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Hemming Park 'Security Concerns' Hampering Revitalization, Friends Say

Friends of Hemming Park via Facebook

Jacksonville officials are asking the operators of Hemming Park what kind of commitment the city must make to keep the park’s revitalization effort going.

Council Finance Chair Bill Gulliford says because the park is a public space, the city is responsible for covering the costs of maintenance and continuing improvement.

“We know that we’re willing to contribute something to Hemming Park. What should that annual something be?” Gulliford asked Friends of Hemming Park reps on Wednesday.

The park operators say they need around $800,000 a year to run the park and another $200,000 to keep up with planned improvements. But the park makes only half of the $1 million price tag in donations, sponsorships and concessions revenue.

Friends of Hemming Park also told Gulliford that aside from financing, lingering security issues are hindering revitalization efforts.

According to park officials, 600,000 visitors spent close to $200,000 in the park last year. But, Gulliford says loitering, profanity, smoking and the threat of violence could keep those numbers from growing.

“You know what I resent about this is good people being victimized by bad conduct of people that are there for the wrong reasons,” Gulliford says.

Suggestions tossed out at Wednesday's meeting included banning profanity, installing art pieces on stoops where people frequently sleep or sit, and possibly building a fence around the park to enforce the new rules.

Changing Homelessness CEO Dawn Gilman says the refrain is familiar.

“These recommendations are not necessarily new, but what tends to happen every time they’re made is that at some point there is the discussion that this is a public park that is to be open to all,” Gilman says.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the city’s general counsel have echoed that concern about adding such restrictions on public property. Gulliford's answer? Perhaps the park could become semi-private if the city were to lease it to the nonprofit Friends for a small annual fee. That might allow the operators to enforce new rules and add private security.

The two parties will meet again in two weeks.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.