What began as a leisurely Sunday morning walk turned into a journey through, forgive me the cliché, the Twilight Zone. I live on Southside Boulevard and began walking south toward The Avenues mall. The sidewalk abruptly ends at Western Lake Drive. There is no sidewalk under the Interstate 95 connector overpass or the rest of the way to the mall. It seemed safer and quieter to go another way. One sidewalk ended, so I channeled my best Shel Silverstein and began walking the sidewalk along Western Lake Drive.
Commuters use Western Lake Drive as a bypass to Baymeadows Road. Off to the left is Lake Pointe Business Center. It has no outlet, so only company employees or patrons turn left at the stop sign at Western Way. The area was deserted on Sunday, so I began walking toward the back of the complex. The buildings and grounds around the lake are well-manicured, except for the wasteland at the very end — keyword and emphasis on "waste."
The area looks to be 15 to 20 acres. Underground electricity, water and sewer are all in place. I walked the entire circuit; the asphalt seems in good shape. However, all the parking spaces are overgrown with weeds and grass gone wild. Curbed islands along the main drive seem to be waiting for shrubs that were never planted. The area has become a dumping ground for some, a party spot for others, and a likely haven for the homeless. It is a scene from a movie where everything has been abandoned. I looked at an aerial photo (thanks, Google), and the area is a few hundred yards from the mall. The only people who see it are those driving the connector, working in the business center, or living in the apartments overlooking the lake.
I understand that a lot of money was invested to clear the land, bury electric lines, and pipe in water and sewer. The land seems to ache for activity, yet I noticed more than a few vacancies in some of the buildings. I have seen others along Western Way. I believe the economy would have to improve significantly to see some of those vacancies filled. It would take a miracle to see anything built on that vacant property. Once upon a time, there was probably a great vision here, but someone must have bailed on the plans. The dream is still here, waiting for someone to realize it. Maybe if …
Clearwater is my hometown, and a family donated properties for park use. Yes, the two parks are named after the family. It might be a longshot, but this land at Lake Pointe South would also make a great park. The foundation is already there; electricity and water are already in place. There is ample room for shelters, playground, basketball or tennis courts and a little league baseball or soccer field. There is even room for a dog park. Jacksonville has no park near here; the closest one is Losco Regional Park.
I realize the complications. No one wants to walk away from a big investment, so the next best thing would be recouping losses. That might mean cutting the property loose. Jacksonville might be tight on cash, but some kind of deal including tax breaks must be possible. The Southside needs something like this. I need something like this. We all need to dream.
I began walking home, still locked into a dream that felt so real I could see children on the playground, smell hotdogs on the grill, and hear cheers for teams playing on the fields. Halfway home, the traffic on Southside Boulevard began intruding on my thoughts, but I remembered my dream. I need to find a way to make it happen.
Couch is 55 and a senior studying journalism in mass media at the University of North Florida. A recent transplant from Clearwater, he's still learning about Jacksonville. He walks and rides his bicycle to explore his new home.