There’s a long way to go, but a running club’s $50,000 donation has started a push by nonprofit Groundwork Jacksonville to bankroll designs to connect six miles of trails through the city’s core.
“It’s huge,” Groundwork CEO Kay Ehas said of the gift from JTC Running that was the first step in a roughly $430,000 fundraising effort to help pay for the designs.
The new visuals will detail work being planned to remake a 1.3-mile stretch of the old S Line rail route crossing Springfield and surrounding neighborhoods. That section, called the S Line Connector, would connect with trails to its north and south to form an unbroken route from downtown’s Brooklyn area to Norwood Plaza near Gateway Mall on the Northside.
The city has tentatively scheduled $2.8 million in its 2021-22 capital budget to build the connector, but before then the city has an agreement with Groundwork that each will pay half of the estimated $860,000 design bill.
To have the designs ready in time, Groundwork is trying to raise its share of the project cost by December. Ehas said she the group is asking wealthy donors and grant-giving foundations but having a substantial part of the money already on hand is helping to get the project started.
In addition to two existing stretches of the S Line, construction is scheduled to start this year on a model leg of Groundwork’s Emerald Trail, a web of greenways intended to eventually stretch for 30 miles and include the S Line.
The model section will run from the S Line’s southern endpoint near Myrtle Avenue in LaVilla to Park Street in Brooklyn near McCoys Creek.
Being able to run or bike a trail from McCoys Creek to the Northside could have real appeal, said Larry Roberts, president of JTC Running, the club that organizes the annual Gate River Run and other First Coast races.
He said some JTC members already use the northern leg of the S Line, which passes near Evergreen Cemetery, but it’s not that well known because it’s out of the way for many people.
A Northside route that passes through downtown has more visibility and, Roberts said, could find Southside fans when a multi-use path the Department of Transportation is building alongside the Fuller Warren Bridge is completed next year, making it easier to bike from one side of the river to the other and learn about new parts of town.
“I just think it’s a great idea for inclusiveness,” he said of Groundwork’s project.
Early steps to design the S Line Connector could start next month for part of the plans needed around the Phoenix Arts District along Liberty Street.
The 4.5-acre complex of warehouses is targeted for conversion into artist studios and workshops, galleries and apartments. Ehas said having some design in hand could help both her group and people interested in the new district taking shape there.
Initial renderings of the S Line Connector emphasize walkways, landscaping and lighting, but the final designs have to be specific and detailed enough for contractors to actually build.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Groundwork Jacksonville design to link downtown, Northside trails with S Line ‘Connector’