Unity Plaza is a movement. On the surface, it is a non-profit urban and performance park in the rising Jacksonville riverfront neighborhood known as Brooklyn. But make no mistake, it is a life-enhancing movement – Unity Plaza has a focus on inclusivity, bringing together the diversity of Jacksonville’s expansive neighborhoods through events and activities that uplift us, individually and as a whole. It is the relentless work of civic leaders committed to building a platform for extraordinary connection and collaboration. Unity Plaza began as one man’s vision for Jacksonville with the end goal of being a community’s shared vision and creation.
Alex Coley is the visionary and land donor of Unity
Plaza. He is a soft-spoken man, yet his altruism roars with anticipation of seeing a collaborative space in the Bold New City of the South. He has a personal motive: A father watching his only son grow up and move away to college, his hope is that, once graduated, his son will want to make Jacksonville his home. A real estate developer, he has longed for an iconic meeting place within Jacksonville’s greater metropolitan area. The vision has been ten years in the making. Coley spent much of this time researching other cities’ iconic places, specifically Bryant Park in New York City and Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland. Almost every major city has such a location, now it’s Jacksonville’s turn. In the past year, the construction site at 220 Riverside Avenue has been a symbol of rebirth, renewal, restoration, revitalization, and forward momentum.
The intention has always been to use national best practices in order to deliver a transformative location where the community experiences the mission. Unity Plaza is a life enriching urban park and gathering space designed to uplift, educate, and entertain Jacksonville through 365 days of wellness, performing arts and community engagement activities. A strategic and holistic approach to programming is at the heart of Unity Plaza. Jen Jones, the non-profit’s executive director, and Kristi Lee Schatz, director of
wellness, are the heartbeat of the mission. Jones brings the vision to life whenever she speaks about it: “Unity Plaza is the people’s plaza. It’s a gathering space to showcase the best of what we have here. And we can’t know where we are going unless we know where we come from. Let’s articulate our civic history by us all coming together and identify who we are and where we are going,” she says.
Schatz, who simmers with creativity, adds, “For me, Unity Plaza represents an inclusive place for authentic connection and experiential education that can potentially increase our level of self-awareness and overall sense of well-being as a community.”
Unity Plaza’s mission-based movement consists of three pillars: Wellness, Performing Arts, and Community Engagement. The Wellness Program is a preventive and whole-person-focused resource designed to nourish us physically and emotionally. Activities include: 365 days of yoga, guided meditation, lunch and learns, and financial management workshops. Schatz, responsible for coordinating the yearly wellness roster, says, “By hosting ongoing events for physical, social, emotional, spiritual, financial, and occupational wellness, we will play our part in ensuring that each person, no matter what their circumstances may be, has equal access to inspiring and uplifting resources in order to become their best self.”
Article written by Toni Hernandez