JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After years of delays and spending $2 million more than budgeted, the rebuilt Southbank Riverwalk opened to the public Thursday.
Mayor Alvin Brown and Jacksonville City Council members attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon.
The city spent $17 million to demolish the original wooden structure constructed in 1985 and rebuild it with a concrete riverwalk that runs three-quarters of a mile from Friendship Park to the Duval County School Board building.
"This newly redesigned Southbank Riverwalk will add even more momentum to our downtown riverfront and serve as a destination for our residents and visitors," Mayor Alvin Brown said in a statement.
The new riverwalk features two floating docks, two permanent slips for dinner cruise boats, space for public events and a Navy memorial with interactive fountain.
The price was increased from the original $15 million set aside by former Mayor John Peyton five years ago. Developers said they could not complete redesign of the entire riverwalk for that price, so the City Council appropriated the additional money last year.
In many areas, the new riverwalk is not as wide as the old structure. Once City Council members raised concerns about large benches blocking parts of the walkway, the city reduced the size of the benches by 2 feet.
"We made some adjustments in the seating. The good news is we had a guaranteed maximum price for this and so any changes were done under that," city spokesman Dave DeCamp said. "We were able to make a more enjoyable experience and that is the ultimate goal."
The majority of those at the opening ceremony Thursday were very impressed and said they believe that this was a good investment by the city.
"I can't wait for the Fourth of July to see it filled with people," Councilman Warren Jones said.
There are fewer access points than the original riverwalk had, but it also includes new lighting.
Councilman Don Redman had expressed concerns about the width of the riverwalk and its practicality for bikers. He was out on his bike Thursday and didn't have any issues.
"I think it's much improved over what the original design was," Redman said. "It will work."
At one narrower point, a man on a scooter was able to pass a woman with a baby stroller without any trouble.
"Because this is kind of underutilized, I think that with the number of people that come out here there's definitely enough space," Heather Horovitz said. "I guess with two strollers you would probably get stuck, (but) there are rarely two strollers out here. It's nice. It's very good looking."
The riverwalk is open until 10 p.m. No fishing is allowed.