Workers manage sidewalk and walkway construction at Friendship Fountain on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9Workers manage sidewalk and walkway construction at Friendship Fountain on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9
Workers manage sidewalk and walkway construction at Friendship Fountain on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9

Friendship Fountain looked finished on national TV. It isn’t.

Published on December 20, 2023 at 3:42 pm

Fans of Sunday Night Football noticed something most Jacksonville residents haven’t seen since 2020 — Friendship Fountain’s high jets arching into the night sky, illuminated by a rainbow of color.

Walk up to the 58-year-old fountain now, and you’ll see something much different.

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The fountain itself, under renovation for two years, appears done. And it’s had some test runs in recent months, most recently last weekend so NBC Sports could get those iconic game shots.

But the shade structures, gardens, benches and more planned around it are not finished. Concrete is still being laid around the fountain’s outer rim as markers show where sidewalks will eventually be laid.

Workers pour concrete under pergolas that ring the almost-completed Friendship Fountain as work continues on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9

The fountain was supposed to be done by now, said Daryl Joseph, the city’s parks and community services director. But its unveiling is now set for February as the first phase of a park next to the Southbank Riverwalk and Main Street Bridge, he said.

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Joseph said he can’t wait to see it fully ready for future network closeups.

“When you think about Jacksonville, you think about Friendship Fountain,” he said. “We thought it was important with having the national exposure of Monday and Sunday night football, to be able to show a prelude of what this fountain is going to do and what it will mean to Downtown Jacksonville. We were really excited to have it on, but we look forward to having it on in the future on a more consistent basis. So we look forward to February.”

The fountain dates back to a 1965 design by architect Taylor Hardwick. Huge futuristic mushroom canopies shaded benches back then. The park was originally 14 acres in size, while the fountain was known for having the highest jets of water in Florida, historic records show.

Workers pour concrete Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, on a sidewalk ringing Friendship Fountain. | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9

The park size was cut down when the River City Brewing Co. restaurant — now gone — was built on part of its waterfront site 30 years ago. Then in 2011, the fountain was renovated after the Jacksonville Historical Society listed it as one of the city’s 14 most endangered historic buildings. The $3.1 million restoration included new pumps and pipes that allowed it to shoot water 200 feet into the air, plus heavily updated lighting and sound systems.

Then came this latest redesign, a two-year, $6 million renovation that was supposed to start in 2020, then was delayed a year. It includes a new fountain wall design with a walkway around it. Pergolas with shaded seating will cradle the fountain’s east side, with a children’s park along the Main Street Bridge side.

A wedding garden is planned to the south of the fountain, with a “whimsical garden” along its northern riverfront side. The park also will include integrated sound systems, with new lights and more.

This is the design of the Friendship Fountain park. | Downtown Jacksonville

The fountain system had successful tests starting 15 months ago, with more in recent weeks. But with COVID-19 and the supply issues that followed, the park’s phases were delayed.

“The construction will be wrapping up at the end of January,” Joseph said. “The actual fountain and the light show component, which is actually paired with musical selections, will be complete as well as the sidewalks and walkways that will be around the fountain with benches.”

The next phase of Friendship Fountain’s park — the “whimsical garden” — is now set to open to the public by summer, Joseph said. Then the wedding garden and playground is the last part of the project, but no date for construction or completion has been finalized, he said.

With the delays comes additional costs, about $350,000 over the original estimate, Joseph said.

“A lot of that, when we talk about delays, goes back to the shipping timelines. A lot of this is speciality equipment,” he said. “This is one of our older facilities from a Downtown standpoint. So with the aging infrastructure, it is important for that to be attractive And it is also important to ensure that this fountain functions at a high level for many years to come.”

Fencing still surrounds Friendship Fountain as work continues to add sidewalks, benches and other amenities around the Southbank site, as seen from the Main Street Bridge. | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9

Next to the fountain, where River City Brewing Co. shut down in July 2021, Miami-based Related Group plans a 24-story residential tower with 410 residential units.

No plans have been announced for the building housing the Museum of Science & History next door to the fountain. It will be empty when MOSH moves to the Northbank in a few years as part of a planned stretch of commercial, retail, recreational and residential development along East Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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