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vicupstate

Jax Park System: From largest to best

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Recommendations on parks need fair evaluation

An important step will be taken this week in determining the future of our parks system.

Thanks to the land-buying spree under Mayor John Delaney's Preservation Project, the system is often described as the biggest in the nation.

Mayor John Peyton wants to turn it into the best and, last April, he assigned a task force the job of finding the best course to achieve that goal. It will issue its report on Tuesday.

The 14-member task force -- chaired by attorney Rufus Pennington and made up of people who truly care about our parks -- turned out to be a task force extraordinaire.

It didn't just take a cursory look and slap together some recommendations. It thoroughly studied how our current parks system works and spent hours drawing on the knowledge of experts from around the country.

These citizens voluntarily gave of their time because they thought the task assigned them was critical to our quality of life.

The full task force met 22 times and various subcommittees of the task force met another 23 times.

The number of hours put in by all of the task force members was more than 2,000.

They went on field trips. They held meetings throughout the city to seek input from the public. They brought in nationally known experts such as Peter Harnik, who wrote "The Excellent City Park System: What Makes It Great and How To Get There," and Brian O'Neill, superintendent of The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, considered a model for the National Park System.

I mention all of this to point out that when the task force's recommendations are made on Tuesday, in a presentation at 10 a.m. at Sisters Creek Marina, they deserve careful consideration.

They were not hastily drawn. They are the product of hours of study, work and debate. It will be up to the Mayor's Office and the City Council to implement them.

In all likelihood, some on the council won't be happy with some of the recommendations. For too many years, parks have been the political playground of council members, usually district council members. That's one of the reasons our parks system hasn't reached its potential.

The task force members put forth the monumental effort they did because, like most of us, they want to see that potential achieved.

We all want parks that are well maintained and safe. We want our parks to be well equipped and to provide venues for all kinds of sports and recreation. We want more access to preservation property so we can more easily enjoy the natural resources we are so fortunate to have.

We want a parks system that meets the needs of all areas of town. We want a parks system that is an exclamation point for why Jacksonville is such a great place to live.

Last April, Peyton assigned this task force the job of designing a course to get us there. If the City Council doesn't give its report careful thought and fair evaluation, it will not only be a slap in the face of these people who gave so much of their time, it also will be a slap in the face of all of us who want a better Jacksonville.

ron.littlepagejacksonville.com, (904) 359-4284

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While I expect and hope to see plans to open up access to the 70+ sq. miles of new park land the city has bought in the last few years, I also hope there is adequate attention to the parks in the already developed areas. In particular I hope the condition of Klutho/Confederate Park is addressed. Also, I would like to see the Hogan's Creek and McCoy's Creek banks developed into parks as well.

I look forward to the details.

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Task Force recommends Downtown park

A task force created by Mayor John Peyton to consider Jacksonville's park system is recommending the city add a Downtown park and identify a stable funding source.

The Parks Task Force, created in April 2004 and lead by Chairman Rufus Pennington, presented its findings and recommendations to Peyton Tuesday at Sisters Creek Marina.

The task force also recommended blending the city initiative to preserve Duval County land, Preservation Project Jacksonville, into the Department of Parks, Recreation and Entertainment.

The task force studied all of the city's parks and Preservation Project Jacksonville properties as well as other publicly owned properties in the county.

After educating themselves on the situation and holding meetings and public hearings, the task force divided into five subcommittees to review specific areas, with subcommittee reports used by the whole task force to form its recommendations.

"When the Mayor formed the task force he said that we were charged with creating a different park system, one for which there is no prescribed primer," Pennington said. "To me, that means that everything is on the table."

With more than 340 parks and 50,000 acres of Preservation Project land, Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the continental United States.

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Task force recommends funding, organizational overhaul to improve city parks

By MARY KELLI PALKA

The Times-Union

Jacksonville's parks department and preservation project should be merged into one entity, the city should come up with a dedicated stream of funding to maintain those parks and a governing board should be established to oversee the work, a city parks task force reported Tuesday.

The 12-member task force, appointed last April by Mayor John Peyton, presented its findings for improving the city's park system at a news conference today.

The recommendations included an overhaul in the operational setup of the parks department, including merging the city's preserved land with other regional parks, seeking private funds to help improve parks and maintain them and establishing a board to do much of the oversight. Another recommendation was dedicating money, possibly from property taxes, to pay for capital expenses.

Task force chairman Rufus Pennington highlighted some of the findings after describing the city's current park system as "underfunded" and parks as "under maintained."

Peyton said he was impressed by the task force's work and he's deeply committed to the effort to improve the park system, but that it will require further review to study implications of the recommendations, especially costs.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Times-Union.

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I noticed there was a security guard in Confederate Park today and that there were no homeless people there. I actually parked the car, got out the camera and took a stroll around the park. Its really got a lot of potential. The old cadillac dealership and Parkview hotel would really make nice residential spots, if those contaminated sites can somehow be clean. In their current state, they're the biggest eyesore around that area.

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I think those would be great sites for affordable condos for younger people/families. I dont understand this contamination issue. Where is the alleged contamination? Under the existing buildings? I think a lot of these "contamination" issues are overblown, but if there is some, cant we get some kind of brownfield grant to clean it up? As to Confederate Park, it is a nice place potentially, but they need to work on ridding the area of homeless, re-landscape it all and remove the unsightly fencing. Oh, and it should retain its name. There is no reason to try to rewrite history as someone suggested earlier.

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A little over a year ago, the Parkview was purchased and there were plans to demolish the building and replace it with a +25 story apartment tower, with a double diamond top.

Unfortunately, those plans died when it was discovered that about 100 years ago there was some sort of chemical plant that produced gas out of coal the exact same site. The nasty byproduct this process created still remains there. The old cad dealership and hotel were built on the site before anyone knew anything about ground contamination. As I understand it, at one point the city was going to help out cleaning it because it was partially the city's fault. However, that was a couple of months ago. Now the owner has put the building back on the market.

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Panel calls for parks overhaul

Mayor's task force plan includes a governing board, new funding strategy.

By MARY KELLI PALKA

The Times-Union

Jacksonville should overhaul the way it manages, funds and maintains its parks, according to a report from a task force appointed by Mayor John Peyton.

The following are some of the recommendations from a task force appointed by Mayor John Peyton in an effort to make Jacksonville's park system the best in the country:

Merge the Preservation Project initiative with the city's parks department.

Peyton should appoint a governing board to help with policy, funding issues and develop partnerships with other public and private entities to benefit parks and recreation.

The parks department should be reorganized, headed by an executive director and chief operating officer and aided by a community relations director.

The city should create six community recreation boards to make recommendations on needs in the six planning districts. Each community board should be represented on a larger advisory board.

The city should form two new non-profit agencies to raise funds for capital improvement and coordinate volunteers.

Each park should have its own park keeper responsible for services and quality at the parks.

The city should increase its parks staff and funding.

Park improvements should be based on need and a criteria-driven plan.

The city should make the necessary improvements to meet state requirements for recreational needs through 2010.

The city needs an annual capital improvements budget.

The parks department should have civil engineers and landscape architects on staff to assist in planning larger projects.

The city's parks and planning departments should work closer together, especially on zoning issues.

The city should hire 12 park rangers and also start a parks law enforcement unit at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Some of the proposed changes include not giving property owners the tax-rate reductions they've had for 10 years in an effort to put more money into the parks, merging the city's parks departments with the Preservation Project and forming a mayor-appointed governing board to oversee the system.

And instead of City Council members divvying up bond money to pay for park improvements in individual districts, the task force recommended looking at the entire system's needs and funding improvements using a criteria-based plan approved by the council.

Peyton appointed the task force in April 2004 to help figure out a way to make what is already considered the largest urban parks system in the country the best system.

Task force member Lanny Russell said the report is a conceptual plan and not every recommendation has to be followed. But he said the group believes if all the recommendations were followed, the city's park system would be the best. That has been one of Peyton's goals since he took office in 2003.

Peyton said he was impressed with the task force's ideas and supports many of them. He said he would need to do more of a review to see monetary and other implications of some of the proposed changes.

Some City Council members have already expressed concerns about some of the recommendations. For instance, the task force recommended in its report that a dedicated portion of property taxes could be used to pay for some of the park costs.

During the past 10 years, the city has reduced the property tax rate. The task force recommended no more rate cuts and using the extra property tax revenue to fund parks.

Council member Lad Daniels said the tax-rate reductions have been good for the city and he's not happy about stopping them. City officials have said $226 million has been left in taxpayers' pockets through 10 years of lower tax rates.

Other money that could be used to beef up the park system's budget is user fees, tree mitigation fees and revenues from the sale of surplus property, according to the report.

More money is necessary, said Task Force Chairman Rufus Pennington, because the park system is underfunded and parks are under-maintained. He points to statistics that show the city spent $28 per resident in 2003 on parks maintenance. Cities such as Denver and Minneapolis, which Jacksonville officials said are considered having the best park systems in the nation, spend more than five times that amount.

Terry Johnson, a Fort Caroline Athletic Association board member, agrees the city doesn't put enough emphasis on maintaining parks.

At Dunes II Regional Park, the city recently did work on a soccer field. During the construction, the parks sprinkler system broke and the park went without water for months, causing the grass on the baseball field to die, Johnson said.

"I think we expand so much and we're not taking care of the ones we have," Johnson said.

But a lack of recurring revenue for parks hasn't stopped the amount of park space from growing. In 1999, Mayor John Delaney started the Preservation Project to grow the city's park system and protect land that could otherwise be developed.

Jacksonville now has 342 parks and along with state and federal partnerships has almost 50,000 acres of preserved land. The city is responsible for managing almost 9,000 acres of that preserved land.

Funding for the parks often comes from capital improvement projects, such as the voter-approved Better Jacksonville Plan, plus the parks department has an annual operating budget of $27 million.

The task force suggested seeking private donations. Pennington said many of the people interested in giving money would want a level of trust that the money would be used effectively. That's why the task force recommended a governing board made up of 11 members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. Similar to the library board members who oversee the city's library system, the parks board would set policy and present the department's budget to the mayor and council.

On Monday, council President Elaine Brown and council members Suzanne Jenkins, Sharon Copeland, Art Graham and Lynette Self met with Pennington, Russell and Peyton spokeswoman Susie Wiles to learn about the recommendations.

The public wasn't given notice of the meeting, Wiles said, which she said was the fault of Peyton's office.

Self said Tuesday she thinks the report has some very good ideas, pointing specifically to having park keepers responsible for service and maintenance at each park. She said she also agrees that additional funding is necessary and she's open to using money that the city could collect if it didn't reduce the property rate.

"I think it's money that individually to the taxpayer is not a huge refund or tax break, but if you put it together, it makes a huge impact," Self said.

Self said another option for more funding could be having developers pay an amount of money deemed to be fair to improve parks in the neighborhood with the new houses, Self said.

Peyton said he hadn't made up his mind on the need for dedicated funding stream or specifically where the money would come from.

"The philosophical question is should parks compete with other public services," Peyton said.

During his campaign, Peyton pledged no new taxes. Wiles couldn't be reached last night to say if Peyton would consider it a property tax increase.

Daniels said having tax-rate reductions force the government to prioritize what's important to the community.

"We've really been able to do an awful lot for residents of this city," Daniels said.

Daniels said he also has reservations about merging the Preservation Project with the parks department. He said he fears the city won't be focused enough on active recreation, such as baseball and soccer fields, if the merger occurs.

"I've got some real soul searching to do," Daniels said.

Self said she also has concerns about the governing board.

Under the Better Jacksonville Plan, each of the 14 district council members received $1 million to spend on parks in that district. It's a system that's worked well, Self said.

"I have some issues with turning so much over to that board," Self said.

Plus, Councilman Art Graham said the council is able to use that money to leverage funds from other agencies for the residents.

"I don't know if a governing board would be able to go and leverage the money that way," Graham said.

Park maintenance

Parks maintenance cost per resident by city in 2003:

Jacksonville $28

Phoenix $120

Chicago $131

Cincinnati $132

Minneapolis $160

Denver $170

Source: Jacksonville Parks Task Force

mary.palkajacksonville.com, (904) 359-4104

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A good spot for another downtown park would be the block surrounded by Adams, Broad, Clay and Monroe Streets. This would stimulate development, along with the new courthouse, in LaVilla, as well as make Adams Street more pedestrian friendly from the site to the downtown core. Nevertheless, if any money is to be found, I think it should be spend fixing up Klutho and Confederate Parks, plus making a linear park along Hogan's Creek to connect them to the riverwalk, at the Shipyards. This would do a lot more for downtown and Springfield, then any other park site would.

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Task Force recommends Downtown park

A task force created by Mayor John Peyton to consider Jacksonville's park system is recommending the city add a Downtown park and identify a stable funding source.

The Parks Task Force, created in April 2004 and lead by Chairman Rufus Pennington, presented its findings and recommendations to Peyton Tuesday at Sisters Creek Marina.

The task force also recommended blending the city initiative to preserve Duval County land, Preservation Project Jacksonville, into the Department of Parks, Recreation and Entertainment.

The task force studied all of the city's parks and Preservation Project Jacksonville properties as well as other publicly owned properties in the county.

After educating themselves on the situation and holding meetings and public hearings, the task force divided into five subcommittees to review specific areas, with subcommittee reports used by the whole task force to form its recommendations.

"When the Mayor formed the task force he said that we were charged with creating a different park system, one for which there is no prescribed primer," Pennington said. "To me, that means that everything is on the table."

With more than 340 parks and 50,000 acres of Preservation Project land, Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the continental United States.

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A good spot for another downtown park would be the block surrounded by Adams, Broad, Clay and Monroe Streets.  This would stimulate development, along with the new courthouse, in LaVilla, as well as make Adams Street more pedestrian friendly from the site to the downtown core.  Nevertheless, if any money is to be found, I think it should be spend fixing up Klutho and Confederate Parks, plus making a linear park along Hogan's Creek to connect them to the riverwalk, at the Shipyards.  This would do a lot more for downtown and Springfield, then any other park site would.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This weekend, I was looking at my downtown map, specifically the courthouse site. If the Broad-Monroe-Clay-Duval block were merged with the Clay-Monroe-Pearl-Duval block, you could get about 130,000 sq. ft. An eight-story building would give the city 1,000,000 sq. ft. That is the latest courthouse requirement, I believe. This would also only close ONE block of Clay street, and no other blocks of any street. The East -West throughfares of Monroe, Adams and Duval would not needed to be closed.

I think the Clay-Adams-Pearl-Monroe block could be turned into a park or public square with a couple of levels of underground parking for jurors. The remaining public parking would be put in a garage in the large non-square block of Clay-Forsyth-Pearl-Adams. Of course, it would have street level retail. Additionally, offices and/or residential condos could go on top of the garage levels.

That would leave two blocks, (1-Broad-Adams-Clay-Monroe & 2-Pearl-Adams-Julia-Monroe) available for the city to sell to private parties. That would raise money to pay for the courthouse overruns and provide two full-block sites for mixed use projects, each of which would border the park.

Putting the garage south of the park would increase the security of the courthouse and populate the park with pedestrians walking from the courthouse to the garage and vice versa. Also having a large garage next door would increase the value of the Greyhound station property, thus giving them incentive to sell it and move elsewhere.

The courthouse itself could still provide basement parking for the judges, as called for in the original plans.

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Lakelander, I'm glad to hear that Confederate Park was decent the other day! Come to think of it, we didn't see any homeless when we were driving around Springfield.... I'd like to see all those old white bridges touched up and maybe even some potted flowers hanging from them.

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Well, I'm just getting in from spending the weekend in Savannah and Charleston. Other than the historic architecture, the main thing that stood out about these places was the quality and quantity of their parks. With that said, we could REALLY benefit from sprucing up Confederate Park to adding small pocket parks and tot lots in strategic places.

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The article "Urban Forest" means a lot more after reading this.

Jacksonville does have a great park system and it is only getting better. I would

still like to see more suburban parks similar to the Riverside/San Marco areas of

town within typical walking distance.

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