A new vision, logo and champion for Hemming Park were unveiled Thursday morning at the city's oldest park.
The mayor and other city leaders joined board members from Friends of Hemming Park to introduce Vince Cavin as the executive director of the organization that was recently awarded a $1 million contract to manage and program events in the park in the heart of downtown.
Established in 1857, Hemming Plaza occupies an acre-and-a-half and showcases the entrances to Jacksonville City Hall, the downtown library, the U.S. Courthouse, a museum and several private businesses.
"We all believe that a great city depends on having a great downtown, and a great downtown depends on having great public spaces like Hemming Plaza," said Mayor Alvin Brown. "This park may be small, but we know it can have a super-sized impact on our downtown and our entire city.
"In recent years, it's become downtrodden and there's been a movement afoot to try to revitalize the park," said Wayne Wood, board president of Friends of Hemming Park, or FOHP.
Cavin was a member of the founding team for One Spark, the World’s Crowdfunding Festival, and served in operations, finance and event director roles for that organization. Cavin, who holds an MBA from Humboldt State University, is also president and co-founder of Party, Benefit & Jam, a local nonprofit that raises money and awareness for local charities.
"We plan to have entertainment in the park each day. We're going to manage the park 365 days a year, we'll have security in the park and we'll have a concierge in the park to answer people's questions," said Wood.
Wood said there will be reading tents, art, concerts and festivals; A feel similar to One Spark, the crowd-funding festival held downtown every year.
"One Spark has shown the city how great it feels to have a vibrant downtown with people in the streets coming out to visit one another to see the activities that are downtown, and we hope to create some of that same spark all year round," said Wood.
Wood said the vision will address the issue of the homeless in the park as well.
The group hopes to hire a full time social services worker to help people in need find jobs, living arrangements and medical services.
"We aren't going to try to run anyone out of the park, we just want the people who are there to behave well, have no panhandling, make people who come to the park feel safe and secure and have the park clean and bright and well landscaped," said Wood.
Wood founded the Riverside Arts Market and he's hoping to bring that energy here to Hemming Park.
Friends of Hemming Park will have its offices on the first floor of the main library, just inside the front entrance on the Laura Street. The group plans to start its programming in the park in early October and have its daily programs fully operational by the end of 2014.