Friends of Hemming Park was created in 2014 to revitalize one of our city’s oldest treasures. Hemming Park, Jacksonville’s official public square and the “front door” to City Hall, had been desolate and underutilized for decades creating an eyesore in the heart of Downtown.
As a small, startup nonprofit we’ve seen many great successes in a short period of time, from improving the physical space of the park to designing programs that engage new audiences and create excitement about Downtown Jacksonville. Compared to two years ago, you now see women and children playing in the park, employees enjoying lunch and live music, local groups choosing to host their event in Hemming Park and new businesses popping up all around us.
We fully recognize that this is a public park, funded with public and private dollars, and we understand that whenever you are asking others to invest in something, you must be good stewards of that investment. We take our responsibility seriously, and are fully committed to improving the way we manage both our operations and the funding for them.
We are working closely with city officials to develop an updated approach for operating Hemming Park. This includes how we account for funds from City of Jacksonville and funds raised through private dollars, concessions at events, sponsorships, and grants. Our staff and board have already made several recommendations to strengthen our fiscal policies moving forward.
First, we will create an entirely separate bank account for dollars coming in from the City of Jacksonville. This way, we can clearly show how city dollars are allocated and spent on the operation of Hemming Park. Additional funds raised by Friends of Hemming Park will be in a separate account used for programming, marketing, and improvements to the park itself.
Second, to better show how city funds are being used, we will deliver more frequent reports to City Council, beyond what has been requested before. This will include moving to monthly reporting periods rather than quarterly, so the public has a more current accounting of their investment into Hemming Park.
In regard to previous expenditures such as meetings and food, every meeting we have is intended to drive forward the mission of Friends of Hemming Park. As a result of the relationships we’ve built, we have raised more than $450,000 in support of Hemming Park. Going forward, we will be far more prudent with our resources and will never again use operating dollars for networking purposes.
In sum, we are on a steep learning curve with regard to working within the requirements to receive city funding, and as the first organization to undertake this unique project, some of the issues we have faced were unpredictable. Moving forward, we are prepared to dedicate ourselves to perpetual fundraising campaigns, more transparent and open lines of communication with City Council, and innovative and engaging programming for Hemming Park and those who use it.
We look forward to working with the City on how best to deliver on its expectations while also creating the best possible experiences for our visitors for years to come.