Initiative in the midst of reinvigorating College Drive

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 6/15/22

ORANGE PARK – College Drive only spans about 2.5 miles, bridging key county arteries Blanding Boulevard and County Road 220, and it supports residents, businesses, St. Johns River State College, …

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Initiative in the midst of reinvigorating College Drive

Posted

ORANGE PARK – College Drive only spans about 2.5 miles, bridging key county arteries Blanding Boulevard and County Road 220, and it supports residents, businesses, St. Johns River State College, the arts and healthcare.

Connie Thomas, a former Orange Park Mayor, is the primary advocate and coordinator for the initiative. Four teams are handling the area’s destination potential, education on the project, safety and aesthetics of the area and community events. Thomas said the groups are in the implementation phase of enhancing the area.

“I think we have so many people who are passionate about College Drive. They put in 5-10 hours a week or more,” Thomas said. “Many people have put in their personal money, whether it's flyers or sponsoring the food truck nights or making banners.”

Thomas said the initiative’s members have conducted forums and collected data from residents and businesses.

College Drive supports the county’s largest performing arts venue, the Thrasher-Horne Center. It has a Veterans Affairs Clinic and a U.S. Post Office location. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has a hub at the clinic, bringing more people to the area.

Thomas said people want unique mixed-use and beautification.

“We’re trying to be proactive to what’s happening out there,” she said. “People want some places to go and have lunch, not just for businesses, but for students. For the crowd that attends the Thrasher-Horne, people want dinner and a show.”

Yvette Musgrove runs Yum A Southern Market near the County Road 220 side of College Drive. Seven years ago when she opened her business, she said there was nothing out there.

“What they’re planning is kind of incredible,” she said of the initiative.

Musgrove said making College Drive walkable is a tough proposition but she welcomed new landscaping and more foot traffic.

“It’s always been point A to point B and never considered busy,” Musgrove said. “With what’s proposed, it would be entirely different.”

Now & Then Mall owner Tina O’Donnell said she moved her business to College Drive from Kingsley Avenue about two years ago.

“This is a better location with a bigger storefront,” she said. “I’d like more small businesses, not necessarily storage facilities.

Part of College Drive reinvigoration involves the county’s nonprofits. Mercy Support Services Executive Director R. Patrick Hayle approved of what the initiative means for the people who live and work there.

It also benefited cooperation between nonprofits and made organizations like Mercy Support Services more centrally located. Pace Center for Girls and The Way Free Medical Clinic will be new arrivals.

“College Drive is a good place to operate for a nonprofit if we partner with each other instead of going all over the county,” Hayle said.

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