Editor’s Note: In a new series debuting right here with Void, Jesse Wilson is taking a look at the history of our beautiful city and how where we’ve come from is paving the way for where this city is headed. Enjoy taking a stroll down memory lane and learn something new about Jacksonville and the surrounding North Florida area most of us call home.
If one was asked to name off neighborhoods in Jacksonville’s Urban Core, the most popular mentions would undoubtedly be Riverside, San Marco and Springfield. The three bask in rich history and culture and are experiencing momentous revitalization.
Unbeknownst to many as it is swallowed up by the neighboring communities sits another notable neighborhood poised to profess its history and experience its own rise along the St. Johns River’s western shore.
Brooklyn. Yes Jacksonville has its own Brooklyn, but don’t expect New York density and architecture. Instead this has become an area of decay and vacancy that has long outlived its heyday.
Brooklyn spans from the St. Johns River between the Acosta and Fuller Warren Bridge back to interstate 95 and is considered part of the greater Downtown Jacksonville area. With a population of less than 300 spread out in an area of almost half a square mile, Brooklyn is a largely commercial and industrial area housing businesses that include the Haskell Company, the YMCA, Fidelity and several railroad lines. This has not always been the characterization of the area though.
The community was birthed in 1801 as Dell’s Bluff, an 800-acre plantation when Governor White granted a concession to Philip Dell. After the Civil War it was acquired by confederate Miles Price.
The area eventually decreased in size when a portion of about 500-acres was sold to Boston billionaire John M. Forbes on June 8, 1868. This segment would later be established into Riverside Park. The neighborhood that would still be known as Brooklyn was developed by Dell and became largely residential with a population of 1000 sprawled amongst houses and mansions and its own streetcar line. This demographic was retained for about 100 years into the late 20th century when skyscrapers began to take shape along Riverside Avenue.
Today Brooklyn is approaching another changing point in its timeline. With the development of 220 Riverside, “an upscale urban residential community that includes retail space, water views, secure parking, restaurants, cutting-edge technology and a vibrant park,” and the expansion of the Skyway, there is potential for this to become Jacksonville’s greatest neighborhood.
The developer, Hallmark Partners, broke ground for 220 Riverside on November 13, 2012 and when complete around summer 2014 it will more than double the community’s residents with 294 residential units. Perhaps more exciting than the building itself will be the new park, known as Unity Plaza, about the size of a football field complete with an amphitheater and the ability to accommodate more than 1,000 people and numerous events throughout the year.
Additional growth comes through the YMCA who has approved plans for a $21 Million facility to be built behind the existing one, which upon completion will be torn down and replaced with a parking lot. The 3-story, 80,000-square-foot facility will not only possess a modern flare but additional literacy and health classes for 5,000 children in the centers target area.
Plans are also in the works for grocers and additional retail along Riverside Ave.
Currently the Riverside Arts Market serves as the barrier for Riverside and Brooklyn and when (not if) the JTA skyway expands along Riverside Ave., it will connect what is arguably Jacksonville’s fastest growing and most popular neighborhood of Riverside with Brooklyn and Downtown. This would not only give new life to the skyway system but to Downtown, Riverside and…. Brooklyn. This means a resident would be able have access to grocers, pharmacies, retailers and bars all without starting their car.
So what does the future beyond 2014 look like for Brooklyn?
Perhaps the streetcars of old will make a comeback and carry a bustling community of passengers consisting of professionals, families and students to work and school and recreation. Perhaps Brooklyn becomes Jacksonville’s crown jewel. Perhaps Brooklyn becomes the metaphorical phoenix for what is to become for Jacksonville.
Perhaps Brooklyn’s heyday has not yet happened after all.