Andrés Duany, the great urban planner, said that the hallmark of all great urban centers is its public spaces. As Jacksonville’s leaders seek to revitalize the urban core, one of their first priorities has been to restore Hemming Park to a model public space. Since Friends of Hemming Park – a private, nonprofit formed by Wayne Wood, Diane Brunet-García, Bill Prescott and Terri Lorince – responded to the City’s RFP in 2014 to do just that, the group has transformed the park from a urban no-man’s-land to a vibrant, activity-charged venue that features a kids’ zone, café and reading room, yoga classes, public lectures, food trucks and concerts.
According to Hemming Park CEO Vince Cavin, the model for the transition was New York’s Bryant Park. Responding to a suggestion by Dawn Emerick, Cavin applied for and won a grant from Project for Public Spaces, which is funded by Southwest Airlines, to transform Hemming Park into a viable public space.
“Successful public spaces are inviting – they offer tables, chairs, shade, food trucks, and pops of color,” says Cavin. “They are flexible and can be rearranged to accommodate different events.”
Cavin says Hemming Park has completed nearly seventy-five percent of its programming objectives, adding that the park plans will soon add a newsstand selling grab-and-go produce and bakery items.
Jacksonville’s oldest public park, Hemming languished from the ’80s until recently; suffering from a downtown exodus of residents and businesses moving to the suburbs. It developed a reputation for unsavory activities and as a repository for the homeless.
Cavin says that 2016 – which marks Hemming Park’s 150th anniversary as a city-owned park – will introduce more activities. Community First Credit Union has pledged to sponsor the park’s main stage, which is scheduled to open in the fall. Featuring concert-quality sound and lighting, it will be the focal point of the park, hosting marquee musical artists, Jaxsons Night Market, theater and community events … all adding to the family-friendly atmosphere of the park.
“In March we will be hosting our first major concert, featuring the popular folk-rock band Strand of Oaks,” says Cavin. “It will showcase the park as a serious music venue that will draw a good cross section of demographic throughout Northeast Florida.”
Cavin reports he has partnered with legendary concert promoter Flying Saucer Presents to present several high-quality shows throughout the year.
Among the other attractions to be featured this year will be a Black Sheep kiosk, offering the restaurant’s outstanding menu in a fast-casual setting created from repurposed shipping containers.
According to Cavin, response to the revitalized Hemming Park – opened a little more than a year ago – has been overwhelmingly positive. He says the grassroots ability to reach people is a large reason for its success, and that people are amazed at the transformation of the space.
Cavin points out that the park’s renaissance has also been a success story for the Downtown Investment Authority, whose mandate is to promote public art and the beautification of the urban core as well as rehab old buildings.
“Hemming Park was one of the first projects on DIA’s master plan to revitalize the urban core,” he says. “To that end, I think they can mark it up as a success.”
Article written by Mike Bernos