Today, City of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and environmental nonprofit Groundwork Jacksonville hosted the groundbreaking of the inaugural segment of the Emerald Trail. Construction of the project, named the LaVilla Link—connecting Brooklyn to LaVilla and the S-Line Rail Link—will begin in September and take approximately one year to construct. The estimated construction cost is $8.9 million.
According to Kay Ehas, CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville, “I could not be more delighted to celebrate this significant milestone in the development of the much-anticipated Emerald Trail. This has been a collective vision for almost a century and one of the primary goals for establishing a Groundwork Trust locally. I am so proud of our city, and of our Groundwork staff and Board of Directors and very thankful to our generous donors.”
The 14-feet-wide concrete pedestrian/bicycle trail is designed for both active and passive recreation with abundant shade trees and native plantings. From Park and Stonewall streets in Brooklyn, the 1.3-mile LaVilla Link crosses over the Park Street Bridge and heads north along Lee Street. It then turns west at Church Street and meanders northward across Beaver Street until reaching the S-Line Rail Trail at Wilcox Street and State Street in the Railyard District.The 30-mile Emerald Trail is a public-private partnership between the City and Groundwork that will connect 14 historic urban neighborhoods to downtown, the St. Johns River, McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek when completed by 2029. Design of the next segment along Hogan Street from the St. Johns River to Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) began in June.
“This is a historic day for our city that will benefit our citizens for generations to come,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “It has taken years of hard work and commitment from many in our community to bring us to this moment. I am grateful to all who played a part, but especially to Groundwork Jacksonville, the Jacksonville City Council, and to the many private funders who continue to recognize the importance and benefits of a project like this and are investing in its success.”
The LaVilla Link will honor the LaVilla neighborhood through wayfinding, storyboards and public art installations while connecting to the historic landmarks Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park and Florida C. Dwight Memorial Playground (Park). It also will feature signature points of interest that are being funded by private donors, including: The Park Street bridge overlook funded by a challenge grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Fund at the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida; the Lee Street Pond boardwalk and overlook funded by the David C. Miller Fund; and the butterfly garden along W. Church Street just east of I-95 being funded by the Late Bloomers Garden Club.
The LaVilla Link of the Emerald trail was designed by Pond
, a full-service architecture, engineering, planning and construction firm
based in Atlanta, Ga. with offices in Jacksonville. Pond has designed and implemented more than 400 miles of greenway and multi-use trail projects throughout the south including work on the Atlanta BeltLine.
The LaVilla Link will be constructed by Astra Group, LLC
, a general contractor and site development contractor that specializes in building public spaces, trails and parks. Astra has completed some of the most well-known projects in the southeast including the Atlanta BeltLine, the high-profile $2.8 billion rails-to-trails project that will link 45 neighborhoods in downtown Atlanta.
“We are honored to work with Groundwork Jacksonville and the City of Jacksonville to complete the LaVilla Link, the first segment of the planned Emerald Trail. Astra has been fortunate to build similar transformational projects in other major metropolitan areas, and we understand the impact such projects can have on the community. We couldn’t be more excited to be a partner in this project, as we are a huge advocate of connecting communities through more active living in beautiful public spaces,” said Andrew Lindsay, President of Astra Group.
About the Emerald Trail: The LaVilla Link Model Project is part of the Emerald Trail Master Plan that was developed by Groundwork Jacksonville and was adopted by City Council on March 26, 2019. The master plan was created in collaboration with the PATH Foundation and KAIZEN Collaborative and was privately underwritten by a donation from JTC Running (JTC) as well as through grants from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the Giving Forward Community Endowment Fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.
The Emerald Trail will link 16 schools, two colleges and 21 parks among other destinations like restaurants, retail and businesses, with an additional 13 schools and 17 parks located within three blocks of the trail. A catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, economic development, recreation, tourism, mobility, and improved community health, the Emerald Trail will transform Jacksonville’s urban core.
About Groundwork Jacksonville: Groundwork Jacksonville, Inc., is the city’s nonprofit partner in building the Emerald Trail and restoring McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek. The Jacksonville Trust was formed in 2014 by the City of Jacksonville, in partnership with the US National Park Service, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Groundwork USA. Groundwork is one of 21 Trusts across the country and the only Trust in Florida. For more information visit www.groundworkjax.org, or follow @GroundworkJax.
Emerald Trail Model Project (LaVilla Link) Points of Interest
Park Street at Stonewall Street
The southern end of the LaVilla Link connects Brooklyn to LaVilla. At this point the Emerald Trail converges with two other projects currently under design – the Park Street Road Diet and the McCoys Creek restoration and trail design.
The Emerald Trail takes over the existing elevated walkway to create a pedestrian path separated from runners and cyclists. The two northbound lanes are repurposed for active recreation and plantings including a bioswale to filter storm water runoff. The entrance will feature raised planters with native plants as well as a large Emerald Trail sign or art installation. A decorative pedestrian railing is added to the existing barrier wall for pedestrian safety.
Park Street Bridge
At the crest of the bridge, elevated seating areas encourage users to stop and enjoy the vistas of McCoys Creek and the railyards to the west, and the city skyline to the east. The existing barrier wall is replaced with a decorative railing with clear panels so that views are unobstructed. Story panels in between the shade structures will allow for art, wayfinding and storytelling.
Park Street at Convention Center
At the base of the bridge, installation of shades trees, native plants and lighting will transform the entrance of the Prime F. Osborn Convention Center and showcase the stately beauty of the building and the existing fountain. Decorative crosswalks with bollards will prevent vehicle encroachment on the trail and improve user safety.
A road diet along Lee Street from Bay Street to Houston Street slows traffic and creates a tree-lined canopy along the Emerald Trail into LaVilla. Planters on the east side of trail provide separation from vehicle traffic and create a shaded walking area. The overhead Skyway Express provides an opportunity for a mural to reinforce the gateway into LaVilla.
Farther north, Lee Street is dramatically improved with a road diet that incorporates a median with native plants and shade trees. Not only will this “green” up this section of the trail, eliminating pavement and narrowing vehicular lanes will calm traffic and create a safer and more attractive pedestrian environment for the neighborhood residents as well as those visiting the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park, currently being designed by the City.
Lee Street Pond
The current storm water retention pond with standard grassy slopes becomes a major focal point along the trail. A low-maintenance boardwalk runs immediately adjacent to the pond and provides a wonderful opportunity for bird watching and aquatic viewing. Existing large oak trees are preserved and a shaded
overlook area is provided complete with bench seating and “porch swings.” Aquatic/wetland plantings are added to help improve the water quality of the pond.
Florida C. Dwight Memorial Playground
The Emerald Trail will follow the perimeter of Florida C Dwight Park, at the corner of Church Street and Eaverson Street. Existing trees will be preserved, and shade trees and plantings added to create a picturesque backdrop for this historic landmark honoring Florida Dwight, the playground’s first recreation director and woman who pioneered organized recreation for the city’s African American community. The trail layout will be coordinated with COJ Parks Recreation & Community Services’ future park plans.
The LaVilla Link connects with the S-Line Rail Link in a warehouse district perfect for future development of breweries, restaurants, markets or studios. Architectural planters create greenspace and interest within this limited right-of-way.
The cross walk at State Street is raised and brightly marked to slow traffic and improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.