Unity Plaza taking shape as Brooklyn oasis

Almost 10 years ago, an idea was born to create a community park for Downtown’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Last week, that idea – Unity Plaza – was put in motion with its final approval by the Downtown Development Review Board. Construction will soon be underway, with Unity Plaza slated to open by fall 2014.

Unity PlazaAbout Unity Plaza

Unity Plaza will be situated on the west end of the new 220 Riverside mixed-use residential/retail development adjacent to Riverside Avenue in Brooklyn. Main features include a central, terraced green space and a pond with a fountain, all centered on a bandshell.

In addition to its physical elements, Unity Plaza’s entire campus will feature free Wi-Fi access 24 hours daily and a state-of-the-art sound system built into the bandshell that will compliment the shape and materials of the park in consideration of neighboring residents, businesses and office buildings.

The team

Jen Jones
Jen Jones

The Unity Plaza visioning company, NAI Hallmark Partners, owned the land upon which the 220 Riverside development sits. The company donated the park property from their 11-acre campus for Unity Plaza. Hallmark plans to fund the nonprofit entity formed to manage the Plaza effort – Jacksonville Unity Plaza Inc. – with a portion of 220 Riverside retail rents.

Announced in spring, Jen Jones was hired as the nonprofit’s executive director. Jones looks forward to collaborating with civic groups and community leaders to make the park a true destination for locals and visitors. In a recent EU Jacksonville article, Jones said:

“It’s very important for all of us involved that this be a space for transformation. And that transformation will come in the guise of performing and visual arts. It will also come in the guise of health and wellness and leadership conferences, as well as supporting other nonprofits to give them a home. This will be a space for everyone from all walks of life. It takes a village to build a dream – and a thoughtful and successful public-private partnership.”

Proposed events, activities and amenities

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 4.27.48 PMJones and her team have spent the better part of six months fostering relationships with the nation’s top outdoor programmed spaces to provide Jacksonville an urban park aimed to “electrify and enlighten” the community. The Unity Plaza team has met executive directors of Balboa Park, Bryant Park, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Santa Fe Railyards Park and several others, from which the nickname “Baby Bryant Park” for Unity Plaza has emerged.

Jones sees the park incorporating board games and family-style game concepts as well as seasonal and holiday events, including a large Christmas tree during the holiday season. In addition, an events partnership with Metro Jacksonville is in the works, including a historic neighborhood education series.

Jacksonville Unity Plaza Inc. is also currently working with Washington, D.C.-based food and beverage consultants VSAG to provide best practices and curation of food selections, beverage choices and themes featured in 220 Riverside restaurants, as well as outlying food and beverage kiosks that will pepper the park.

Looking forward

Bryant Park, inspiration for Unity Plaza
Bryant Park, inspiration for Unity Plaza

Dubbed by its Facebook page as “a life-enhancing urban and performance park,” Unity Plaza is on its way to revitalizing our city center with its multi-disciplinary entertainment hub set to complement and strengthen Downtown’s culture and community. As its mission statement describes:

“Unity Plaza is an inclusive home for our community to connect, celebrate who we are and lift us to our highest selves. Through performing and visual art, wellness, education and leadership experiences we will nourish the community consciousness to ignite the divine spark alive in each of our souls.”

DVI can’t wait to see what the future holds for Unity Plaza, a catalyst for the revitalization of Downtown’s Brooklyn district.