Can parking keep pace with new Brooklyn developments?

As parking gets tight for Unity Plaza, officials hope to encourage bicycle use

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Brooklyn area of Jacksonville is booming with new restaurants and stores, including Hobnob, a restaurant set to open March 25 inside Riverside 220 near Unity Plaza.

But as businesses continue to spring up, locals are concerned about how the area is going to accommodate all the new foot traffic.

"It's been very awesome to be here and see everything starting to develop and become new and exciting instead of crime-ridden,” Burrito Gallery manager Jessica Williams said.

Williams' restaurant is one of the newest in Brooklyn Station, near Riverside, and she said business has been great.

"There's a lot of foot traffic, so we get a lot of people,” Williams said.

But with all the new development, parking gets tight.

"This parking lot gets loaded up really easily. At lunch it's packed,” Williams said. “Luckily we have a dirt lot next door that people end up in."

Next door, Unity Plaza has become a hot spot for large events and performances. With several restaurants and the 220 Riverside apartments, parking has become more of a problem. Signs have been posted to keep Unity Plaza patrons from taking up spaces at Brooklyn Station.

"There's no doubt that parking is a question of concern,” said Kristi Lee Schatz, executive director of Unity Plaza. “We definitely have in development several ideas for how we're going to utilize the property that's owned around."

A dirt lot provides temporary parking, as well as an empty lot behind 220 Riverside.

Florida Blue across the street also offers up its parking lot during special events, and the parking garage for the residents of 220 Riverside offers free parking during the day to area visitors.

In all, Unity Plaza developers said they can accommodate about 3,000 people during large events.

"Then there's development in the talks about potential parking garages around town,” Schatz said.

Schatz said real estate developers Hallmark Partners are working with the Unity Plaza officials to come up with a permanent solution.

But they have to wait for other developments, like a proposed hotel and another apartment complex, before they can lock down their plans.

"We're hoping to shift the community culture of 'I need a big lot to go in' to 'I can get on my bike and go down there,'” Schatz said.

Schatz said plans are in the works to install bike stations and offer bike valets to open up more parking spots.

The new Hobnob restaurant offers a chef-driven menu with global inspiration and local intentions, and a bar and lounge inside the eatery.