Museum district vision taking shape in downtown Jacksonville with USS Orleck set to arrive

Jacksonville Fire Museum will also be moving this weekend, closing part of Bay Street

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – The vision for a museum district is starting to take shape downtown with the impending arrival of the USS Orleck and the move of the Jacksonville Fire Museum this weekend.

The USS Orleck will be the centerpiece of Jacksonville’s Naval Museum, and it’s set to arrive by Saturday. In addition to the Orleck’s arrival, the Jacksonville Fire Museum will also be moving to the area on Saturday as well.

RELATED: USS Orleck expected to arrive this weekend in Jacksonville

“It says, finally, the Navy town, the third-largest Navy town in the U.S., finally gets a museum ship, and we were the only ones without one,” said Craig Bernat, with the Jacksonville Naval Museum. “And the ship even though it wasn’t the Adams, this is the second most historic ship that the Navy has, so that says a lot right there the history of the ship.”

At a news conference Friday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced that the Orleck will be temporarily docked along the Northbank Riverwalk in front of the Hyatt Regency for several months until its permanent home located off the Shipyards can be properly outfitted.

“Sometimes things take time. I’m just glad we were able to park it here for a period of time since it’s coming in early and it’s home will be ready at the right time,” Curry said.

There are some who are concerned that the permanent site is not ready ahead of the ship’s arrival. But Lori Boyer, head of the Downtown Investment Authority, said it should all work out.

“Not all of the conditions of docking at Pier One have been satisfied, but that’s not to say we think there is any problem with their ability to satisfy them. I think they will do that,” Boyer said.

The Jacksonville Naval Museum said that it is planning on the Orleck to arrive outside the St. Johns River channel early Saturday morning and that the goal is to start the transit at 7:30 a.m.

From there, it could take four to six hours, so the old destroyer could arrive downtown anytime between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., according to the Jacksonville Naval Museum. To track the progress of the ship as it makes its way to downtown, visit

“So what we will see is the USS Orleck coming down the river, the fireboats will be parading it in, shooting water up in the air. It’s going to be a great show, and people lining the river banks to help her out,” said Justin Weakland with the Jacksonville Naval Museum.

Weakland said bringing a navy ship to Jacksonville for a museum has been 12 years in the making.

“We preserved it very well in the dry dock in Texas,” Weakland said of the Orleck. “What we will see is kind of how the ship looked when it served in Vietnam. So it’s just going to look amazing.”

It’s costing over $2 million to make this happen. The state put in $1 million. VyStar Credit Union is picking up much of the tab. Private donors have also contributed.

The plan is for the ship to be a naval museum, expected to open in June, just in time for the city’s bicentennial.

“The work on the inside -- we have some cosmetic things to do and clean out and get the exhibit set back up,” Weakland said.

Jacksonville Fire Museum will also be moving this weekend, closing part of Bay Street

Clarence Hill, a Navy veteran, says he’s excited about the ship coming to Jacksonville.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s going to give a lot of opportunity to younger people,” Hill said.

Traffic impacted by move of Jacksonville Fire Museum

Joining the USS Orleck on the Northbank will be the Jacksonville Fire Museum.

This weekend, it will be slowly making its way from Kids Kampus back to where it was originally built near Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters before it was moved in the early 1990s. There, it is expected to be placed on its new foundation, and then additional work will have to be done before the museum can reopen.

That move will pave the way for the new Four Season’s Hotel planned by Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

As part of the move, Bay Street will be closed from A. Philip Randolph Boulevard to Liberty Street from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Monday.

Work on Friendship Fountain continues

Also downtown, efforts to restore Friendship Fountain on the Southbank to its former glory are underway. The much-delayed, million-dollar repairs are now nearing completion.

“The updated Friendship Fountain will undergo final testing this weekend for an upcoming grand reveal,” Curry said.

The new features also underwent testing Thursday night, giving it a high-tech look. Another test is set for around 8 p.m. Friday.

The fountain has been shut down for several years, and now the city is planning to reopen it this summer.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.