The shattered concrete has been removed after Hurricane Idalia ravaged the riverfront balustrade at Jacksonville’s historic Memorial Park in late August, but repairs at the park near Five Points aren’t expected to be complete sooner than a year from today.
Just like after 2017’s Hurricane Irma, the city says the shattered concrete columns and ripped-off railings at the river’s edge will be replaced.
While that took four years after Irma, the city says it will pay to get it done in less than two this time.
First, a replacement has to be designed, a process that could take six months. Then, there’s buying materials and rebuilding.
“Based on previous balustrade construction of 180 days, we estimate around 270 days (9 months) for removal of bottom rail, any bulkhead cap repair required, and construction of the new balustrade,” the city responded in an email to WJCT News 89.9.
Memorial Park Association board President Patrick Emmet says he hopes the decorative barrier can be repaired in time for the park’s centennial celebration in December of 2024.
“We are thrilled that they are going to pick up the cost and that they are moving forward with it. We are just hoping that it will be done a little sooner than two years out,” he says, hoping that there’s no delay in the rebuilding.
“We will cross that bridge when we get to it, but we are thrilled that the city is on top of it and we will just hope for the best and push to see if we can get that done,” he says.
Local sculptor Charles Adrian Pillars and the Olmstead Brothers designed the bronze “Life” statue and the park along Riverside Avenue to honor Floridians who died in World War I. It was officially dedicated on Christmas Day of 1924.
Hurricane Irma damaged the balustrade along 600 feet of its riverfront in 2017, and repairs had to wait for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so they were not completed until July of 2021. Then came Hurricane Idalia this August, and more damage.
“We hope it’s built to look the same as it was when it opened in 1924, but built more securely, clearly, for the waves that we tend to see on the St. Johns River,” Emmet says.
City officials say that they are advertising for a builder to design and rebuild the balustrade. But before the city can determine if the last repair was done properly, engineers are still evaluating the bulkhead and the damaged balustrade. They “do not believe there is any damage to the bulkhead, but an engineering inspection will be performed soon,” the city says.
“We are currently evaluating the cause(s) of damage to the balustrade,” the city’s statement continues. “Once we have finished the evaluation, we’ll determine whether any entities besides the city are expected to participate in the costs. We expect to seek reimbursement from FEMA for the cost of repairs caused by storm damage.”
Hurricane Idalia’s damage at Memorial Park became the cover model for a September report titled “Jacksonville’s Approach to Reducing Flooding and Stormwater Runoff Using Green Infrastructure” from the watchdog group Florida TaxWatch.
Green infrastructure, including parks and greenways, the report argues, should be used increasingly to reduce flooding. In Jacksonville, these methods could provide $112.8 million in savings from pollution reduction costs on top of reduced flooding impacts, it says. The report also notes green infrastructure is less costly to maintain than man-made barriers.
The city has installed temporary fencing along the riverfront to protect visitors.