The things now happening around our waterways are impressive and encouraging.
The theme of “making our natural asset our greatest asset” is actually taking place.
One year ago, City Councilwoman Lori Boyer, then the council president, launched an effort to accomplish something that had been a goal for years — taking advantage of the St. Johns River, the city’s creeks, the Intracoastal Waterway and its tidal marshes, and our beaches.
San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, we were reminded time after time, had done that with their waterways. Jacksonville had mostly just talked about it.
But last November more than 100 people came to City Hall on a weekday afternoon to listen to Boyer explain what she wanted to do.
Much was already being done by different groups wanting to accomplish the dream of making our waterways more accessible to residents and visitors alike and making water to Jacksonville what music is to Nashville and food is to New Orleans.
Boyer would be the conductor who tied the groups and ideas into a common effort.
The enthusiasm in the room was high.
I had seen such enthusiasm about our waterways before, enthusiasm that always faded before the goal was reached.
That’s not happening this time. Boyer isn’t going to let it.
When the group met again last week to talk about ideas and accomplishments, the room was still crowded and the enthusiasm still high.
There’s another thing that’s different this time around. It’s the usual missing ingredient — money.
Thanks to the budget proposed by Mayor Lenny Curry and approved by the City Council, with Boyer making sure waterway projects were included, there’s actually money to turn dreams into reality.
And here’s the other exciting part: Work is underway.
Friendship Fountain on the Southbank is being restored so that streams of water reflecting a rainbow of colors will shoot high into the air once again.
The improvements there will be the first of numerous “nodes” on the Southbank and Northbank riverwalks that will draw attention to our riverfront.
How about light and laser shows? The goal is to create a “wow factor” that will bring people to our Downtown.
Confidence is high that such projects are going to happen.
Work is also beginning on another long talked about project — creation of the Emerald Necklace around Downtown.
Money is now available to start work on the McCoys Creek leg of the necklace, both on the greenway and improving the creek, which has the potential to become our version of the much envied San Antonio River Walk.
Launches for kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are being built.
Work will begin on improving and extending the Southbank Riverwalk.
It isn’t just about Downtown. A rowing center is envisioned for the Arlington River. Improvements are in the works for many of our waterfront parks, including one of our jewels, the Betz Tiger Point Preserve.
This is the time for big dreams for our waterways. It’s also the time for getting things done.
Boyer is a master at finding money, either through the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan or state and federal grants.
A lack of money has often been the stumbling block that prevents Jacksonville from moving forward. Another has been a lack of resolve to follow through.
With money now in hand and more to come, and with a commitment to act, not only by Boyer but also by those who have come to meeting after meeting, this is going to happen.
After years of trying, our natural asset will become our greatest asset.
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