Downtown’s Newest Crusade
Dr. Wayne Wood: His name is ubiquitous when it comes to Downtown Jacksonville, bringing to mind thoughts of progress and change. But this man of vision could be seen as duplicitous at times, due to the fact that he is, after all, a renowned historian of our city who values the past and its preservation, yet, at the same time, he pushes forward to promote change for the better in certain current situations. Dr. Wood has used his big name to make some big changes. Recently, what we all know as Hemming Plaza in the heart of Downtown has been reclaimed by The Friends of Hemming Park (FOHP), dubbing it now and forever Hemming Park. After years of neglect, the park has become a beacon for the — let’s face it — homeless population; although most folks in the urban core know it as more of a space where the jobless and other less fortunates hang out, to no real negative consequence or issues (see article, “It’s Just Lunch,” Arbus, May 2014). However, the average residents of the outlying communities fear it. The park is often the first excuse people use to NOT visit Downtown.
That’s about to change. Dr. Wood explains the plan: “Friends of Hemming Park is the result of several meetings that I had with Lisa Goodrich and Terry Lorince in response to the City of Jax putting out an RFP for someone to manage Hemming Plaza. We realized that no single individual or group was equipped to tackle this project, so we formed a coalition of interested par- ties to form what I believe is a Dream Team to accomplish this daunting task.”
On that Dream Team roster are some familiar names. FOHP board members are its president, Wayne Wood; vice president, Terry Lorince of Downtown Vision Inc.; Vince Cavin of One Spark; Bill Prescott, Heritage Capital Partners, and Diane Brunet-Garcia, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. FOHP members have reached across all aisles to make this vision come to fruition, “With the collaboration of various Downtown merchants, cultural institutions, civic groups, homeless agencies, members of Jacksonville’s creative community, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and the City of Jacksonville, will form a large team to make this happen for Jacksonville.” The vision of FOHP is not unlike the Saturday line-up at Riverside Arts Market. Live music, family entertainment, food and games will be enjoyed every single day.
And about that ‘homeless issue’ deterring folks from the park — Dr. Wood and the FOHP assure that all precautions to maintain a safe environment will be taken. “Many are simply jobless, and they come downtown to enjoy the beautiful park. Our goal is not to run anyone off from the park. Instead, with our full-time social worker/homeless caseworker, we want to get social services for those homeless people who need medical treatment, a place to live, and basic necessities. We will help the jobless find employment. We will strictly monitor and enforce behavior in the park — pan-handling, illegal activity, and inappropriate language will cause persons to be removed and banned from the park. We will have security personnel from dawn to dusk, so everyone can feel safe in the park. Most importantly, we will have daily activities in the park that will attract crowds of Downtown workers, families, and visitors from all around Jacksonville, so that derelict persons will be scarcely noticeable.”
Another bonus of the park’s redirection will be new jobs. Aside from maintenance and janitorial services, they will be filling eight positions including Executive Director, Events and Marketing Director, Office/Volunteer Coordinator, Social Worker, Park Concierge and Security. FOHP will have two employees in the park, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, dedicated to keeping the park clean and safe. Terry Lorince states that safety and cleanliness are the top priorities: “We want to offer visitors a completely new experience than what they’ve had in the past at Hemming Plaza,” says Lorince. “We’ll be adding amenities to create a more inviting park, along with new shaded areas so guests can get out of the sun during events. We’ll also be adding movable tables and chairs to offer visitors more flexibility while enjoying the park.” The Friends of Hemming Park hold a lot of hope in their hands and hearts as they move forward to save the park and, really, all of Jacksonville’s Downtown.
Article written by Abigail Wright