For the past couple of years, it’s been a foregone conclusion that Metropolitan Park’s days are numbered.
No one knows exactly when it will happen yet, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, Shad Khan’s Iguana Investments and The Cordish Companies plan to redevelop the land on which Met Park sits as part of their long-awaited Shipyards project.
Over thirty acres of federal riverfront park land would, under the most recent plans released, be replaced with a large hotel and a new convention center. A new, smaller park would be created on part of the Shipyards land as a replacement.
Whenever it happens, it will bring about an unceremonious end to the underappreciated Metropolitan Park’s short history.
It’s quickly forgotten nowadays that Met Park was the original home of Jacksonville Jazz Festival once it moved from Mayport to downtown Jacksonville in 1982 – the same year that the park’s first phase opened. It also hosted Planet Radio’s Planetfest and its spiritual successor, Welcome to Rockville, as well as the annual World of Nations Celebration and other smaller events.
It essentially played the role that Hemming Park often plays nowadays, as a central hub for key downtown events.
The park, built on federally-owned land that was once used as a landfill, is laid out to suit festivals or other high-traffic events, with walkways that feature covered mini-pavilions and ticket stations and benches along the riverbank for the city’s water taxi service. A 78-slip marina is also available for individual boats.
Its main tented pavilion, along with the surrounding green space, could hold over 10,000 people for concerts.
Catherine Street Fire Museum was moved onto the park’s land in 1993 and opened almost a decade later. In 2000, a playground area dubbed Kids Kampus was added to the green space next to the museum.
But over the past decade or so, the city has seemingly given up on Met Park. A renovation project was completed in 2011 that brought about $4.2 million in improvements as well as the removal of Kids Kampus – this was the city’s last major investment in the property.
The fire museum has since shut down, with no plans set for re-opening. The distinctive tent covering above the main pavilion has been removed. Funds have been diverted away from the park’s operations in favor of other projects.
Most of the events the park hosted have been moved elsewhere by the city. Jazz Festival now comes nowhere near the sports district – but you can bet it will once Khan’s Shipyards development is complete. Welcome to Rockville was moved to Lot J – and as a result, the event opted to leave Jax altogether for 2020.
Soon, rather than rehabbing the perfectly suitable park and opening it up to Bay Street, the city will embark on the mission of helping to fund a massive development project that will likely cost it at least half a million dollars – in addition to what it
Met Park’s biggest issue was always the lack of consistent events to draw people to it. Now that downtown Jax is finally developing consistent events, it seems that Met Park won’t be given a chance to join in on the fun.