase.”
The property to the west is now empty and fenced in, after River City Brewing Co. shut down in July 2021 and was demolished. That site has been home to restaurants and nightspots for decades, from the original Lobster House from the 1940s through 1962, then Diamondhead through the 1980s. It became a disco club, then Harbormasters until River City Brewing came in late 1993.
The Related Group, based in Miami, had proposed a $92.32 million development with 335 apartments, riverfront swimming pool, parking garage and restaurant at the 3.43-acre site. But the Downtown Investment Authority terminated the development agreement with Related Group after contract deadlines approved by the city expired, officials said.
Now the Related Group has submitted a new plan that includes an approximately 24-story residential tower with 410 residential units, a 535-space parking garage and a waterfront restaurant.
Meanwhile, the future of the building housing the current Museum of Science & History next door to the fountain is yet to be decided once the attraction moves to the Northbank as part of a planned stretch of commercial, retail, recreational and residential development along East Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard.
MOSH’s second generation will be built on 2.5 acres of the Shipyards along East Bay Street, across from Intuition Aleworks at East Bay Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. It is expected to open in 2026.
The current 77,000-square-foot MOSH site, originally the city’s children’s museum, will revert to city ownership when it is empty. Any future use must remain as a civic or cultural institution, city officials have said.