Change Keeps Downtown Fresh

Barroom conversations and Facebook threads among Jacksonville’s urban cultural creatives over the past years have abounded with pessimistic rants, open wishes, and pleading prayers for a more conscious, vibrant, and progressive city. Over the years, that energy has been randomly dispersed in grassroots campaigns and DIY-style events.

A growing army of younger energy has single-handedly made it their mission to be the change they want our city to be. These individuals, typically operating on shoestring budgets, rely heavily on their networks, fans, and a hope and a prayer, to spark a notion in others that, “if we can dream it, we can do it.” Years of sweat and hard work are seemingly paying off. Slowly, important cultural tastemaking positions are being filled with those of us who have weathered the storm, who have stuck our necks out bravely in order to just do something!

The Cultural Council’s decision to bring on Tony Allegretti (who in turn brought on Ryan Ali and Daniel Austin), Hemming Park’s start-up potential, Unity Plaza’s noble mission, The Laura Street Trio & Barnett’s enlightened redevelopment, the energy of Jaxsons Night Market, and One Spark’s creativity is encouraging. Even The Landing is considering how to repurpose its relevancy to become part of a vibrant downtown. The best part is that all of us who have been in the cultural underground know one another and are poised to collaborate, connect, and share our resources to collectively paint a new backdrop for Jacksonville.

I am honored and charged with excitement to be involved in reactivating and programming our city’s oldest public park: Hemming Park. All of the scattered grassroots efforts I have been witness and party to since arriving to Jacksonville in 1997 will finally have a geographic focal point.

Hemming’s unique location, the front doorstep to City Hall, MOCA, and the downtown Library, offers opportunities for us to collectively collaborate. Sweet Pete’s will be a welcome breath of fresh air to the square, as well. After having lunch with Katherine Hardwick from Downtown Vision (DVI), (who so graciously offered me this month’s column), I realized that our mission with Hemming is exactly in line with DVI’s regarding Downtown, only our footprint is more targeted. An active, engaging park, in the center of Downtown, has implications that stretch to the river, and to the entire city.

Youthful vision and creativity will only take you so far. It also takes the backing of civic institutions and financial investment. The city council and the mayor’s brave decision to create this unique public-private partnership could be more than just a calculated risk; it could be the dawning for a renewed renaissance for the entire city of Jacksonville starting with our small park in the heart of downtown Jacksonville.

Anyone interested in getting involved in the future of Hemming Park, contact us through to give suggestions, volunteer, or plan an event. Interested in getting involved with Downtown? Check out

About Keith Marks