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The Friends of Hemming Park received a six-month extension on its deal to run the park outside City Hall.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 10, 201712:00 PM EST

Mayor Lenny Curry's office wants to extend Friends of Hemming Park contract for six months and $415,000

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

When Sam Mousa, Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff, said Nov. 10 the mayor wanted to take over Hemming Park, it came as a surprise to the City Council committee looking into operations and to the nonprofit running the facility.

Exactly what that means is made clear in a reinstatement and fifth amendment to the Friends of Hemming Park’s contract that will go into effect April 1.

The agreement calls for the city to reimburse the nonprofit up to $240,000 — $40,000 per month for the six-month initial term — and commits up to $175,000 for capital improvements to the park that must be approved by the city.

Council needs to approve the new agreement.

With only three weeks left on the existing deal, the extension was a relief to the Friends.

“It’s been tough not knowing how long we’d be around,” said Bill Prescott, who took over as CEO in August when Vince Cavin resigned over questions about how the organization was managing its initial $1 million, 18-month budget that began in October 2014.

Under the terms, city funds will be used only for operational expenses that are clearly defined in the contract, which includes maximum monthly expenditures for each line item.

That includes staff positions — there’s no money in the budget for a CEO — and detailed allowed expenditures such as water cooler rental ($69 a month).

The Friends are required to submit a monthly report to the city in order to be reimbursed.

More than half of the monthly allowance — $21,000 — is to be devoted to making the park clean and safe, including continuing to provide a private security officer and a Downtown ambassador seven days a week.

The Friends are required to program the park Monday-Friday through the Charlie’s CafĂ© food truck area and continue the first Sunday of each month ArtFusion partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.

One festival per quarter is the minimum required under the agreement.

No city funds may be used for events.

The Friends are obligated to secure sponsorships and cover costs with concession revenue.

“It’s pretty much how we’ve been operating for the past six months,” Prescott said.

Capital improvements approved in the contract include removing ledges along Laura Street, brick removal and concrete slabs for a sculpture garden.

The bulk of the capital improvement budget — $104,000 — is for landscaping and beautification.

The Friends are required to secure $52,500 in-kind contributions for the capital improvements.

Prescott said some contractors have agreed to work at reduced rates on park projects.

The agreement expires on Sept. 30 but may be renewed twice for one-year terms at the sole discretion of the city.

In an email Curry sent to Mousa, the mayor said it’s clear the Friends are “passionate about the future of Hemming” and Prescott made a commitment to the performance metrics and accountability.

Given the agreement to extend the contract for six months, “please make sure they (including the board) know how serious we are about results,” Curry wrote.

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