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A permanent stage is proposed for Hemming Park near the Skyway platform.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, May 11, 201612:00 PM EST

Hemming Park stage money advances; future funds may be 'hard sell'

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Building a permanent performance stage at Hemming Park took a step closer to reality Tuesday when the finer points of the proposal were clarified.

Clarity was needed because the Friends of Hemming Park, the nonprofit contracted by the city to manage and program the park, proposes to use $250,000 from the city intended to finance park operations through Sept. 30 to build the stage.

The group then would replace those funds with an advance payment from Community First Credit Union for a five-year, $250,000 naming rights agreement for the stage.

“We got into some game-playing with the stage,” said City Council member Bill Gulliford, Finance Committee chair and co-sponsor of the legislation to transfer the funds to the Friends.

“I don’t have heartburn with whatever happens. It’s all operations money,” he added.

Wayne Wood, president of the Friends, said the issue has become even more complicated.

The contractor being considered to build the stage might donate up to $100,000 of the labor cost, he said.

That would reduce the cost of the stage to $150,000.

Daryl Joseph, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, said if that were to happen, the $100,000 should be placed in a contingency account to be used only for future park improvements.

That would be acceptable to the administration, said Mike Weinstein, Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief financial officer.

“We are in this together as a partnership,” he said.

Another issue is whether the Friends’ five-year contract will be renewed.

If it’s not, the final two years of the naming rights sponsorship could be in question, since Community First’s agreement would be with the nonprofit, not the city.

Council Vice President Lori Boyer said since the stage will be a capital improvement in the park, it will be city property.

“It will exist even if the city and the Friends don’t renew the contract,” she said.

Friends CEO Vince Cavin is confident the sponsor would choose to continue the naming rights agreement even if the contract is not renewed.

“Community First wants to keep their name on the stage for five years. They want the exposure,” he said.

Gulliford questioned why the nonprofit negotiated the naming rights agreement with the sponsor instead of the city.

The stage would be city property and the park has been public property since Jacksonville founder Isaiah Hart’s children sold it to the city for $10 after their father’s death with the provision the space would remain a park.

Joseph said allowing the Friends to secure the naming rights agreement “shows fundraising ability” on the nonprofit’s part.

Raising private donations was among the requirements in the contract for the Friends to receive $1 million from the city for the first 18 months of management.

The $250,000 contribution in the pending legislation to continue to fund the Friends through the end of the fiscal year was recommended by the mayor’s office and approved by council.

While not pertinent to the bill in committee, future funding for the Friends was brought up by Gulliford.

The nonprofit has contended for months the city will need to provide $500,000 per year if it is to continue operating and programming Hemming Park.

“I understand the importance, but there has to be fiscal responsibility,” said Gulliford. “To ask for $500,000 every year, that’s going to be a hard sell. We need to be realistic.”

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