At the press conference that unveiled plans for a Four Seasons at Jacksonville’s Northbank, part of the pitch was that it won’t just be for visitors to town. The hotel will be for locals who, for example, go to the restaurant, visit the spa or use the marina.
But just out of curiosity I checked room rates for the closest Four Seasons (Orlando) and picked a date in September, so we’re booking after the peak of the family summer vacation and before winter.
The cheapest room: $ 885.
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Not that most of us will ever spend a night in a Four Seasons here. We’ll likely just go there to get a detox pack of French green clay, seaweed, and grape stem cells (from $ 285 at the Orlando Hotel) or maybe an ounce of Italian caviar ($ 355).
OK, I’ll choose the raisins a bit. But it’s safe to say, with our tongue and caviar off our cheeks, that even if a Four Seasons is built here, most of us won’t spend much time in it.
As we talk about this, I admit that the hotel itself is not that important to me. That’s not to say that I’m against a Four Seasons on our riverside, or that I don’t see an argument for jobs and economic development (though I’m not sure if I should spend $ 100 million in taxpayers’ money). Suffice it to say, I care much more about what will be around it – the potential for the river promenade, marina, and nearby parks.
My dream isn’t a five-star hotel that offers a rejuvenating oxygen facial for $ 290.
It’s a five-star park that offers a rejuvenating slice of oxygen for everyone in all four seasons.
If our riverside is to live up to its potential – if it’s really to be one of the greatest riversides in America – it has to have development and parks. It’s not an either-or equation. It has to contain both. I think Shad Khan, who owns a world class park in Chicago, understands that. Hopefully. And I hope our city guides see more in parks than just hurdles that need to be circumvented and that only need to be considered in retrospect after we have invested public money in private developments. But I am worried.
A run to the Met Park
On a Sunday morning I recently walked downtown, headed east, past the Maxwell House plant (wondered why there wasn’t a coffee shop there) and the empty Shipyards property, crossed Hogans Creek, and finally made my way to the Met Park.
Getting there on foot has never been easy. But since the Hart Bridge fell, it has become even more difficult.
When I got to Met Park, I stopped when I saw the old 7-meter-tall concrete alligator standing there, stick in hand, head tilted back with a toothy grin.
It amused me. So I took a picture and posted something on Twitter saying I was glad to see him still there, looking like a reptilian vaudevil street performer putting on a show for an audience of mine.
I added that I continue to hope that one day we will change that. Not the alligator. The size of his audience.
Rory Diamond, Councilor for the Beaches, saw this post and replied, “So let’s build a whole lot of empty parks downtown. I’m joking, I’m joking. “
That was a few days before the vote on a gas tax hike to fund transportation projects – including some, like the Emerald Trail, that could make Jacksonville more pedestrian-friendly. Diamond had made it clear that he wanted to vote against.
So I admit it. I didn’t think that joke was funny. It struck a chord with the fact that other cities – which we often refer to as places we’d like to imitate – are spending significantly more on parks. Per person. Per park. Per hectare. For almost any measurement you want to use.
I suggested that we build a city that could, among other things, brag about having the best parks in America. I said I’m not kidding.
“Straw man argument,” Diamond replied. “Everyone, including myself, supports the Emerald Trail and parks in general. Being careful about how we pay for them is a good thing. I would say we already have the best parks in America. “
I’ve been thinking about that statement – especially the last part – ever since.
The best parks in America?
I feel like I know our parks (and others) pretty well. We have some remarkable places. And I’ve never valued her more than last year. But the best parks in America?
In the past, I’ve heard some city guides brag that we have the largest parking system in America. (And by some standards, you can make that argument.) We have had leaders committed to moving our parks from the largest to the best. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone argue that we already have the best parks in America.
Each year, the Trust for Public Lands assesses the city’s parks (based on access, investment, acreage, facilities, and equity). We’re currently 87th out of 100. And while I would argue we deserve to rank higher, I would never say we have the best parks in America. I would say we have this potential – if our “thoughtfulness” about how we pay for parks actually leads us to think about how to invest in them.
As other locations have shown quite dramatically, it’s an investment that pays off – not just in the parks themselves, but in economic development as well.
I don’t think it’s great that Khan’s new plan would break up our largest remaining public riverside land – a piece of land already smaller than what you find on the vibrant shores of many other medium-sized cities – by adding the hotel to something used to be a kids campus. However, it is encouraging that the plan is to spend $ 4 million over 20 years to revitalize the Met Park’s remaining 14 acres. And if the Kids Kampus property is moved to the other side of the hotel (which requires government approval) and closer to the city center, it could become part of a new park there.
These parks shouldn’t be a minor matter when planning the riverbank.
When you go to the Four Seasons in Orlando, you can visit the spa and get shots that promise a boost of energy, burn fat and help lift your brain fog, among other things.
Do you know what that can do and more? Something that has been shown to boost energy, burn fat and, when combined with the right development, boost economic growth?
A five star park.
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