Plans for Hemming Plaza in the works

Group would help bring in more events to downtown park

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With thousands in Hemming Plaza this week for One Spark, there is a group of people trying to make sure it could stay like that in the future.

In fact, the city might spend $1.2 million to make it happen.

With money from the Downtown Investment Authority, City Council and private donations, the plan is to bring in someone to oversee the park, pay a director and bring in more events there.

The city can't force the people that have caused problems there out, so it plans to bring in more people to overshadow it, just like what's happening this week.

For years, Councilman Don Redman has been trying to make some changes at Hemming Plaza. He said the latest move by the Downtown Investment Authority is the right step. It's now up to the council and the mayor to decide where to go.

"I'm urging my colleagues to look out the window see what it looks like today as compared to what it looks like normally," Redman said. "We wanted to stay active, we wanted to stay productive."

A group called the Friends of Hemming Park received approval from the authority to run the park.

The cost is $1.2 million, $800,000 of which would come from the authority, $200,000 of which would come from the city and has already been appropriated for the park, and another $200,000 of which would come from private donations.

Terry Lorince, of Downtown Vision, is part of the group selected to oversee the park.

"We are going to activate the park with more events," she said. "We are going to make the space work better so more people will want to come out."

The group would be responsible to clean the park, plan program events and make it easier to hold larger events in the park.

But the big question is what to do with the homeless and others who gather there every day.

"It isn't really the homeless people, it's also the cleanliness is a factor," Lorince said. "We are going to be addressing all of that."

To help with that, the group will hire four full-time employees, including a park director, and have staff on site from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There will be program events at least five days a week, and they would be responsible for cleaning and landscaping the park.

"We are at the point if we don't do something with Hemming Park downtown, it's not going to be what we wanted to be," Redman said.

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