City of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and environmental nonprofit Groundwork Jacksonville hosted the groundbreaking of the inaugural segment of the Emerald Trail on Tues., Aug., 24. 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.