After years of thought and months of talk, Hemming Plaza has a new caretaker.
City Council approved a $1 million contract Tuesday between the city and Friends of Hemming Park.
The vote was 16-1, with council member Matt Schellenberg voting against.
The nonprofit will manage, program and maintain the one square block in the heart of Downtown, which for some time has been under scrutiny for its appearance, cleanliness and clientele.
The Downtown Investment Authority is supporting the group with $800,000, while the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services is funding the other $200,000 for the contract that ends Sept. 30, 2017.
“This agreement gives us the best opportunity for success,” said Bill Prescott, one of the nonprofit’s board members. “Now, we have to execute.”
There was talk of a last-minute change Tuesday that would have affected how the group can handle alcohol sales, especially on Sundays.
An amendment introduced by council member Don Redman would have provided additional restrictions on alcohol sales, requiring additional permissions from the city for a waiver. Several of Redman’s colleagues disagreed with the extra step, with Bill Bishop calling it “micromanagement at the ultimate level.”
Council member Denise Lee was another who disagreed, saying other restaurants and establishments serve alcohol. She said the micromanagement is not something the city can do “if we are going to be a major city and a major player in bringing business Downtown.”
When council asked for his stance, Prescott said the contract was clear on when alcohol sales could be permitted and the concept was an additional restriction.
Ultimately, the idea failed by a 13-4 vote.
In addition to programming the park, the nonprofit will have to privately raise $250,000 in its first year.
As he did last week, council member Bill Gulliford said he would have “no patience” if the arrangement didn’t work and the group shouldn’t come back asking for money. During his time as council president last year, he created an ad hoc committee to review how to fix the park’s issues.
Prescott afterward said the next step is hiring an executive director, which should happen in the next several weeks.
Candidates have been narrowed to two finalists, whom he declined to name. That person will be selected and introduced to the public, hopefully, he said, by around the time Mayor Alvin Brown signs off on the legislation.
Soon after, he said the group with its leadership in place is interested in “hitting the ground running and making an impact” as soon as possible.
Other action from Tuesday’s meeting:
• With not much discussion or fanfare, council withdrew a bill that called for a referendum on how the fifth member of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board should be selected. The motion before voters would have sought for the mayor to appoint the last member instead of having them elected by the other four. Two weeks ago, police and fire union members packed council chambers as a protest to the idea. On Wednesday, they showed again but the matter took little time to finish. Council member John Crescimbeni, the bill’s sponsor, asked for the withdrawal because the window for the issue to be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot had closed.