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Jacksonville City Committee OKs Hemming Funding — With Conditions

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Saphara Harrell
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WJCT News

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee approved just under $58,000 Wednesday to fund Hemming Park through the rest of the fiscal year.

The park’s leadership, Friends of Hemming Park, has been under scrutiny for how it spent a million city dollars over the last year.

Last month a city audit found the nonprofit spent 44 percent of city funding on contracted services. Many Council members said they'd rather it was spent on operations.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg is one of the harshest critics of Friends of Hemming Park. Before the money was approved Wednesday,  he asked interim Hemming CEO Bill Prescott what will be different.

“As city taxpayers, why would we give you any more money when we’ve seen a year and a half of not spending the money, I think, wisely?” he said.

The funding bill also requires Prescott, who took over this month, to make sure city funds are marked for specific uses with city approval. He said he’ll also use privately raised money on programming and other expenses.

Prescott added he’ll be in the interim position for the next six months to get the nonprofit on the right track and to figure out what qualities the park needs for a leader.

Owners of nearby businesses, including Sweet Pete's and Candy Apple Cafe, and Chamblin's Uptown, also spoke about the importance of a vibrant Hemming.

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Credit City of Jacksonville
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Candy Apple Cafe owner Liz Earnest said she lost business over the summer because Hemming was cash strapped and not able to provide as many free concerts and other programs.

Candy Apple Cafe owner Liz Earnest said she lost business over the summer because Hemming was cash strapped and not able to provide as many free concerts and other programs.

“Our clientele goes to Hemming Park and they support what’s going on,” she said. “The guests at Hemming Park come across and spend their money with us.”

The funding bill also requires Friends of Hemming to work with city departments to see if services could be provided at a lower cost.

Also in the bill, the city voted to set aside about $75,000 to replace money Hemming spent on day-to-day operations. The money came from a $100,000 Southwest Airlines grant initially meant for a restaurant kiosk.

The money will be set aside for a project Southwest agrees to — the kiosk or something else — or in case the airline wants it back.

The full Council will have to approve the funding next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lenny Curry is recommending the park only be funded for six months in the new fiscal year while the park’s money usage and management is monitored.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.