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Officials Look to Spring Park Project as Key Piece in Economic Development

Officials Look to Spring Park Project as Key Piece in Economic Development

GREEN COVE SPRINGS | The natural spring that is key to the city’s historic past could help lock in its future, say Green Cove Springs leaders and economic development officials projecting new business and industry could come into the community just as the mineral water now flows through Spring Park into the adjacent St. Johns River.

The city is rebuilding Spring Park pool in a $2.4 million project that also calls for repairing, renovating and upgrading the fragile spring boil, enhancing its outfall and constructing a new pavilion complementing the natural beauty of the park that is a landmark popular with residents and visitors alike.


“What we’re hoping is the whole entire setting of Green Cove Springs, both environmentally and historically as well as economically, produces an ambience that businesses want to be here and our children are going to stay here because they have jobs, because they have parks and because of a small town feel,” Mayor Van Royal said.

Enhancing the spring and its surrounding namesake park – on the riverfront in the heart of the city — will foster that atmosphere along with economic growth, he said.

“The spring has been an economic factor to Green Cove Springs for well over a hundred years,” said Royal, noting over a century ago people flocked to Green Cove Springs for the perceived healing powers of the mineral spring at the heart of Spring Park on the riverfront between Walnut and Spring streets. Hotels, restaurant and other businesses catering to the visitors composed a major portion of the community’s economy during that heyday, he said.

“For us now, we continue to capitalize through the last 125 years on that being the central part of our community,” said Royal, noting the park is the venue for many festivals and other community events as well as annual company picnics by major employers in the city and rest of Clay County.

“It gives us the opportunity to bring people downtown to introduce themselves to the surrounding area,” Royal said. For example, Juan Sabines Guerrero, the Mexican consul based in Orlando, along with his family enjoyed the park during a recent visit that included meetings with industry leaders including Vac-Con Inc., and Hi-Liner Fishing Gear & Tackle, both based in Green Cove Springs that do business around the globe, he said.

“We’ve really tried to tie together the experience of the city, its history and the springs, along with industrial growth and being the centerpiece of the county and the county seat,” Royal said of the renovation project that began last year with demolition of the old City Hall building.

“We knew then we needed to upgrade the pool for it to continue to be the lifeblood of our community,” he said.

The project calls for rebuilding the 135,000-gallon swimming pool, which is fed by the spring. A two-story pavilion will built north of the pool. To keep a historic look, the pavilion will feature stone and stucco walls and a metal roof. It is being constructed on the site of the original City Hall, which was demolished last year. Renovations and improvements include new restrooms, a concession area and activity area. Wheelchair accessible ramps will be installed to ensure the facilities comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The spring boil is where water surges up from the sulphur spring beneath the ground at the park. The spring water feeds the swimming pool then flows down a small creek — Spring Run — to empty into the St. Johns River. The estimated flow rate of the water, which originates in the Floridan aquifer, is about 2,500 to 2,800 gallons per minute, city officials said.

The years have taken a toll on both the spring boil and swimming pool. Both are leaking. Repairing and upgrading them was a priority, Royal said.

The project sounds like a good plan, said Chuck Stable, a longtime resident. Spring Park is a favorite place for him, his wife, Marylou Geiger Stable, and Noodle, the family’s longhair dachshund who strained excitedly against the leash on a recent walk beneath the broad-limbed shade trees and along Spring Run.

“Anything to make this park better. I believe it will be wonderful,” said Stable, adding in his opinion Spring Park already is one of the best parks in Northeast Florida. The planned enhancements will benefit residents, visitors and the community as a whole, he said.

The City Council awarded the contract for the project March 22. Core Construction Inc. of Jacksonville is contractor and Matthews Design Group Inc. of St. Augustine, is the designer.

Groundbreaking will be 10 a.m. April 28. The project could be done by late September or October, Royal said.

Green Cove Springs, now with about 7,000 residents, once was celebrated as “The Saratoga of the South” and “Watering Hole for the Rich.” In the 1800s many travelers journeyed by riverboat down the St. Johns River from Jacksonville to the city. They stayed at grand hotels including the Qui-si-Sana and the Clarendon, which were said to rival famous hotels in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, according to historic records and photographs documenting that time.

As railroads expanded tourist travel farther south, the hotels declined. Spring Park is no longer a national tourist destination. However, river cruise ships continue to dock at Green Cove Springs bringing visitors nine times a year, Royal said.

“It’s still somewhat of a tourist attraction … but certainly a retail area where people come to the park, come to the dock. I hate to say it, but if not for the park and the spring itself, we probably wouldn’t have any of that,” he said of the park, which remains one of the first places city leaders take new business prospects. It was among the selling points resulting in Calavo, a California-based avocado and produce distributor locating in Green Cove Springs last year bringing about 300 jobs, he said.

The Spring Park project can keep such momentum going and open the door for diverse economic development including jobs appealing to millennials as well as promoting ecotourism as a sustainable industry — with both also benefitting Clay County as a whole, said Bill Garrison, president of Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation.

Garrison said the organization is trying to keep millennials in Clay County in part with a high-visibility entrepreneurial support, which is part of the overall economic strategy for the county.

“One of the things millennials like is being close to nature. They like to be able to work a couple hours, take a couple hours and go out to the park and then come back,” Garrison said. “It helps promote that whole Green Cove Springs identity as a place for millennials to stay.

Garrison also said it will help make Green Cove Springs more attractive to regional tourists from throughout Northeast Florida. Green Cove Springs also might become the site of an entrepreneurial center, where small businesses could get help moving up to next level.

Such a center would be a good fit in the city, which offers an unique atmosphere that retains its past ambiance via brick-paved and tree-lined streets as well as its old-fashioned architecture and small shops. Spring Park also is among the few places with public river access in the county. The park project will enhance that attraction, he said.

“Green Cove Springs builds on that reputation as being this environmentally friendly, great little place to go to have family recreation,” said Garrison, noting Spring Park is a relatively short trip via kayak, canoe or boat from Black Creek where Camp Chowenwaw with its camping sites and nature trails connects to the St. Johns River.

Young families also will be drawn to Spring Park with its swimming pool and the planned splash park. All those things are pieces that can fit together in an attractive quality of life appealing to people and businesses locating for a place to set up shop, he said.

The city is paying for the project with local, county and state funding. It’s getting a $250,000 appropriation in the 2016-17 state budget, Clay County is kicking in $700,000. The city will fund the remainder with revenue from its 1-cent traffic sales tax. Because the city is doing the site and drainage work itself, about $755,000 will be saved, Royal said.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $400,000 that state lawmakers had earmarked for the project. Despite that setback, the city went ahead saying the project was too important to abandon. It demolished the dilapidated old City Hall, which was structurally unsound and had been vacant since 2004 when the new City Hall opened its doors at nearby Walnut Street.

Royal also said the project is intended to benefit the community year-round.

“We hope this will become a centerpiece to our past and what we hope our future can be,” Royal said.

By: Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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