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Nonprofit closer to running Hemming Plaza

Contract calls for $1 million city investment

Posted: April 8, 2014 - 6:14pm  |  Updated: April 8, 2014 - 9:17pm
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Bob.Self@jacksonville.com  Volunteers with Friends of Hemming Park have already landscaped the plaza. Volunteer Elizabeth Baldree plants a coontie palm in the park.  The Florida Times-Union
The Florida Times-Union
Bob.Self@jacksonville.com Volunteers with Friends of Hemming Park have already landscaped the plaza. Volunteer Elizabeth Baldree plants a coontie palm in the park.

A proposal to place the future of Hemming Plaza in the hands of a newly formed nonprofit group, backed by $1 million in public money, gained approval Tuesday from the Downtown Investment Authority.

Under the terms of a proposed 18-month contract, Friends of Hemming Park will hire staff to organize events, attract vendors, collaborate with downtown property owners and make the downtown plaza safe and attractive — a move officials hope will reverse Hemming Plaza’s image as a litter-strewn hangout for the homeless that sits on the doorstep of City Hall and is featured prominently in downtown events like One Spark.

The city would kick in $1 million to help Friends of Hemming Park get its operation off the ground. The group, which has partnered with Downtown Vision Inc. and the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, has pledged to raise $250,000.

The proposed contract will now go through Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget review committee and the City Council for final approval.

“It’s a nice show of progress on the heels of One Spark to see this move forward,” said David DeCamp, Brown’s spokesman. “We look forward to finalizing any contract and working with council to move forward on the process.”

Friends of Hemming Park is run by a five-member board led by Wayne Wood, a prominent Riverside activist who spearheaded the launch of events like the Riverside Arts Market.

Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said Friends of Hemming Park will have to make itself a sustainable operation that can’t rely on comparable sums of public money every year.

Even though the newly formed group has no track record of event planning and park management, authority board members expressed confidence in the nonprofit’s leaders — particularly Wood — who individually have wide-ranging and relevant experience.

The city committed $200,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year budget toward operating and maintaining Hemming Plaza.

The investment authority intends to allocate another $800,000 from the $4.1 million Downtown Economic Development Fund to support the agreement.

In total, the park will have eight staff members to address cleaning, beautification, safety and hospitality. Friends of Hemming Park will also contract with a social service provider for outreach services.

Wallace has recommended the nonprofit seek in-kind office space at City Hall to keep administrative costs low.

Nate Monroe: (904) 359-4289

Comments (1)

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Noillusions
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Noillusions 04/08/14 - 10:03 pm
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I thought the "Non-Profits"

I thought the "Non-Profits" already run Hemming Plaza?

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