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After 10 years, Unity Plaza opens to public

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents driving down Riverside Avenue may have noticed some big changes in the Brooklyn area. Along with new shops and restaurants the new Unity Plaza Park has opened up.

After about 10 years of planning, the Unity Plaza, a nonprofit urban park with an amphitheater, was finally introduced.

The new park includes a mobile stage for entertainment, an amphitheater and plenty of open space for the public to enjoy.

"We've done the demographic work, and between the events and four restaurants that are opening around the park, we estimate that over 2 million people will be coming to this area on an annual basis," Jennifer Jones, executive director of Unity Plaza, said.

Developers hope Unity Plaza will do just that, unite the people of Jacksonville. It has activities scheduled every day, including concerts, art shows, festivals and free yoga sessions.

"I lived in Jacksonville my whole life, and I remember 30 years ago when I used to ride Riverside Avenue, and it was nothing but woods and old houses and I always dreamed that at some point we could revitalize this community," city councilman Reginald Gaffney said.

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The Unity Plaza is not only trying to foster community oriented programs; it is also trying to help the economy, with several businesses planning to open in the plaza soon.

One of those businesses is Sbraga & Company, a new restaurant that is still under construction but plans to open right to Unity Plaza.

The name may sound familiar to some people. Kevin Sbraga, the owner, was a winner of TV's "Top Chef."

"The sole purpose of me coming here was really to be a part of Unity Plaza, so naturally I'm very excited about it," Sbraga said.

Sbraga (pictured below) is one of many to open up shop near the new park, and he's excited to get his business open.

"I feel excited. I feel relieved. I was here a year and a half ago and there was nothing but a pile of dirt, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, how is this thing going to happen, how am I going to open a restaurant here?'" Sbraga said.

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And that change is just the beginning for the plaza with plans in the works for a wellness pavilion, Magnolia Street Lawn and food and drink kiosks.

"I see growth in Jacksonville. I see job creation. But more than that, I see everybody coming together for one cause," Gaffney said.

Though many of the programs have already started at Unity Plaza the rest are expected to begin Oct. 15.

News4Jax will also be a part of Unity Plaza with the launch of a new lifestyle and entertainment show, "River City Live."

Live shows are scheduled every day, with performances straight from Unity Plaza, led by new hosts Mark Payton and Eden Kendall, who were at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and said they're really excited to be a part of the new development.

"We want to get in there and have a good time so you can really meet the people of Jacksonville, the business owners, the folks behind the nonprofits. If everything goes as planned, it's going be a party every day," Kendall said.

River City Live will be on Channel 4 at 11 a.m. daily starting Oct. 26.