A River Runs Through It

A calm, cool presence winds its way through our concrete jungle, one that other downtowns would kill for. Jacksonville was born on the banks of the St. Johns River – and the start of the city remains the heart of Downtown today. The Northbank supported a bustling maritime industry with the last shipyards operational into the 1980s – just visit the Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center at The Jacksonville Landing for a glimpse into its history. Downtown’s Southbank enjoyed a turn-of-the-century entertainment destination boasting a 30-acre Dixieland Amusement Park and Ostrich Farm, the setting for numerous silent films, from 1907 to 1916.

Today, the St. Johns is a source of recreation. If your first instinct this summer is to hit the beach, consider its urban counterpart instead. With more than 10 riverfront restaurants, parks, marinas, events, and more, nowhere will you find more opportunities on the river than in Downtown.
Home to concerts and events, Metropolitan Park and Marina offers picnic shelters and grills along the river making it the perfect spot for company picnics and family gatherings. Friendship Fountain, adjacent to the River City Brewing Co. Marina, was home to the world’s largest and tallest fountain when it opened in 1965. Today, fully restored, it features spectacular light shows at night.
Every Saturday the Riverside Arts Market offers on-the-river, under-the-bridge access to hundreds of local artisans, food vendors and live entertainment. A riverfront staple for more than two decades, The Jacksonville Landing hosts hundreds of events annually, including two remaining “Downtown Lights Up Your Summer Nights“ fireworks on Friday, July 4 and Saturday, August 2.
Don’t have a boat to take out on the river? No problem. From public tours to private charters set sail on the Annabelle Lee, an authentic steamwheeler, the Lady St. Johns paddleboat or the Foxy Lady Skipperliner. Or paddle out with First Coast Outfitters on their kayak tours that depart from Downtown and include a stop at Exchange Club Island.
Whether to clear your mind, treat your body or sooth your soul, there’s no more scenic way to exercise. Walk, run, bike (or dance walk – yes, it’s a thing) along the Northbank Riverwalk or try a circuit over the Main Street and Acosta bridges. Currently under construction, the City is replacing the entire expanse of the Southbank Riverwalk. Scheduled for completion in February 2015 this will restore our full 2.77 miles of Riverwalk in Downtown.
With so much already to do, we also have one hundred and fifteen acres of vacant publicly owned land on the riverfront and an opportunity to develop this land smartly to give the community new experiences and to encourage active, healthy lifestyles. Recently we held a tweet chat to ask the community what they want to see. Here are some of the highlights.
What do you want to see on the riverfront?
@caitfinn9: Would love to see more riverfront restaurants + bars, green spaces with running paths.
@ridger84: More dining. Watch boat racing. Put concert stage on barges in River. Imagine Jimmy Buffet.
What do you not want to see on the riverfront?
@ANGELABRUN0: Anything overtly commercial…#DTJax has so many unique places & spaces, I’d hate to see XYZ Corporation detract from that identity.
@IrvAdams: Do NOT use all the riverfront land for private development. Leave the best section for public park access.
How can we capture the identity of Jax on the riverfront?
@DNAustin: The bridges. BUT, they need TLC! Proper paint jobs, more lit-up. I loved @MainStBridge during the Super Bowl…”
@Caprickah: Finally getting the USS Adams here would capture Jax’s identity. Almost every major city on the water has floating museums.

Take some time to enjoy our river this summer. Information on attractions can be found at www.dtjax.org. While you’re at it, reflect on what you want to see our riverfront become. Visit blogdtjax.com and search “riverfront” to weigh in.

About Katherine Hardwick