The genesis of the concept came from Riverside Avondale Preservation’s (RAP) founder Dr. Wayne Wood, who was visiting Portland, Oregon, in 1993. He happened upon the Portland Saturday Market, an outdoor art market partially covered by an old bridge. Over 750,000 people visit the Portland Market every year. The weather-proof market idea seemed very adaptable to the space under Jacksonville’s Fuller Warren Bridge, which was then in the planning stage for replacement.
Wood returned to Jacksonville and convinced the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to support the project and to dedicate the usual under-the-bridge landscaping funds to accommodate the Arts Market’s amenities and requirements. Wood secured the backing of city officials as well. The concept would allow parking under the bridge during the week for Black Knight Financial (located next door to the bridge) and the Arts Market on the weekend.
A committee was formed to make the Riverside Arts Market a reality. Founding members were Doug Coleman, Wayne Wood, Pamela Telis, Cindy Guy, and Teresa Brady. With Coleman as the leader of the group, the committee spent the a year prior to opening working on creating a market out of nothing. They saw art in the broadest sense of creation and wanted to bring all forms of handcrafted art to the market, whether it was artisanal food, traditional art, or performing arts. The founding committee wanted RAM to be an incubator and catalyst to energize people in the community, provide a place for people to meet and support local businesses, and to enjoy the beautiful venue that RAM is located at. Arts and Farmers Markets at the time were a rare thing, and the founders wanted to make sure it was a reflection of the local community.
Architect Melody Bishop (a former chairman of RAP) was selected as the architect for the Riverwalk connecting Downtown to the Fuller Warren Bridge, and her vision to integrate the Arts Market space with the riverfront pedestrian corridor was ingenious and creative. Parking spaces would become artists’ spaces on the weekend. Restrooms and a riverfront performance stage were built in. Utilities for artists’ booths, lighting, and visually attractive festival spaces were integrated into the area. Landscaping, decorative paving, and lighting under the bridge were all designed to enhance the market experience.