Metropolitan Park is seen looking east, where a stage once sat. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville TodayMetropolitan Park is seen looking east, where a stage once sat. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today
Metropolitan Park is seen looking east, where a stage once sat. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

Public offers suggestions to ‘reimagine’ Metro Park

Published on April 18, 2024 at 11:44 am

Tracey Arpen was there in the early 1980s when live oak trees were first planted at Metropolitan Park as part of the park’s construction.

A former assistant city attorney and a past president of Greenscape of Jacksonville, Arpen was one of many attending an open house this week at the Main Library that sought ideas on a reimagined Metropolitan Park on the St. Johns River.

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Arpen’s main desire: Don’t get rid of those now-mature oaks.

“You can put pickleball, tennis and volleyball courts at any park in the city,” Arpen said Wednesday. “This is a unique riverfront park. It needs to celebrate its location and not just be turned into another neighborhood playground and park. … One thing I definitely don’t think we need there is another major waterfront restaurant.”

Nearby, Jacksonville Children’s Chorus President Darren Dailey was gazing at an aerial map of the 42-year-old park. The space is mostly grass now after a huge stage that was home to major musical acts as well as the Jacksonville Jazz Festival was removed years ago. His desire is to rebuild the stage so his chorus and others could use it.

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“We need a place where thousands of people can gather outside to hear live music in a variety of styles, some symphonic, some of it jazz, some of it cover bands,” Dailey said. “It doesn’t really matter the style, but the size of the venue has to be substantial because we don’t have that in Jacksonville and surrounding counties. … I’m thrilled that they are reinvesting in this.”

Darren Dailey, head of the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus, selects a community pavilion as one possible addition to a rejuvenated Metropolitan Park. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

The park occupies waterfront land between the Four Seasons hotel under construction on Gator Bowl Boulevard, and WJCT Public Media. The land was purchased in mid-1972 with a $1 million grant, and park development began with in 1982, adding an exhibition area for arts and crafts shows, picnic and playground sites, and the tented performance stage. A $1 million project later added paved walkways, lighting, landscaping, parking and playground areas.

The Jazz Festival moved there in 1982, when WJCT ran it. The city took over the event in 2003, and it remained at Metropolitan Park through 2008, when it moved to other venues Downtown. (The Jazz Festival will return to Metropolitan Park from May 23 to 26, with some performances across Gator Bowl Boulevard at Daily’s Place.) 

Residents peruse possible design features at a revitalized Metropolitan Park during Wednesday’s open house allowing the public to suggest ideas for the riverfront site. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

Since then, the park has been home to music festivals, Starry Nights, the World of Nations Celebration and other events, even after the stage was removed in 2016. But it has been quiet much of the time, even as the Four Seasons Hotel is built to its west, one of a number of development projects planned or underway for the mostly vacant Downtown riverfront.

With $13 million set aside in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, a Metropolitan Park Revitalization team was formed to begin the redesign. The first phase kicked off with the four-hour-long open house Wednesday.

An aerial map in the center of the room gave visitors a chance to see the park as it is now, a large empty lawn ringed by trees with riverfront docks, gazebos, walkways and bathrooms. They could also tag it with little flags with their comments.

Comments and ideas for Metropolitan Park were written on tiny flags tapped into the aerial map of the site. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

Visitors talked to consultants about what they want done with the park across from EverBank Stadium. Then they were given adhesive dots to mark signs showing possible additions to the park, from community stage and nature walks to outdoor classrooms.

Scott Jordan leads the project design team as part of Denver-based Civitas urban design and landscape architecture, a firm the city brought in to help design the park.

He called the open house a reimagining of what the communal space can be. He wants the public to help design a park that is “part of the everyday experience.”

“It could be more of a garden space; it could be a bunch of picnic pavilions and shade shelters,” Jordan said “That is what we are wanting to hear from the community — what would make them want to go to the park every day and make it an active, vibrant place as an eastern anchor to the riverfront. … If we don’t aim high enough and we just end up with a bland park that is probably a failure for everybody.”

A few design alternatives will be shown in late May at another open house, based on the feedback from Wednesday and the results of an online survey.

Response to those would lead to a preferred concept by late summer, then a final design, park funding set aside in the current budget.

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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