Emerald Trail project injecting money into Jacksonville’s Urban Core

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —

A major development that’s expected to transform downtown is expected to start construction in just a few months. 

No, we’re not talking about the Shipyards.

This is bigger.

The 30 mile Emerald Trail will connect Jacksonville neighborhoods that need investment. They’re about to get millions, and right now, investors are already targeting the trail.

Downtown development in Jacksonville has centered on the Shipyards for years, but there is another project that already has millions of dollars budgeted, with plans for actual construction in months.

This project covers 30 miles and 14 neighborhoods throughout the city.

“It is a major infrastructure project throughout the urban core which hasn’t had a lot of infrastructure investment,” Kay Ehas is CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville.

She’s spearheading the development of the Emerald Trail.

It’s a path she says will pave the way for the transformation of neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades.

“Even before we put a shovel in the ground, people are buying properties near it to be able to participate,” she said.

Dillon Baynes bought the Union Terminal warehouse four blocks from the sports complex.

His property is also on the Emerald Trail.  He plans to restore the historic building into shops, restaurants, bars, and hundreds of apartments over the next two years.

Which is the same time the Emerald Trail is expected to be built through his property.

“In jacksonville just like atlanta it will start slow but build up,” Baynes said.

He would know. He owns property in Atlanta along the Beltline-a development very much like the Emerald Trail.

“It’s really been a game changer,” Baynes said, “Thousands and thousands of market rate housing units have come online in the last 6 years. Thousands of work force housing units have come online in last few years. A bunch of employers have chosen to move into town.”

Ehas added, “The Atlanta Beltline with a 500 million dollar public investment generated 4 billion dollars in economic development.”

Baynes says hundreds of businesses have moved in along the beltline, creating thousands of jobs, “Employers want to locate where their people want to live and play. it’s just been really dynamic.”

The transformation is already underway in Lavilla.

JTA’s headquarters and apartments have been built recently along the skyway.

The Park Street Bridge will be the first segment of the Emerald Trail to be built.

It will be 1.3 miles long and connect Brooklyn over McCoys Creek to the S-line rail trail.

Ehas said, “We’re hoping it will start by the first of the year and it should take about a year to complete. In the meantime, in the next month we’re going to start designing the next two segments.”

Ehas said $5 million is in next year’s city budget for construction of the Lavilla segment.  She says she hopes to build the next two segments in 2022.  That would be another 2.5 miles of the Emerald Trail.

In the 30-mile plan, the Emerald Trail would connect 14 neighborhoods, 16 schools, and 21 parks.  It would also connect the Riverwalk, the Shipyards, and the sports complex.