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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 26, 201412:00 PM EST

Want to run Hemming Plaza? Job posting is out, funding hasn't been approved

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Although the proposal hasn’t been approved, Downtown Vision Inc. has begun its search for an executive director to manage Hemming Plaza.

Downtown Vision posted a job description this week looking for someone to develop the one-square-block area outside City Hall into “an attraction that will serve as a major tool in Downtown’s revitalization efforts.”

The job is included in the proposed 18-month management agreement that is now in the hands of the City Council. The job’s 18-month expenditure of $125,233 (an annual expense of $83,488.67) includes free parking, a cellphone stipend, vacation and health insurance benefits.

The listed academic qualification for the position: “Needs to be bright, articulate and able to relate to people of all ages and demographics.”

Resumes and cover letters are due by July 15. The listing is on Downtown Vision’s website and Facebook page.

The proposed legislation, 2014-434, is the result of months of negotiation between the city and the Friends of Hemming Park, which was the sole respondent to the 2013 Request for Proposals.

Earnie Franklin, city Director of Public Private Partnerships, described the agreement as “a meeting of the minds of the Friends of Hemming Park and the administration.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the Friends would manage the park from the anticipated start date of Sept. 1 through Sept. 30, 2017. The agreement includes two one-year renewals at the Friends’ option.

The city would pay the Friends $1 million in the first 18 months of the agreement. The Downtown Investment Authority would contribute $800,000 with the balance coming from the city’s general fund.

In addition to the executive director, the Friends plan to hire three operational staff members, a Social Services Outreach Specialist and two Downtown Ambassadors who would be exclusively responsible for Hemming Plaza. The Friends agree to schedule day and evening activities in the park seven days a week.

The legislation also seeks to waive several city regulations inside the park regarding event and street vendor permits and sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The Friends and their concessionaires would be authorized to sell and serve alcoholic beverages in the park from noon-midnight Monday-Saturday and 1 p.m.-midnight Sunday.

Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace said alcoholic beverages will not be allowed to be brought in from outside the park.

“Purchase and consumption is exclusive to Hemming Plaza vendors,” he said.

Wallace said there will be “controlled access points,” but there are no plans to install a fence or gates around the plaza. Downtown Ambassadors (known by their orange shirts) will be responsible for enforcing the new alcohol regulations and will have the authority to compel people to follow the rules while working with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, he said.

After a 60-day transition period following adoption of the agreement, the Friends would be responsible for maintenance, cleaning, pest control and landscaping the park.

The city would provide and pay for water, sewer and electricity services and provide trash pickup service seven days a week. The city would continue to be responsible for major repairs and maintenance of the fountains and irrigation system and for pruning trees in the park.

Securing private-sector donations for operation of the park is another aspect of the agreement. The Friends agree to raise $250,000 within 12 months of the effective date of the agreement.

Wallace said while Northeast Florida is not a region with a lot of large philanthropic organizations, “I think it’s attainable.”

Franklin agreed and said “a lot of time” was spent working out the fundraising requirement in the agreement. “They (the Friends) have discussed it and they are confident,” he said.

Having clearly defined standards in the agreement will allow an objective analysis of the Friends’ performance.

“The contract is for 18 months. We will evaluate it at the very end,” Wallace said. “Did it work or didn’t it?”

The Friends asked the Jacksonville Public Library board of trustees for office space for the organization, specifically the space near the Laura Street entrance to the Main Library originally occupied by Shelby’s Coffee Shop.

The space has not had a permanent tenant since April 2009 when the Shelby’s lease expired. The library attempted several months ago to find a new tenant, including hiring a real estate agent who collected a $2,500 fee but was unable to lease the space.

Mark Merritt, library deputy director of administration and finance, said the Friends approached the board “asking for a partnership” that would include a license for the Friends to use the space for its operations and also to locate the Friends’ proposed full-time social service outreach staff member.

“We think that could help some of our clients who come into the library when it’s hot in Hemming Plaza,” said Merritt. “It’s a win-win for the city, for Hemming Plaza and for everybody concerned.”

The trustees approved the proposal June 12.

According to the license agreement, the city will provide the space including all utilities for $1 for the term of the management agreement.

Merritt said while licensing the space to the Friends could be seen as a potential loss of income for the library, if the Friends can make the park a destination, it could improve market prospects for the space.

Now that the legislation has been filed, it will be reviewed by the council’s Finance, Land Use and Zoning, Recreation and Community Development and Rules committees, where the terms of the agreement could be modified.

“Any time legislation is submitted, the council has the purview to make any amendments,” said Wallace. “We plan to meet individually with each council member to go over the agreement.”

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