Jacksonville City Council panel to review Hemming Park contract Thursday
[photo: Hemming Park Facebook Page]

Hemming Park

The Jacksonville City Council will take yet another in an endless series of looks at the contract for the Friends of Hemming Park on Thursday afternoon.

Though the long-suffering group, which manages the 1.54 acre park called “the Front Door to City Hall” by many politicians, is earmarked to receive $250,000 for six months of operation in the city budget to be passed later this month. Council members are looking for other alternatives for management.

The council special committee is looking over the current contract with Friends of Hemming Park (FOHP).

Also being reviewed: the “financial sustainability of FOHP proposals for continued operation,” a question at the heart of the incompatibility of FOHP with council’s vision for the organization.

Though FOHP satisfied its original contractual obligations in terms of generating traffic through the park, ongoing concerns are raised by the conduct of certain visitors to the park, which can include everything from cursing and squabbling to public drinking and communal lines of OxyContin.

There is an operational paradox, with the seeming belief of policymakers being that improved programming of the park can create an appealing oasis of gentrification, creating pleasurable optics for outsiders visiting Jacksonville.

Council President Lori Boyer noted in August the special Hemming Park committee originally sought a “change in perception and friendliness, and we were sold by the belief that the activation of programming … would be the way to get it.”

Skeptics of park spending, such as Councilman Matt Schellenberg, have made the argument to make the space a “passive park,” but as of now, the council panel is looking at other options, including issuing an RFP for a new management team, letting the established Downtown Vision manage the park, or just having the city’s parks and recreation department handle the job.

Any of those options seemingly jeopardize the promise of the park, one which resonates with Jacksonville’s left-liberal community more so than those who control the purse strings.

Beyond skeptical legislators, the mayor’s office likewise has been skeptical, with Mayor Lenny Curry‘s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa verbalizing dismay at some of the activities, saying at one meeting that he can see people drinking in the park from his window atop city hall — and that, some days, he’d like to join them.

One factor in favor of FOHP: the current leadership of Bill Prescott, who served for 17 years as the CFO of the Jacksonville Jaguars, from 1996 to 2013.

Just as in football, the key to on-field success for FOHP is salary cap space, and the open question to be explored Thursday is how much will be extended to the group, which under previous management was lambasted by council members and the press for profligate spending on fancy lunches, Apple TVs, trips to Orlando to shop at IKEA, and expensive coffee drinks.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes for the New York Post and National Review also, with previous work in the American Conservative and Washington Times and a 15+ year run as a columnist in Folio Weekly. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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