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City Council approves funding for Hemming Park group

Bill approved 16-2

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Council voted 16-2 Tuesday evening to move forward with funding Friends of Hemming Park, the organization that manages the Downtown park.

The finance committee voted last week to move forward with paying the group $58,000 to continue operating for the next two months.

The City Council's approval of the bill means that an additional $74,000 will be set aside to pay back Southwest Airlines for a grant that was given to the group for a capital project, but was instead used for operational costs.

That money will be in addition to the $250,000 Mayor Lenny Curry has included for the group in his proposed city budget for 2016-17.

"I think that it's very important that Hemming Park is the front porch of City Hall and it remains looking good," City Councilman Jim Love said.

City Council members also pointed out that Hemming Park is important for businesses in the area.

"Hemming Park has been so very valuable to our business," said Liz Earnest of Candy Apple Cafe and Cocktails. "The programs in the park help push businesses to our building. Our building sends people to Hemming Park. When the programming isn't there, business is down considerably."

City Councilmen Al Ferraro and Matt Schellenberg voted against the bill.

City Councilman Aaron Bowman also expressed a lack of confidence in the Friends of Hemming Park, which has managed the park since 2014.

"I appreciate all the hard work they've done. I know it's done with a lot of hours. But I don't see a scenario in the future that I can support. I'd like to move forward with another organization, but I'm pleased with this bill that finance took and modified it and made it into a more reasonable continuation," Bowman said. "When it comes to rewarding this contract to another organization, I will be looking for somebody else."