A group of experienced members of the American Institute of Architects, Jacksonville Chapter (AIA JAX) have been meeting regularly since 2011, organizing events and activities which facilitated their involvement and participation in the chapter, particularly engagement with the younger emerging design professionals (EDPs). Our meetings included the current AIA chapter president and the leader of the EDPs. Discussion of accomplishing a real project for the community was a constant meeting topic. In 2015, we noted the many proposed large public and private projects planned along both sides of the river downtown with no overall context or vision as to how they would fit together to create a composition which is unique to Jacksonville. Many of the projects were led by developers, whose planning was primarily focused on their individual projects and sites. We discussed how the magnitude of any of the projects proposed would not singly constitute a Jacksonville riverfront identity. Under the leadership of John Zona and Dave Engdahl, this discussion led to our undertaking the initiative of developing an overall river-focused vision for downtown.
We began studying other well-known cities which were developed around a river, how the river was leveraged as the center of events and activities, and how the river tied into the city forming a comprehensive and unique whole. We compared the scale of those cities and rivers to Jacksonville. We reviewed the approved Northbank and Southbank Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) plans, which recommended beginning development at the riverfront and then progressively into the city. The vision initially developed by Zona and Engdahl was a series of Jacksonville-centric pedestrian activity nodes, perhaps 12, developed along the river walks at key points, spaced at about a 10-minute walk apart, with pedestrian links connecting to the city. This vision creates a comprehensive framework into which existing, current, and unknown future projects will fit on both sides of the river. To visually connect the activity nodes along and across the river, each node will contain a hundred-foot tower which we named a marker. Markers will denote the activity node locations and will be visible from one node to another. Lasers on the markers will provide for light shows between markers along and across the river. We believe the markers, in aggregate, will provide a uniquely Jacksonville riverfront identity both day and night. After spending considerable effort determining the appropriate Jacksonville marker image, we created a water-focused design—a waveform sculpture which we believe all Jacksonville constituencies can understand and to which they can relate.