After years of thought and months of talk, Jacksonville City Council voted 16-1 Tuesday night to pay a private group to manage, program and maintain the one-square block park in the heart of downtown.
The council approved a $1 million contract with Friends of Hemming Park in an effort to improve its appearance, cleanliness and clientele.
The Downtown Investment Authority is supporting the group with $800,000, while the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services is funding the other $200,000 for the contract that ends Sept. 30, 2017.
In addition to programming the park, the nonprofit will have to privately raise $250,000 in its first year.
“This agreement gives us the best opportunity for success,” Bill Prescott, one of the nonprofit’s board members, told the Daily Record. “Now, we have to execute.”
Prescott afterward said the next step is hiring an executive director, which should happen in the next several weeks. That person will be selected and introduced to the public, hopefully, he said, by around the time Mayor Alvin Brown signs off on the legislation.
City officials hope visitors will begin to see changes occurring in the park before the end of September.
Hemming Plaza was established in 1857 and is Jacksonville’s oldest public park.