Upon opening late this year, Unity Plaza will be an urban park and amphitheater located along Riverside Avenue largely inspired in both event programing and aesthetics by our native environment and its proximity to the St. Johns River. Unity Plaza will be a showcase of Northeast Florida native botany, the foundation of the park’s landscaping, as well as be a home for the St. Johns Riverkeeper to publically explore the sensitivity of our river with Jacksonvillians of all ages through events and campus signage.
Unity Plaza will feature a lush, urban botanical garden, both bee and butterfly friendly, on the 12,000 square foot corner of Forest and Magnolia Streets. There it will highlight perennial and annual flora, ground cover, vine plants, shrubbery and trees in order to demonstrate to the public the stunning opportunity and feasibility of planting with natives. For example, flowering plants such as the White Tupelo Tree, famous for its honey and found along the shores of streams and lakes in St. Johns County and a prime nectar source in Florida will be found among its gardens.
Research, design and planning for this project will be led by downtown advocate and award winning landscape architect Chris Flagg. As shared by Katherine Hardwick on Downtown Vision’s dynamic blog (downtownjacksonville.org), ‘Chris Flagg is a true Downtown champion. His firm, FLAGG Design Studio, LLC, specializes in community planning, urban design and campus master planning. He is past chair of DVI’s board of directors and has served on multiple committees including the Executive, “Great Streets,” Advocacy and Green committees, the board of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and the Office of Economic Development’s Downtown Development Review Board. His professional involvement in Downtown development includes the redevelopment of Laura Street, lead designer on Friendship Fountain, the Laura Street Façade Improvement Grant Program and the redevelopment plans for the Southbank Riverwalk replacement.’
Pre-planning for Unity Plaza included a 2007 $4 million dollar remodel of the former 4:1 grade FDOT retention pond by land donor NAI Hallmark Partners to transform a 2 acre wasteland into a commanding, state-of-the-art water collecting and cleansing system for storm water runoff in Brooklyn, parts of Riverside and Downtown Jacksonville. The gardens will receive their irrigation from the pond waters while the St. Johns Riverkeeper will use Unity Plaza as a platform for river education utilizing the amphitheater and multiple events as new beacons for sharing the environmental protection needs of the St. Johns River and its value as a community asset.